I was walking down the street with my husband in the historic center of Lima, Peru.
From a bridge we gleaned a view of San Cristobal hill with humble homes made of concrete painted pink, pale blue, yellow and orange.
We walked over the heavily guarded bridge located behind the presidential palace to get a better view.
Looking down the street we saw a sign for the Rímac neighborhood and we crossed a river of the same name.
The buildings weren't as well kept as the centro. Some of the wooden balconies were falling apart and the roofs were caving in.
But I saw an orange-colored church ahead and it pulled me forward. We walked two blocks more past chifas, Chinese Peruvian restaurants, and small casino bars.
At a red light a man in pressed jeans and a crisp white shirt started talking to us. I couldn't hear him as buses and garbage trucks roared past. The traffic in this city is almost deafening.
"You want to go to that church ahead?" he asked.
"Yes," I nodded.
"Don't go," he said. "There are thieves."
"Stop here," he said warning us to stop in our tracks and not to cross the street.
"OK," I said and we turned back toward the center of town.
I'm in Peru teaching a travel writing course to Columbia College Chicago students. It wouldn't be a good idea for the teacher to be mugged or worse.
The U.S. State Department rates Peru as "critical" for crime and it has one of the highest reported crime rates in Latin America. Peru registers at least five murders per 100,000, or one murder per 20,000 residents per year.
I'm certain that I am more or just as likely to be a crime victim in Chicago than in Lima.
I have found the people here to be friendly and generous. In the center of town and the Miraflores neighborhood there also are many municipal tour guides who patrol the streets. And everyday citizens say hello and ask how they can help you.
It's nice to know that they are watching out for us.