I'd been in the country seven weeks, with two weeks left in my stay, when I stumbled upon Moni's Guesthouse on Airbnb in the heart of this district, a few blocks from the ocean. The pictures were lovely, and I couldn't pass up the chance to stay in Barranco before leaving Peru, so I booked her on AirBnb and packed my bags. The day I arrived, Moni was there to greet me with a huge smile. She showed me around the house and warned me endearingly not to step on the quail, as they sometimes got underfoot in the courtyard. Every time I saw her, she was radiating warmth and happiness towards her guests. She was a rare woman, overflowing with hospitality and kindness, and no matter what I needed—walking directions to the nearest bakery, recommendations for restaurants, the channel number to watch the Oscars in English, or dating advice when it came to Peruvian men—she responded in seconds, eager to make sure I had everything I could possibly need when I needed it, even if it meant jumping in a taxi and rushing home.
I was traveling solo, and stayed in the "Shorty" room the first week, and then moved to a larger room on the top floor called "Iquitos," with a private bathroom. Outside my room was an open-air balcony. I sat at the rail with my coffee in the mornings while the fog rolled heavy across the rooftops, and drank amber Cusquena beer as dusk fell and watched the lights flicker on in windows across the city.
The location turned out to be even better than I had hoped for, walkable to everything—pharmacies, bakeries, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, nightlife, the metro, the art museum. There was a charming park on the corner, filled with green parrots that hid behind the elephant-ear leaves of giant trees. Families lingered here after school till twilight. I read books there and wrote in the middle of this community hub, as children dashed about around the loops of the park on scooters and rollerblades, becoming fast friends with each other and forming clubs and charters.
Three blocks towards the ocean, was my café—La Bodega Verde—with my favorite baristas in the city. Every afternoon, I walked to the café to write, and the baristas would greet me by name and kiss my cheek and find excuses to come by my table so that they could practice every sentence they knew in English. At sunset, I ran along the coastline path where the cliffs fell away into the ocean and watched the sun make shimmering trails across the waves.
I was leaving a difficult year behind me, but here I found peace.
Moni lived in the bottom level of the guesthouse with her wonderful husband Mario, nine-year-old daughter Leah, and three small dogs—Tequila, Bombo and Pelo. There was a lot of love between them, and they filled the house with their happy vibes. After the first week, Moni invited me into her home for dinner, and the four of us gathered around delectably seasoned roasted chicken, papa fritas, salads, and Inka Cola, and discussed the vogue movement of thirty-year-old women dating twenty-year-old men.
Over the food, I learned that she and Mario had been high school sweethearts, one of those couples who'd always known they belonged together. She'd been studying law when her unexpected pregnancy with Leah compelled her to reroute her career. Her first BnB venture had been with her Mother's house while she was pregnant, and from that time on, she was hooked. Strangers from all over the world had become her guests and then her dear friends. After that, she gave up law, and she and Mario bought this ten-bedroom house in their favorite district, and never looked back.
I loved my stay with Moni. The day I left was a sad one for me; Mario helped me carry my heavy bags down the stairs, and they both waited for the taxi with me outside, and hugged me goodbye, wishing me well with my life and travels.
I am in a different country now, but it still comforts my soul to remember that in Peru, there is an artist district, called Barranco. And in that district, lies a park full of happy children and parrots and pink flowers. And near that park stands a great white house with burgundy shutters thrown open. And in that house lives one of the loveliest families you may ever meet.
There are some places and people worth rerouting to meet. When you do, give Moni a hug from Willa—and remember, don't step on the quail.