“I’m pretty sure I’m going in the right direction,” I thought to myself as I wandered along Huancayo, looking for the calle La Florida.
I was in search of my hostel for the weekend on my second solo trip outside of Lima to the capital of the Junín region of central Peru.
After arriving in the city of over 300,000 inhabitants before 8 a.m., I asked kiosk personnel at the bus station for the general direction of the street. Unsurprisingly, they were quick to recommend that I take a taxi, which I kindly declined…
After walking for what seemed to be too long of time along an endless unnamed street, I stopped in a local bodega (small store) to ask for directions.
Again, I thought to myself, “Surely the people who frequent this place must know where to point me to.”
The one younger Peruvian woman who did understand my accent warned me that it was muy lejos (very far) and that I’d need to tomar un taxi (take a taxi) and arm myself or else I’d get robbed.
I was fairly sure I was in the right area.
I just wasn’t sure how many more blocks to walk in which direction.
And as far as I could tell, the worst trouble I’d get into in my current location was getting my toes stepped on or my swinging hand licked by a scraggly, stray pup.
In all manners, I thanked her for her advice and continued on my lost way, deciding to stop in the next bodega I found for better directions.
Behind the next bodega’s counter stood an older gentleman donning a slightly blood-stained (calm down, from raw chickens), well-worn apron behind a counter surrounded with snacks on snacks on snacks… and fruit.
He was attending to an older woman ahead of me in line who was purchasing fresh paltas (avocados) and chicken feet.
I stood by his Plexiglas bread cart stationed at the entrance of the store, patiently awaiting my turn.
After a few minutes later, he turned his undivided attention toward me as I asked him where to find La Florida.
“Ooohhh… Es muy lejos de acá!” he warned me, just like the other woman. “Un momento. Te voy a mostrar.” (One moment. I’m going to show you.)
He retired himself to behind the counter once more, but this time, he returned with a paper map.
“Mira,” he said. “Estamos aquí. La Florida… Está aquí!” (Look, we’re here. La Florida… It’s here!)
He drug his finger across the map several inches, switching districts within the city.
That’s when I realized there were two La Floridas. One was the street where my hostel was located, and the other was a (supposedly dangerous) district.
So, THAT’S why the first woman told me to arm myself. The district La Florida was at least half an hour away by taxi in the opposite side of the city.
Obviously, that’s not where I wanted to go.
“No, no, no, señor,” I replied as I showed him the digital map on my phone and the street I was trying to reach. “Mira, la calle está aquí. Es como tres o cuatro cuadras de acá… Creo.” (Look, the street is here. It’s like three or four blocks from here… I think.)
I pointed to the ground to demonstrate that I meant from our exact spot.
And with this comment and demonstration, I was finally understood.
We walked outside of the store to the esquina (corner), where he showed me with overly exaggerated motions how many blocks I should walk in which direction to get to my hostel.
He perked up when I mentioned the name of it and advised me that it was the only hostel in the area.
Street names started appearing the further away from the center of the city I walked. And sure enough, I successfully reached the calle La Florida.
Needless to say, this isn’t the only time I’ve gotten lost in Peru (and it sure won’t be my last).
Throughout my semester living here, I’ve come to realize that the majority of Peruvians are very kind-hearted, ready-to-help individuals.
Lost gringa on the street?
With obviously good discretion involved with choosing whom to ask, Peruvians are more than willing to point you in the right direction, hail a bus down for you or just make sure you get where you’re going safely by showing you the way themselves.
In case you’re wondering, yes, all of these have happened to me.
Psychologically speaking, there are a myriad of reasons one can attribute to voluntarily assisting others in return for a reward or not.
But I believe that if it doesn’t cost you more than a few of the 1,440 minutes you have in a given 24 hours, what’s the harm?
One small action can make or break someone else’s day.
Instead of putting down or making fun of others for not knowing, help them to see. Help them to understand. Help them to help themselves.
And in the process, you’ll grow yourself… into a more helpful person tomorrow.