Friday, February 6, 2009

Callao: the start

First Impression of Callao Peru.

Lima so far has been a city of rough air. The temperature has been eighty degrees and muggy and the population has been generally intimidating.

It could be that I am significantly lost in the native language, the obvious poverty, or the house that I am staying in that resembles a compound, but there is a looming sense of seclusion. The people I have met so far, albeit all long lost family, have been more than generous. Still there is the ever present feeling of threat. We are aliens for the first time in a starving world.

Driving around the city from district to district- from Sucro to Barranco, from Barranco to Miraflores, down along Costa Verde, to my mom’s place of birth in Callao- we were told to look out for “piranhas”, thieves that have a tendency to steel right from you car as you are stopped at any particular stop light. Stop. Roll up windows. No air conditioning. Poverty looming. Sweat building. Light changes. Roll down windows. Repeat ten times until destination is reached.

Visiting the place of my mom’s birth, which sits at the bottom of an unknown hill on a dirt and gravel road, we were greeted my the warm face of my Aunt Mirta. Up and down the street you can see through the haze of dust small groups of two or three people hanging out or cannoodling or whatever.

Inside my Mom’s old earthquake-cracked house we drink Pilsen, the local beer, have warm conversation (most of which I struggle to keep up with) and stand up to any loud noise coming from outside in fear it was the car being broken into. The house reminds of a romantic adobe house of the southwest. A steep, spiral staircase runs through the center connecting the two floors. The cement floors and walls are riddled with potholes and cracks from age and Mother Nature’s touch. The bathroom has only natural light from a small window to the outside. It’s old and broken, but if feels safe. It’s noon on a Wednesday in Callao

Next stop is the graveyard of my grandparents and uncles and aunts. Parked just outside this place of grief stands a circus of beggers and conspirators. They offer you cheap bouquets of carnations, barely letting you open the car door. Or they try getting you to pay for their uninvited cleaning of your windows. All of them sizing you up- seeing the value of your personal articles. You can feel the burn of their stare. Inside the graveyard there are a plethora or people mourning, laughing, selling, and working. The dead are stacked ten to fifteen tall in concrete jagged walls. There are vacant spots were bodies and caskets were removed to be burned because there is no one left to cry over them. I took stairs and ramps up two stories in the Peruvian heat to visit my Uncle many walls, or blocks of cadavers, away from my Grandmother and Grandfather on the first floor.

In the middle of this graveyard sits a crucifix twenty feet tall. There lies the remains of the ultra poor; those whose family has no money for a proper burial or those whom have no family at all. These individuals get the most basic of respect- an oven and a placard cemented to the symbol of their Lord Jesus Christ. Here, the meek shall inherit the earth in the forms of two-inch by three-inch marble tiles with their names etched on them. It’s three in the afternoon on a Wednesday in Callao.


  1. Glad to hear you's are enjoying your trip so much! It sound's absolutely wonderful. I'm going to print out all your "Excellent Adventure's" just to document it for future generations. Also make sure to take pics of any grave markings or birth places of any and all relatives as it will be a future reminder of your existence. Tell Mel hi and thanks for letting us share in your fears, dreads and your current living conditions, makes me feel so much more secure. Love ya from everyone in Oak Valley, in beautiful downtown Southern New Jersey. Have fun and love the pic of the pooch. Did you pick it up along the way?

  2. channeling Kerouac and Lovecraft with a touch Rather. Whats the frequency, Paul?