Now that we’re back from Peru, and I’ve finally finished telling the stories of our two weeks there, there are a few things about our trip that I’ve been reflecting on.
One thing that was interesting about our visit to Peru was the fact that we experienced different worlds while we were there. While in Lima, we mostly moved in the world of the upper middle class – where we ate, where we shopped, the sights we saw, and who we spent time with. We enjoyed it and felt very comfortable there. However, our experience of Lima was not necessarily typical of all foreigners who visit Lima (many of whom are there to do missions work or to provide services to the disadvantaged). Our experience is certainly not representative of millions of people who live in Lima at a much lower standard of living than the one we experienced.
While in Cusco, and for the most part on the trek as well, we lived in the tourist world. A good many of the tourists in Peru (Dave and myself included) are people who would likely prefer to refer to themselves as “travelers”. It’s a group of people who want to experience different aspects of this world that we all share, in as genuine a way as possible. (In contrast with staying at resorts, laying on beaches, and/or shopping at malls that could be in any country anywhere in the world.) Despite the desire for authenticity, it’s hard for outsiders to truly experience another culture the same way the natives experience it, especially when most travelers have a minimum standard of comfort and sanitation that is often above that which the people of that country can regularly achieve. Although we have a real enough experience to come away with an understanding and appreciation of a people, their surroundings, and their history, we don’t really get a chance to live through their daily struggles nor their daily joys.
This is the world we got a chance to glimpse but not really experience: the lives of everyday lower and working class Peruvians. Our guides, Leo and Jose, told me a lot about their lives, and it seemed very different from the lives of those of us who were able to pay US$345 each to be there. Interesting also were the bits of information we learned about our porters, the women selling snacks and soft drinks out of baskets along the trail, and the families living and farming near or along the Inca Trail. Those who are working – even jobs that are very difficult – are thankful to have those jobs, because everyone knows someone who can’t find work. Even having a job doesn’t guarantee that the bills will all get paid, and having an occupation doesn’t guarantee full time work. It’s difficult, but they continue on – and, as we learned on the weekend of the Inti Raymi festival, they even take time to celebrate.