I am sure many of you are familiar with city life; it’s lively, diverse, and full of familiar shops and brand names plastered on billboards everywhere you look. Full of people conversing in the streets, artisans selling you their goods, and sadly a sky that is not always the clearest blue. It’s constantly moving, and that is how Lima in Peru was; people were in the park into the night watching their children play on the playground in Kennedy Park, a view right outside the window of the hostel that I was staying at. Rural parts of Peru feel a bit different from city life, as any rural place can feel really.
A view from one of the many plazas in Huaraz
At this time, the group I was traveling with was at about twelve people, and our mode of traveling from Lima to a smaller town, Huaraz, was to be by bus. I must say that we had quite a nice bus- we went through a company called Cruz del Sur, and they take their service quite seriously as they test their drivers with a breathalyzer and give you a comfortable blanket and pillow to sleep on (the food…well we’ll say it’s on par with airplane food), and generally nothing like a Greyhound bus, or a chicken bus as some may say. I had a seat next to someone whom was traveling to do business in Huaraz, and as I tried to explain that my Spanish skills were not the best, he laughed and we managed to get a small conversation going. At this point I figured that at least admitting and being able to joke that I was not good at speaking Spanish was the best way to handle meeting people, and I still think it is.
A view of Huaraz from upon entering a bit of the residential side…
When we arrived in the morning we found that we were indeed in a smaller place, the streets more narrow and uneven and dogs were roaming everywhere. After deciding that we wanted to walk with all our bags to the hotel or hostel that we decided to stay at, I found that we were definitely looked at more (then again, a large group of college travelers each with a couple large bags, and a bit groggy from a night bus ride probably would call for attention too). Yet after settling our things in and getting refreshed, we decided to explore the place, and indeed you can find more glances at us and mutterings of “gringas” and “gringos”.
I immediately felt the difference in the atmosphere as there was hints of more traditional lifestyles as Quechua women, whom stood out in their beautiful embroided hats and brightly colored skirts of pinks, reds, and oranges that complimented their sweaters, looked at you from their seated position on their rugs to sell you their woven textiles. These women always took my interest, since they did stand out from the crowd and were often found doing hard labor or cleaning the streets if they were not selling you their goods. Most of all, they were often elderly women, hinting that this tradition is a dying one that newer generations are not entirely embracing. The main difference however, is that the town is not as diverse as it was in Lima and even though we were there for a brief day, there is a different sense of community in the area and other curiosities. One such interesting event was after a dinner a group of us shared that a parade full of children holding candles and lighting fireworks out of large paper mache structures was taking place in the streets. We had no clue what it was for and we were a bit concerned and wondered why they children were parading around with candles in the streets, as dancers and musicians followed them. We did explore during the day as well, and after going up a hill, you begin to feel more suspicious eyes watching you as the area we were in became looking more residential. I do not blame them; it isn’t often that travelers would go into residential areas to get a panoramic view of where they are. Peopled watched, from both sides of travelers and locals.
The next day, we were on our own little bus to head to a smaller town, Huari. Here is where we stood out in the dynamic of mixing openness and traditions with our curiosities and current needs of food. Here, school children were among the most fun to deal with and people were often open when you say a friendly “buenas tardes” (good afternoon) to them. Here is where the word “gringas!” and “gringos!” was truly expressed too.
A soccer (futbol) practice that we stopped by to watch
A thing about kids to be mentioned, they are genuine and they love to laugh and play just as kids should. They whispered and pointed at our group, and one of them was picked at as a dare to come up to us and say hello after which he/she would run back to their friends, fulfilling the dare. One time, after greeting a group of the schoolchildren, one turns around smiling and says “Wait! What’s your name?” (which we received often actually from the children, which may mean that this phrase is a common one taught in their schools). They waited as we told them our names and then went off happily on their way home. Soccer is a very big thing in the town too, and often the kids were dressed in their soccer uniforms if they were not in school uniforms. We watched a few minutes of their soccer games and played with them in the streets, as they always smiled and laughed at our Spanish attempts. The locals in Huari were all wonderful to us, though they were entirely open in calling our large group (now often split into smaller groups of five at most as our total was about twenty for the field school).
The people of Huari were very open to us, and again, laughing at your own lack of Spanish as a joke and still being sincere with a “por favor” and “gracias” goes a long way and people like having the opportunity to help there. One of the days as were walking to the marketplace, I looked down this corridor that seemed like a patio full of flowers. I pointed it to my friends and we stopped to look as this lady in her chair by the corridor looks at us and invites us in, into her home to show us her flowers. She could tell that we were trying to say things in Spanish to her, but she simply smiled and let us look at her garden and invited us to sit with her when we had time. Yet, despite the overall kindness, we were often whistled at, pointed, watched. A gentleman went up to a couple of the girls and took their hands whispering “gringas…” and smiled as he watched us go. Dogs watched us too, as possibly some of the donkeys around.
What I found the most fascinating in this little town though was after we returned from our excavations and research in the mountains a couple weeks later. This is where I appreciate that I tan and not burn in the sun. I became a few shades darker then what I was at the beginning of my trip and walking around the town, I noticed less attention and looks- as if I was a bit of a local myself, especially when my curly hair was tied back in a bun to the point that it was hard to tell it was curly (it isn’t found often in Peru). I was still friendly in saying “buenas tardes” and went to the marketplace to get fruit, but I noticed that the looks where fewer and people all the more willing to help me out. I was more obvious a sort of tourist when I was with my friends and they found that all of us had limited Spanish speaking skills. I found it quite funny though at this transition of actions in a matter of a few weeks. Many of my friends had burned, and were still a bit out of place (anything over five and a half feet is already a bit out of place as it is), yet we found that these people, in this little town welcomed tourists as people too in their own way.
I mentioned this to one of the ladies that often cooked for us during the field school and she described it perfectly well (being interested in cultural anthropology herself and teaching psychology). She mentioned that people lived by basic traditions, and an example is that in the market places if you didn’t have money, a simple trade of goods is sufficient enough. She pointed out that a thank-you does go a long way; that people will help you as long as you remain polite and sincere, everyone respects that- it is how they were raised.
A panoramic of Huari, simply a beautiful little town by the Andes
Now there are always exceptions, there were times we were ignored or had great difficulty in communicating, but there did seem to always be someone there to help us out, and I believe that those words of wisdom do prove true.
Yes people are curious, we all are, but we are all here to help each other too. How the world can continue to progress is through cooperation, learning, and open mindedness, and sharing diverse interactions and knowing they exist is a fair way to start in understanding ourselves and our world. These rural parts of Peru, being less diverse, is still full of life and we witnessed dancing, music, games, and people working to do their part as their role in society. Our role as anthropologists is to recognize these as they are and record them in their likes for you and ourselves to appreciate us as people.