By Deborah Charnes Vallejo
PERU -- Sometimes, the best travel souvenirs are not what you buy or what you visit, but rather, the people you meet and the experiences you share.
With three hours to kill, I went to eat lunch at an informal oceanfront cafÃ© in a small town four hours south of Lima, Peru. For 15 soles ($5.00), I ordered the seafood special. My selection for an appetizer was a tangy and spicy whitefish ceviche which was served with corn nuts, boiled sweet potato and white potato slices, and a small piece of corn on the cob served over a few lettuce leaves.
To save room for my main course, I left about a-third of the platter untouched. My next selection was a large slice of lightly breaded and fried fish served with a heaping side of French fries and avocado, tomato and onion slices. I barely touched the fries but gobbled up the fish and vegetables.
Fiorela and her beads.
A little girl came by selling beaded jewelry. I told her I wasn't interested. She still hung around. I started to talk to her. She was seven. She said she went to school during the week, but admitted she didn't know how to read or write. Her mother made the beads and worked nearby.
Little by little, I moved all my fries to a small plate with the corn nuts, closer to her. She slowly ate each fry, and the corn nuts, as we chit-chatted.
In a little bit, her friend, 10-year-old Fiorela came by. As Fiorela saw I had no more interest in my food, she asked me if she could eat the rest of my appetizer, "Â¿no me invitas a tu ceviche?"
She slowly ate all that was left on my salad plate: sweet potato, lemon juice and all. I liked the beaded bracelets that she carried. Strung with Amazonian beans and nuts, mixed with a few colored beads, these were different from her friend's. She said they brought good luck.
Jokingly, I asked which brings a boyfriend.
I bought one with blue beads that contrasted with the dark brown natural seeds. She told me she makes them herself, in about two hours. I paid the $1.50 asking price without dreaming of bargaining as I'm prone to do.
Then the younger girl took some flashcards out of a blue and pink bag her mother had crocheted. I asked her to show me the letters for her name. Fiorela defended the younger girl saying she doesn't know her letters, but her name is Kamila with a K.
The girls made nice company for me. Granted, I probably felt a tinge of guilt knowing how privileged a life my own daughter had in comparison to theirs. I remembered a new canvas tote from Lima I had in my backpack which I didn't need. I get way too many freebie bags than I can use. I showed it to the girls and asked if one of them wanted it. They both did, but I gave it to Kamila.
Maybe I chose Kamila because she was my first table buddy, or maybe it was because I hadn't purchased her beads. To balance things out, I found a lilac scented antibacterial hand wash for Fiorela in my bag. I showed her how to use it. Neither of the girls had seen rinse-free soap before.
After awhile, we went our own ways. I strolled up the promenade and read a Dan Brown book on a bench in the sun, facing the shore. The restless person that I am, between chapters I did yoga stretches on the bench, or next to it. About 40 pages and plenty of stretches and twists later, I saw Kamila with another friend.
They approached me and asked me to show them what I was doing. I led them in a few simple toe touches when a French female backpacker asked if I was doing yoga. Here, on the hard patterned cement block beachfront walkway, the young girls and me in our jeans, and the hippie European in flowing earthy wear went East Indian.
I taught them cobra, down dog, cat and cow, fish, pyramid, triangle, reverse side angle, all the marichyasana and dandasana variations, and plenty more. All the while, I instructed them to breathe deeply and fill their lungs with air.
When I thought it was about time for me to head to the bus station for my return to Lima, I felt the normal refreshment and calm after a yoga session. But this was slightly different.
Yoga means union, often interpreted as union of the mind and body. This impromptu practice united me with girls of very different ages, cultures and lifestyles. Here, we were just girls laughing and enjoying the fresh air, the salt water mist, sound of the strong Humboldt currents and unusual ways we could bend our bodies and relax on the malecÃ³n.
Learn more about Deborah
From the Windy City via Miami, Mexico and South America. Some people collect antiques. Deborah Charnes collects PR awards. She earned her first Silver Anvil from the Public Relations Society of America nearly 25 years ago for a national Hispanic outreach program conducted for McDonald's Corporation.
Under her direction, since 1988 when she first joined Bromley Communications, the PR department has won too many awards to keep track. Beyond her dedication to award-winning client work, Debby keeps up with the industry and gives back.
She is a contributing author of two university public relations textbooks, and has been a judge of the International Public Relations Association's Golden World Awards for six consecutive years and in 2008, she was elected to the University of Florida's Department of Public Relations' Advisory Council to serve a three-year term.
Because of her work, Debby gets to travel internationally. When she does, she likes to share her impressions of the world as seen through this Latina's eyes.