One of the things that continues to impress me about Peru, even more so than the beautiful cities and sites it has to offer, is the fact that tourism has such a large impact on the community. Unlike some of my previous experiences abroad, I feel like the money I spend traveling here actually goes to people who need it, rather than to large money-hungry tourist agencies.
There have been several moments over the course of my stay that have really demonstrated the importance of tourism in Peru, and I’d like to share those here.
The first thing that struck me, especially here in Lima, is the lack of larger supermarkets (in comparison to what I am used to in the US). Local stands with fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and meat spring up each morning. And if one ever needs something to eat, there is no shortage of delicious looking fresh, locally grown or baked food at these locations. It feels rather good buying daily necessities or the rare piece of maricuya pie from local stands, knowing the money is contributing towards local growth, rather than to the pockets of a large corporation.
In addition, something one encounters at the majority of archaeological sites here, which usually get a lot of tourist traffic, are small markets of artisans selling souvenirs. While some of the items offered are the typical mass-produced postcards or key chains, a lot of what’s being sold is original work done by local people. It’s not uncommon to see vendors creating more of their product right in front of you as they wait for you to pick something out. There’s just something really wonderful about buying a product – whether it be a piece of jewelry, a scarf, ceramics, etc – and being able to say you saw it being made. One of the most touching things I saw recently was at a hat stand in Trujillo. The woman supervising the table was sitting in her chair in the process of knitting another hat, a small girl (presumably her daughter), sat beside her, holding the ball of yarn and methodically letting more out as her mother knit each row. I bought several hats as souvenirs from her stand that day, and I can truly say they were made by local hands.
Another thing that I enjoyed seeing was that in many cases, tourism helps to rebuild and restore. This past weekend, while in Huaraz with Parag (Karikuy’s newest volunteer) our tour brought us to the small town of Yungay. Hit by two terrible avalanches in the span of less than 20 years, the original town was completely destroyed, and only a few remnants of structures that once stood remained. Upon entering the site, we were greeted by an elderly man, who accompanied our group, and who was a Yungay native and survivor of both disasters. He explained that the small fee we had paid (5 soles) to visit the site went towards the restoration of the slowly-rebuilding community. Knowing that, even in a very small way, I had contributed to this devastated community made me very happy.
In general, all-day tours here usually include an hour or so stop for lunch. In every case but one (so far) the stop has been at a local eatery (and not a big chain). While these restaurants are usually deemed “tourist” restaurants, many of them (thankfully) lack the over-done, in-your-face “this-is-a-tourist-restaurant” decorations, and are often more simple and traditional. Just this past weekend, the one we stopped in just outside of Huaraz was situated on a secluded mountain side in the back of a local home. It was a wonderful difference from the usual over the top tourist restaurants in the city.
Another thing that strikes you when you first begin touring here, is the amount of local people that line hiking trails and archaeological sites. Mostly mothers and children, they offer small items or services to make a few centimos – mostly they offer small snacks or bottles of water, while other times they let you pose for a picture with their animals. In Cajamarca, two sisters even sang us a song!
Tour guides often give groups a few minutes to stop and look around at what they have to offer, or in the case above, to listen to a song. It doesn’t take much time or money to make someone’s day, and if I see someone in need on a trail I try to buy something from them rather than from a shop. In addition, and if they have free seats, tour buses often offer local vendors rides back to the main cities.
To sum it up, I really enjoy knowing that my visit to and investment in such an interesting country and its people helps to improve, even in a small way, the lives of those that live there. Satisfying my love of archaeology and culture not only benefits me, it benefits the communities that live and breathe it everyday. And at the end of the day, that makes all the difference.
Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.