Jumping Through the Window: The First Time I’ve Felt Unsafe Here in Peru
I just bought our tickets yesterday to return home to the States with my husband. We will be leaving on Friday, July 29th. It’s all a little surreal—even though classes ended a few weeks ago, and my parents already came and visited us, it’s hard to believe that we’re already leaving.
But as I reflect back on my time in Peru, I can remember only one instance of ever feeling truly unsafe.
If you have been reading my posts from the beginning, you will remember that I had mentioned how, upon telling others that I would be studying abroad in Peru, they would scowl and say, “Be safe.”
There is a perception in the United States and much of the Western World that Latin America is inherently unsafe, as it is a haven for drug lords, coups, and civil unrest. However, I found this notion to be largely untrue. While Latinos live a very different lifestyle, their culture is not unsafe. Living among them requires the same amount of common sense necessary to surviving in any other culture.
Even in the poorer neighborhoods of Lima, I never quite felt unsafe. I did take extra precautions surrounding my personal items, but I never felt as though I was in any sort of real danger.
So imagine my surprise at my husband’s worry when I tell my him that the program’s goodbye dinner is in the tourist neighborhood of Barranco.
The main square in Barranco
“What are they thinking, taking you there? That is a very dangerous area. I don’t think you should go, especially considering it doesn’t even start until late at night.”
I was initially shocked by his comments until I looked at the location of the restaurant. It was quite far from the main tourist area. Barranco is normally safe, but if you venture too far from the main square, especially at night, things can get sketchy. Even though I would probably not be bothered, common sense tells me to avoid that area at night.
But since I wanted to spend time with the other program students before we parted ways, I went anyway. I called a safe taxi, kissed my husband goodbye, and went on my way. I was looking at pictures on my phone, only halfway paying attention to my surroundings. As we approached Barranco, I noticed that we were driving through one of the bad parts of Lima. I felt uneasy, but I convinced myself that I would feel better once we arrived at the restaurant.
The taxi was about three blocks away from the restaurant. We were going over a series of speed bumps, and as we hit one, a guy suddenly tried to jump through the window open by the taxi driver. I screamed, and the driver promptly shoved the guy outside the window. Frightened, I asked the driver what the guy wanted, but I couldn’t understand him. He did say, however, that this was an extremely unsafe area and that sometimes people will try to steal or kill drivers when they slow down at the speed bumps.
The driver asked me what I was doing around this area, and I told him that I was having a dinner with my study abroad program. He strongly cautioned me to be careful. The restaurant, he told me, was safe, but the surrounding area was not.
The dinner show eventually started, but I could not enjoy my time. The adrenaline from the even was still rushing through my veins, and I was worried about my trip home, since I would have to go through that neighborhood again in order to return home. I called my husband about what happened, and he immediately came to pick me up. I tried to enjoy myself for the half hour while I waited for him, something that proved to be immensely difficult.
My husband arrived in a taxi, and gave me a hug. I started crying about the incident, as I was still scared. I don’t know what the guy wanted, but if the driver had not been proactive in pushing him away, my night would have ended very differently.
My husband told me that while he was in the taxi to pick me up, he say several gangs standing around watching the cars drive by, waiting to do something to an unsuspecting driver or passenger. When he told me this, our taxi driver chimed in and said that the area was unsafe.
We went home and called over our neighbor to have a drink. I drank some wine, and retold the night’s events for the fifth or sixth time. He was surprised by the choice of location as well, but was glad I was safe. After two or three glasses, I was relaxed enough to fall asleep and forget about my worries.
I woke up the next morning feeling at peace about the whole situation. While there were many things that could have gone wrong that night, there were many things that actually went right. From the proactive behavior of the taxi driver, to the quick reaction of my husband, I ended my night in safety.
And while I was in danger that night, I don’t think that I should let one experience in a bad neighborhood negatively affect my perception of Peru. I love this country and will always be an advocate for its safe environment, provided travelers exercise good judgment and common sense.