LIMA, Peru — If the bumpy ride along the pothole-laden roads to the Villa Maria Del Triunfo sports complex doesn't get your attention, the intensity of the surroundings once you step out of the vehicle will.
Surrounded by a bustling favela on the outskirts of Lima, the facility was built in the heart of an impoverished neighbourhood. It's home to several events on the Pan Am Games program including rugby sevens, baseball and field hockey.
"It's a little bit different but what a great backdrop," said Canadian women's rugby sevens assistant coach Morgan Williams. "You look around and it's a different world."
Multi-coloured shacks pepper the hills overlooking the rugby pitch. Stray dogs roam around looking for scraps of food. An imposing fence lines the venue's perimeter.
Poverty is evident everywhere you look. A phalanx of police and security types hover at the exits.
Williams, who had 58 caps for Canada over his career and played in three Rugby World Cups, couldn't recall a venue location quite like it over his two-plus decades in the sport.
"It's a great eye opener for a lot of these young girls who haven't really travelled and who are constantly on their phone and Instagram and things like that," he said after his team beat the U.S. to win gold. "To see how third world countries live, I think it's good for the girls.
"It gives them a little bit of, 'OK jeez, you know it's not all telephones and technology.'"
Most of the Pan Am venues are closer to the coast or near the main drag downtown, sections of which have more of a first world feel.
The Canadian government suggests citizens exercise a high degree of caution in Peru to "serious crime, as well as social conflicts and strikes that may occur across the country."
The government says non-essential travel should be avoided to a number of regions and provinces well outside of Lima, including border areas near Ecuador (where landmines are a threat) and Colombia (drug trafficking, occasional incursions by armed guerrillas into Peru).
"You've just got to be smart in certain areas of town," said Canadian squash coach Martin Heath. "But down in San Isidro, Miraflores and Barranco, it's fine. It's just like walking in downtown Toronto."
Canadian squash player Hollie Naughton said she feels organizers have done an "excellent job" making the athletes feel safe.
"We have none of those worries," she said. "We're just here to play and that's all we've really got on our minds."
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press