all text and photos copyright 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seems like everywhere I go, the more I see, the less I know...

love the little guy in his rainbow pants and enormous hat

Up, way up, staring menacingly down over the crowds in the Plaza de Armas, masked demons in rainbow costume perched in the Spanish architecture of the Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús like living gargoyles.

They gestured and swayed and generally looked as frightening as possible. There was no mistaking that. Over a loudspeaker, a story was being read, the Spanish...or was it the Quichua language?...echoing off ancient stones.

 All necks were craned skyward to watch the obviously malevolent spirits as the tale that we, at least, couldn't understand wove around us. When it ended, the last bit of sound booming, then dissolving into nothingness, the masked dancers disappeared all at once.


I dumped Mike off to get a massage. The plan was, he'd get work tiredness rubbed out of his muscles and I'd go exploring and take some more photographs.

Answering some primal call drummed up by the evil spirit performance, I went carb hunting, and found candy apples. Excellent! A childlike treat to drive away the creepies, like whistling in the dark.

At least I thought so, carefully counting out close to the correct soles for  the young proprietor. He just as carefully gave me the correct change and I selected an apple. Which was a lot heavier than I had anticipated.

Closer inspection revealed: they were candy apples. As in, apples beneath a thick, jawbreaker-hard encapsulating layer of tooth-achingly sweet hard candy.  Not a smidge of caramel to be seen.

This was street food? Crunch.

Hmm. Messy. I wandered, scattering bright pink bits of hard candy over the ground whenever I risked my dental work with another bite.

Great. I was breaking my teeth, courting adult-onset diabetes and littering.

I watched spinners and weavers of alpaca wool, kids drowning their matchbox cars in a fountain, people standing in line at the employment office, (many with babes on hips), tourists with big cameras, and carefully read both t-shirts and an assortment of pictures and banners decrying the tourism racket -my Spanish may be lousy, but even a gringa like me can understand a sign like this-

the cow is tourism, which the Quechua are holding on a rope,
but the airlines and railroad and hotels and even church
are sucking away the milk that belongs to the Quechua people. 

-huh. Freedom of speech. Guess that's good. At least it wasn't against the tourists...

It seems that Take Your Children to Work Day is every day in Peru, at least when they're small. This guy, for instance, was a boy with some serious 'tude, swinging his mother's wares (sugarcane, in this case) at passers-by

Do you think that's good or bad for business? I'm not sure.

Then there was this dear little man stealing a kiss from his baby sibling while his mother and grandmother sold homemade sweets along the sidewalk :

Kids who were obviously loved and being cared for, but that evening, at a restaurant, it was hard to ignore the sparsely dressed boy child in the cold outside our window. He persistently waggled knitted and very cute finger puppets on his outstretched hands.

It's hard to let go of the thought that children shouldn't work, but while we in the West are enlightened (read: rich) enough for our children enjoy their childhoods to the fullest, with ample nutrition, education, and opportunity, that's not the case everywhere.

Looking out at that boy and the beautiful plaza of light and shadow, I was eating an alpaca steak. Yes, a fuzzy cute alpaca. Add that to my list of  "been there, ate that" -it was very lean and not terribly flavorful, in case you want to know. 

Alpaca, post-cuteness.

I told myself, if you buy something from that child, you communicate that having kids sell things in the cold and dark works and they'll keep doing it.

But the little guy was out there for an hour and didn't sell a single puppet. My heart ached for him. What if he got in trouble for not selling anything? Here I was, cozy warm, having drinks and eating a critter who'd never done any harm to anyone, simply for the novelty of it. Who was I to say that what someone from another culture should do?

So of course I caved, dashed outside, and bought several, (and at a reasonable price) between the dinner and dessert course. I was rewarded with a big, big smile. so I felt good about buying those little puppets, despite twinges to my morals.

Also, I felt better about that than I had about an earlier encounter I'd had with some locals. Two women carrying babies and alpacas were walking in the opposite direction and I'd snapped what I'd hoped was a sly photo.

In the Middle East, the one lousy time I got busted attempting to take a photo, there was a lot of shrieking and running away by the women I'd wanted to photograph. Which scarred me, slightly.

This time it was the opposite. The two women told me to take a photo. Having already gotten a heads-up from the guidebook, I knew they would expect to be paid. Which was fine; if you're going to doll up not only yourself but also your babies and your llama or alpaca so I can get a photo to make a living, all good.

So I asked how much. I didn't fall off a turnip truck, after all, and these were obviously pros. "You decide, you decide!" they insisted, "take a photo, photo, yes!"

And they posed. I made sure my valuables were secure (again, turnip truck: I'd read that if you were going to be a victim of crime in Peru, outside of Lima, Cusco is the most likely place for something to happen) and took a quick, informal photo:

 Very nice, right? I put my camera back into my purse, opened my wallet, pulled out an American dollar aaaaaand...there were four of them in front of me with their hands out.

Wait, what? Quatro? Permisso?

I had a USD $1, a USD $20, and several 20 ($7.50) Peruvian soles bills. I offered the $1 to the ringleader, which resulted in the immediate shaking of heads and pursed lips and chorusing of "no no noooooooo!" The argument that ensued was along the lines of "there are four of us and we have babies, families to feed, yadda yadda., pleeeease, lady."

Yeah, well, darn it, they said I choose and I thought $1 was a perfectly fine amount for a photograph, especially in Peru! I hesitated for the most infinitesimal second, always a mistake. One of the women was within inches of being into my wallet; scoping out the contents she said 20 soles, OK.

20 soles not OK. Getting near my wallet was also not OK. I could buy two alpaca knitted hats for 20 soles! A meal! Possibly two! NOT OK.

I plopped the dollar dismissively into the nearest hand and strode away; having much longer legs and not being weighed down by alpacas or babies helped me out, here.

OK, we both know what I'm really saying is that I ran away. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

There was a  burst of outrage as they tried to scuttle after me, but I was out of there, me and my lousy photo. The noise and pursuit were extremely short-lived, but I didn't look back. Eeyagh.

I felt like a heel.

We were tired, that night, and glad that we'd found a place away from the partiers and traffic, and went back to our peaceful hotel to sleep as well as one can when awaiting an early wake-up call. We had a train to catch, our very favorite form of travel, and would be leaving before dawn...


  1. Oh, that argument over what to pay for a photo! So annoying; had one supposed holy man shout at me in Nepal, because I'd paid all his friends and had only a small amount left for him. But your stories and photos here are wonderful!

    1. A holy man? Seriously? Sheesh, Tara, that is SO WRONG. I would've been torqued, too. How did you handle it? Please, do say you ran away as well...that would make me feel oodles better. :)

  2. I'd run too Natalie - not to worry!

    1. Hopefully it appreared to bystanders that I left quickly and with dignity.

      But I doubt it.