Cusco Characters: Señor Alcides

Señor Alcides picked us up in front of the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas in a beat-up, red Volkswagen beetle. He graciously got out of the car to open the passenger-side door for us (we soon learned that this was the only way it could open). My wife and kids piled into the back and I got in front. Señor Alcides is the director of an afternoon shelter for kids in Cusco called Colibri, where our kids have been volunteering for the past few months. Colibri is a safe place for kids to do their homework and relax after they’ve been at school and work during the day. Most of the kids are street vendors – boys who shine shoes, girls who sell chicle (chewing gum) or woven finger puppets – who need to work to help support what are typically single-parent households. Our kids help them with math and English homework, play board games and head to the playground to play soccer with them.

Our Volkswagen rolled out of the Plaza and we headed south to the town of Oropesa, where Señor Alcides would show us the orfanato, his orphanage for 11 boys in the Valle de Sur. Señor Alcides is about 5’6”, with smooth brown skin, clear eyes and a receding hairline. He smiles easily and has a very calm demeanor. This calmness may come from working with battered women and children at the Cusco Police Department for 27 years. While the police department does not provide any money to Colibri or the orphanage, they do allow Señor Alcides to knock off every afternoon to work on both projects.

Once we arrived in Oropesa we turned down a muddy unpaved road with full of holes and small craters. Miraculously, the Volkswagen beetle did not get stuck in the mud or bottom out. If anyone needed a four-wheel drive truck – not only to negotiate the road but to transport goods for the orphanage -- it was Señor Alcides. We arrived and were greeted by dogs, geese, chickens, a parrot and several smiling boys. We got out and took a tour of the orphanage. The main structure, where the boys study and sleep was a plywood-walled, corrugated-roof building elevated 2 feet off the ground. While we were meeting each of the boys inside, wind shook the building and the windows, many of which were covered with plastic. The boys were shy, polite and very interested in their visitors. We briefly toured the garden, the kitchen, and the outhouse. We were also shown the well, which took Señor Alcides and his family a month to complete, working every evening and weekend. One of the older boys, clearly mentally challenged, told me everything he knew about World War II…about the “Germans and Italians being on the same side” and about “France being occupied.” He explained that he learned it all from a DVD he had seen “many, many times.” Señor Alcides smiled and put his arm around the boy and it was time for us to go.

On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at the bakery to buy the boys some chutas, large sweet bread loaves that are famous locally. While driving back, Señor Alcides told me about balancing Colibri, the orphanage, his police work counseling battered women and his wife and four kids. As he was talking, I was asking myself, “Do I believe him? Is he really a saint or is he a really good fundraiser?” He talked of the challenges of raising money for both projects, of the Dutchman who raised and sent $1,500 from Holland only to have it get “lost” somewhere in the police department. I decided that I believed him, not because of what he said but because of what he drove. I figured that anyone who needs a 4x4 truck as much as he does…and drives a beat-up Volkswagen from the 60’s...must be an honest man.

You can find Señor Alcides and Colibri every afternoon at Calle Resbalosa 410-A in Cusco. Stop by and ask him if he needs some help.

This post is part of See Simi's travel blog carnival "Feel Good" Travel.

1 comment:

  1. It is really nice that you volunteer time on your vacation. I guess part of the joy is in discovering some wonderful people!