Thursday, 1 June 2017

memories of Peru

My latest book, Relentless, is set in Peru and Bolivia. These are two countries I absolutely love. I've visited them a couple of times, but I also got to live and work there for about a year when I was in my early twenties. It was the first time I'd ever been that far away from Scotland and it was also my first time on a plane! I went to Peru to work as a "resident artist" in a school program in the shanty towns outside of Lima and then on to Bolivia to teach art at an international high school. I had no teaching experience, couldn't speak a word of Spanish and knew nothing about the culture - you could say I was very well prepared for the experience! Here are four things I learned about travelling from my trip all those years ago.

Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I briefly taught high school art.

Always take a phrase book with you.

I didn't! And all the Spanish I knew was Por Favor and Adios. Yeah, not great. I fed myself in that first month by calling the local pizza place and saying "Pizza Por Favor" followed by my address. They soon learned that was all I could say, because no matter what they asked, that was my reply. I got a large selection of random pizzas from very amused delivery boys - including one that almost killed me because it was covered in chilies! I also spent months ordering cheese and ham sandwiches from a little cafe in the center of Lima before I realized that Jabon is Spanish for soap, not ham. And then there was the time, towards the end of my year, when I spoke at someone's wedding and instead of telling them I was embarrassed to be talking but the minister made me do it, I said I was pregnant and the minister made me do it! Yeah, a phrase book would have been handy...

The area I worked in while I was in Lima

Buy sensible souvenirs that will easily pack into your luggage

I bought eight foot spears from a tribe in the Amazon. They didn't fit in anything. When I arrived at Bolivian's International airport to get on the plane to come home, I was picked up by security for trying to take a dangerous weapon onto the plane. I was strip searched as I lectured the guard on how the spears weren't exactly a stealth weapon and someone might notice me if I rushed the cockpit with them. The upshot was that I had to pay to have the spears packaged and put in the hold.

My spears are still in the UK, but this will give you an idea of what I mean.

Be prepared to try new foods

Now you might think that growing up in Glasgow - where deep fried Mars Bars are the norm - that unusual food wouldn't faze me. You'd be wrong. The first time I had to eat a chicken's eyeball, then nibble the meat off a chicken's foot, I was very fazed! Don't even get me started on the dinner I was invited to in the shanty town where I worked. I had to point at one of the guinea pigs running around the owner's house so she could kill it and turn it into stew for our meal! The experience was traumatic, but the guinea pig was tasty...just sayin'...

Peruvian guinea pig...yum...

Always tell somebody where you're going

I'm an independent sort of girl, so this didn't occur to me. Consequently, when I went missing from the high school I was teaching at for three days, leaving only a note saying I'd be back, the staff went nuts trying to find me. I, meanwhile, had hitched a ride on a tiny plane into the jungle with an organisation that flew in supplies and medical help for the tribes. I had an absolute blast only to come back to the lecture of my life. Lesson learned. The next time I left a note it said: "Do not worry. I'm in the jungle." Apparently that wasn't enough information either...

LOVED the jungle!

So that's it. I could talk about Peru and Bolivia all day long, but I can't - not if you want the next in the Benson's Boys series to come out sometime this year! If you ever get a chance, I would totally recommend visiting Peru and Bolivia. They're countries full of romance, breathtaking scenery, friendly people and rich cultural heritage. I can't wait to go back!

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