‘The Shot’ | Quirky Travel Tale

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 😛

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  5. says: Emily

    Very thought-provoking. I think many of us really do want those great travel pics regardless of the authenticity of it. If it helps support locals who need it, it can’t hurt, though it does feel awkward posing for something that isn’t “real.”

  6. says: Nancy from Family on Bikes

    HA! We’ve been there and done that too – just HAD to get a pic of our sons with the brightly clothed “natives.” Love your honesty about it all.

  7. Wow…wild! You really had me for a while there. I was formulating my comment based on the first part of the story and then–surprise! I admire you for being honest. Some might not have been. Great photos, btw.. 🙂

  8. says: Abi

    Ah, but this has now become part of the travel experience! So much so that when I was last in Japan, my (genuine) hosts (dressed in western suits) looked crestfallen when I didn’t want to have my photo taken with the actors in the samurai costumes. I didn’t want to make them feel bad, so one thing led to another and now I’m the (not so) proud owner of a series of photos of me with the fake samurai. Perhaps I should dig them out…Then again…;)

  9. says: Erica

    I think this is why I have such a hard time capturing people in my photos. I want an authentic experience without entering their space or capturing emotions they wanted to keep to themselves. I usually just stick to those giant billboards with head cutouts.

  10. says: Ayngelina

    One of my Ecuadorian friends in Cuenca told me that he hates how the only photos you see of Ecuador are of parades with everyone in their traditional dress because tourists are disappointed when they see everyone walking around in Abercrombie hoodies and jeans.

    1. Ayngelina, I can see where your friend is coming from! I remember when I was traveling in southern China noticing both children and adults slipping in and out of traditional regional clothes and then walking around with those hoodies and jeans after performing for tourists. I guess on the one hand, it’s kind of a a shame that globalization has caused this shift in many parts of the world, but on the other hand it’s a bit too much for tourists/backpackers to expect otherwise and feel disappointed when locals are wearing t-shirts and jeans.

  11. Hahaha, great twist! It is true though… people often obsess about getting “the perfect photo” far too much when traveling, rather than focusing on getting the most out of the experience. Then they rarely look at the photo when they’re back home…

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the twist! Yeah, I hope I stop doing things like this in the future when I travel. It’s just honestly not worth it and even if the photo looks nice the memories are not very sincere 😛

  12. says: Margo

    the thing is that the real (or authentic story) here, is infinitely more telling about the reality of this place/situation than the made up one.. The money for photo story is a great travel story, entertaining and honest, where the other one’s been done so often and doesn’t quite ring true. (ahem… Three Cups of Tea)

  13. says: Amer

    haha..love this post. You fooled me here too! Though, i’ve never actually paid anything to get the shot yet. Well maybe next time I should!

  14. says: Sherry

    I admit, I am one to do anything just for a perfect shot of what I want. Though sometimes it is recreated rather than authentic. My experiences, however, have always been authentic. A perfect photo to remember those experiences by, even if its staged, is not a bad thing; at least not to me. Perhaps I’m in the minority on this one.

  15. Nice bait and switch there. 😉 The funny thing is that someone totally can take one of these photos and spin an elaborate and heart-warming tale around it that’s completely fabricated (as you so perfectly illustrate). I wonder how many people take their photos home and actually do spin a tale instead of explaining the actual conditions in which they took the photo? Probably not a lot, but maybe some?

    1. LOL, I do wonder that as well. I think that most photos do have an impressive story behind them and that only a few are truly this staged. I’m still a sucker for a good shot & the fact I’m willing to admit doing this is somewhat embarrassing 😛

  16. says: Bethany

    Funny, Funny Mr. Sam. Seriously the beginning when I read it I was thinking “Oh my god that’s how I felt wwoofing in Italy!” My second thought was “What the hell is he doing with those black gloves working in the field??” haha 🙂 But really don’t you feel strange about these types of things in some way? I always think if the shoe was on the other foot what would i think? Would I think ‘wow, these people are total idiots I can’t believe they pay for this!’ or would it make me feel bad? Guess it depends on the money…

    1. LOL, I’m glad to have fooled a few people here at the beginning – hopefully made for a bit more of an entertaining read. I do feel strange about it to be perfectly honest. I sometimes wonder if they think that or if they feel a bit embarrassed dressing up this way only to play make believe with dumb tourists (myself included) 😛

  17. Such a great description of those “authentic” photos we all seek. I think you may have just opened a few people’s eyes with this! It’s so easy to make things appear other than as they are. 🙂

  18. Thank God I read it from the start and didn’t just scan LOL. You had me fooled too! It’s really hard to find an authentic one since almost everyone in the world are wearing modern clothes now although there are some areas in the Philippines that still wear their tribal and ethnic clothes.

    When you visit the Philippines, i will take pictures of you with the Igorots and Bagobos hehe =P