Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Road Trip Through the Heartland

Streets of Chicago

As I mentioned on my last post, last week we headed to the Midwest to attend a wedding. We flew into Chicago and spent a day there before moving on to Bettendorf, Iowa; where the wedding was taking place and where we spent the rest of the weekend.

As we prepared for our trip to the Midwest, we pictured ourselves laying down lakeside Lake Michigan, soaking up the warmth that we hardly ever get in San Francisco and relaxing next to other beach goers. Sadly for us, during our time in Chicago, we only got rain and clouds, and temperatures that never climbed above 55 degrees. Instead of the beach and the sun, we went on an impromptu pub-crawl to stay out of the rain while still being out and about.

Fortunately, the next morning was not rainy, only cloudy and cold, and we were able to walk around Chicago. 

I really like Chicago. The architecture is fabulous and the river walk is so pretty and peaceful.  The streets above the river are crowded but, once you get down by the river, it’s like having your own private showing of the city as hardly any people seemed to be down there.

The L
After some walking around, some photo-taking, and some coffee, we picked up our rental car and started the 3-hour drive to Bettendorf, Iowa—we actually took 5 hours to get there because we decided to take our time and drive slowly to enjoy the open skies, the simple beauty of the corn fields and the barns that accompanied us for most of the road.

As we headed west, we left the rainy clouds behind, the skies turned blue, and the rain clouds turned into gorgeous puffy white clouds.

I had forgotten how beautiful the skies can be in the Midwest. So open, so big, with not a single mountain on the horizon to block your view. I personally prefer mountains, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the beauty of such openness.

Peru, Illinois
The farther away we got from Chicago, the more rural the scenery turned. About 2 or 3 hours into our drive, we arrived to our first and only planned stop of the way: Peru, Illinois.

So, I am from Peru, as most of you might have already realized and, when Joe told me that a couple of miles south of I-80 was a town called Peru, I knew we had to stop there. I mean, how could I pass on that one, right?

Peru, Illinois
Peru (pop. 10,295) is one of the Twin Cities along with LaSalle, Illinois, and is located in the core of the Illinois Valley, right next to the Illinois River. Peru got its name back in 1834 when more settlers started coming to the area and the area had to be divided into different sections. The city got its name because the word was thought to be the Inca Indian word for “wealth.”
Peru, Illinois

Peru, Illinois
As we drove in the city, we saw a Police Station and we decided to stop and say hi. Why not? Right? Outside the station were two officers smoking cigarettes so we approached them and explained to them that I was from Peru, South America and then handed them a little handicraft made in my Peru as a souvenir (or a gift of peace!). I couldn’t quite tell if they had ever heard of a place in South America called Peru, but I could tell that they were really happy we had stopped by to say hello because one of the officers, who turned out to be the Chief of Police, invited us into the station and gave us 2 awesome police patches to take as souvenirs. We didn’t get the full tour of the station because, as the Chief told us, they had just brought in some prisoners. We didn’t mind as we had already seen more than we had before. My first time in a police station had been a more pleasant experience than I had ever imagined!

Peru, Illinois
Per the recommendation of the Chief of Police, we headed down to the river front to check out the Illinois River, the train tracks, and the pub he mentioned was there (not for a drink, just to check it out!).

Riverfront Building in Peru

The Chief had told us that the riverfront needed work and that, due to lack of funding, it had not been developed to its fullest potential. We agreed with his assessment.

Illinois River

While walking around, trying to find our way to the river, we got to a park where two men were very focused on scanning every inch of the grass with a metal detector. We saluted them and walked on. Shortly after, on our way back to the car, one of the men saw us again and, very puzzled, asked us “why, are you guys just walking for no reason?” I thought it was very funny that he was confused by the fact that two people would just walk for the sake of walking. Then I thought that maybe people around there don’t walk as much, which is totally possible as we hardly saw anybody walking around town. Immediately, my public health background connected the lack of physical exercise with the high rates of obesity in rural areas.

Illinois countryside
I say, get your body grooving, right? Anyway, back in the car, we turned the AC on and drove down to the river.

The riverfront in itself was beautiful. You could tell it had seen better days, though.  The train tracks ran right next to the (mighty?) Illinois River and, across the road, a couple of establishments adorned the bluff. Besides that, we saw an industrial area on one end, and not much on the other.

As we drove back up to town, we both imagined different ways in which to beautify the riverfront and thought about how unfortunate it was that such a wonderful space was not used to create an environment in which the community can come together.

Farmhouses in Illinois
Before writing this post, I sat down and did a little background reading on the city of Peru. I learned that they are famous mostly for being the birthplace and hometown of world-renowned violinist, Maud Powell. Ms. Powell was the first person from the United States to achieve international fame!

After an hour or so of poking around Peru, we continued our drive to Bettendorf. Somehow, I was so excited to have visited Peru and to have seen the name “Peru” written all over the streets, on signs, on boards, on churches, on schools. I don’t know, it just gave me a very strange sense of familiarity.
Aviation Museum

The next two hours of the way were through more flat countryside lined mostly by cornfields and barns, and adorned with lovely puffy clouds in the sky.  

Lilies in Peru

Our drive ended at The Lodge, a funky (and unfortunately not well kept) hotel in Bettendorf. The rest of the weekend was spent with family, eating, toasting, catching up, laughing, teasing and, most importantly, celebrating the union of two lovely young people in marriage!

Chicago Theater District

Before we even knew it, we were back on the road, heading back to Chicago to catch our flight back to the Bay Area. We took a local highway for most of the road as, once again, we had no time constraints and we simply wanted to absorb our surroundings. Behind us we left family but, with us, we carried great memories of a weekend with them and the hope to see all of them again very soon!

Storefront in Peru, Illinois


Chicago Theater District

Downtown Chicago

Chicago Riverfront

Chicago Riverwalk


  1. As always, your photos are absolutely beautiful. I loved reading about your trip, especially to Peru :-) One of the things that is great about you is the way you are are open to exploring new places. There are a lot of people who would have considered a road trip like that a waste of time, just a means to an end, but not you, you saw an opportunity to learn. Miss you lady!

  2. Awe, thank you!!!! I miss you too <3