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Alto riesgo en Barrios Altos

Virgen de Carmen church in Barrios Altos, Lima, PerĂº. Photo by Patrick Barry Barr.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the church in Lima where my family has attended for many years and where the sisters in the adjacent cloister make an ancient dessert out of key limes and dulce de leche. Well, not having any good photos of the church, I prevailed on a friend in Lima, Patrick Barry Barr (also the star of a recent post) to snap a few shots for me. Below is the tale of his near-mugging, as he so kindly ventured into this notorious neighborhood...

"Last Friday morning, the 13th, we took a taxi to the street. Somebody in the adjoining school told us that if we waited at the gate it would be opened around noon. I started taking pictures of the building from across the street, with her close by my side.

A woman, passing by, obviously having read our minds, stopped to tell us that Senora del Carmen was about three blocks down the road. So we took off, walking.

When we arrived, I immediately started shooting, with her again close by my side. I shot this and I shot that, making sure I got just about everything Don may need for his journal."

Interior, Virgen de Carmen church. Photo by Patrick Barry Barr.

"Of course, everybody in sight was curious. I barely noticed a bunch of guys standing in the street just outside the church compound. We were standing just inside the church, but outside the entry to the church itself, when a young woman, maybe 19, approached us with her baby in her arms, and, quite softly, told us the area was dangerous and that there were some robbers outside. I thanked her, without looking at the guys, so it would appear as just an ordinary conversation.

At the urging of my friend, we left the church compound, and waited just outside for a cab, which we got within seven minutes.

Then, in the comfort of the cab, my friend started talking about how terrified she had been. The taxi driver concurred that this wasn't the kind of neighourhood that we should be in, albeit as close as a quarter mile to the Congress.

My friend told me that she saw the guys coming together, that she looked them in the eyes, that one of them had razor cuts on his face, that she thought they were reluctant to rob us on church premises and that she heard one tell the group to move further down the road.

When I told my landlady about the experience, she recounted that there is a gate that leads into a residential compound and that when the robbers snatch some prize and run through those gates you can kiss your property goodbye.

In many areas of Lima, it appears to be a No Man's Land and the police think better of going there.

One midnight, about 4 years ago, as I sat in a tiny bus (a Combi in Lima) on Avenida Venezuela, the driver waiting to get it filled before leaving, I saw a guy outside casually shoving his hand into a man's pockets, as if they were his own pockets. And everybody behaved as if it were quite normal.

There are some parts of Lima, like some parts of just about any city, where you are better off avoiding altogether."

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