Feast your eyes upon this picture. You´ll notice the lovely Mrs. Mariciela Flores and her dearest grandson Julio. They´re a typical rural based Peruvian family living off of the land miles away from the corruption and chaos of a large urban centre. I was delighted to have a unique opportunity to stay at their humble abode for two weeks as part of a volunteer exchange initiative.
During the days I would help assist the family with their regular farming routine while my room and board was subsidized by this wonderful program. Typically, days were spent toiling away on the fields with the delightful enthusiasm of a child discovering a new hobby. The work was labour intensive and in the evening I would often spend time with Manuel playing card games and kicking around a soccer ball for a few hours before going to bed feeling totally satisfied but thoroughly exhausted.
Mrs. Gonzalez radiated the most authentic smile (as you can see from the photo) and was ever-most patient when I awkwardly thumbed my way through farming techniques I was attempting for the very first time. Even though she lived in the most modest of conditions she always made sure we had an enormous feast for dinner with plates full of food still remaining on the table when our bellies were just about ready to explode.
Overall, my time with the family will be cherished forever as I really felt like I could connect with another culture and understand a way of life that I had never experienced before myself.
It was hard saying goodbye as I held back tears in my eyes.
I will miss them in ways that can´t be explained fully with words
Well, if you haven´t guessed by now, this story has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. What you see in the picture conveys every aspect of the story I wrote above; however, what you don´t realize is that this is the most inauthentic scene you could possibly imagine.
Moments before this photo was snapped I was standing in line with a bunch of other gringos. One hundred and eighty degrees behind me are shops full of mostly non-essential touristy junk (what some might declare as souvenirs or handicrafts) chocked full of aggressive vendors all selling the EXACT same things that are mass produced for the tourists that buy them.
I´m now next in line. A drop of a coin into a bucket buys me about 90 seconds of time to flash my pearly whites as best I can and mosey around the premises of this artificial stage filled with actors wearing costumes. We don´t even exchange pleasantries. The queue doesn´t allow time for it. Instead, I flop around exaggerating my most phoney smile while my friend fires away exposures from my dSLR.
Even the animals are more docile and disinterested than normal. They can only be force fed so many times before their bellies are well beyond the satiation point. They seem just as tired of it all as little junior who appears even less enthusiastic about playing make believe with tourists all day long. After all, like most small boys I´m sure he´d rather be off playing in the fields far away from the ´strange´ looking adults that kneel down beside him each and every day from dawn until dusk.
There is absolutely nothing authentic or real about this scene other than the business transaction that takes place prior to the action.
As travellers, we often crave photos of the exotic.
We´re looking for ´the shot.´
The family dressed in traditional clothes with the llamas in the background gives the distinct impression of the culture of this area. This is not limited to only one part of the world. In South East Asia I´ve forked over coins and banknotes to have a snake put around my neck or a few exotic birds on my shoulder. In South Korea, at certain palaces, I´ve been dressed from head to toe in royal style costumes fit only for kings of past generations.
It makes for an impressive photo…with a price tag behind it. That´s why we do it. However, the perfect shot you show your friends back home MAY not have the most exciting story behind it, which in a sense, kind of makes the whole experience feel like a dirty job done cheap 😛