El otro lado: caras de los pobres, (the other side: faces of the poor), Cuzco, Peru

I got into Cuzco three days ago from La Paz. Without going into too much detail (maybe in another post), La Paz was an eye opener. Places like La Paz and Cuzco are the reason I left Chile and Argentina. I wanted to get in touch with the raw and gritty side of South America again. I had gotten too comfortable in Chile and Argentina, especially Patagonia. While the cities are immensely beautiful, crazy, buzzing with activity and commerce, there is an extremely sad side to them. I’d felt a little unsettled in Cuzco and I didn’t know why. The more time I spent walking around the historical centre and observing people’s way of life, the more unusual I felt, but I couldn’t work out why. Today it struck me: the divide between rich and poor in these cities is vast, and evident almost every ten to fifteen meters on the sidewalks. I couldn’t ignore it or look at anything else. For almost eleven months I have been spoiled with the natural wonders and beauty of nature in this continent. Now I had become fixated on the other end.

Westerners like myself walk around toting smart phones and digital cameras while cripples and homeless people beg on the street for money in order to scrape out a living. It’s happening on every block, every street, in every square or park. I think Peru and Bolivia are some of the worst examples I’ve seen. For days I passed by these people trying to shut out the sadness in their eyes, in their lives. What could I do?

I had lunch with my friend Clare today and was talking about my lack of camera use since arriving. Cuzco should be a wonderland for an architecture student, but for some reason I was just not interested in the city’s architecture. Something struck me at lunch and I decided, telling Clare also, that I was going to spend the afternoon with my camera, capturing the other side of Cuzco, of South America.

All I have really exposed my friends and family to are the beautiful points and places and experiences in these countries of South America; the great volcanoes and snowy mountain peaks of the Andes, the lakes, the forests, deserts, salt flats, animals, plants, flowers, gorgeous architecture. I think I felt sick of capturing the same thing. I decided to try something different. To talk to the beggars, to get their stories, to capture their sadness and hopefully get a point across that is not just historical relics, mountains, beautiful sunsets and clear star-addled skies by night. All this poverty is as real as everything else. It matters too. I love Cuzco, but there is more than just the tourist attractions and beautiful historical centre. There is a world of sadness and poverty here, and it’s not unique just to Cuzco and Peru.

In the following photos are some of the people I encountered. They were all mostly friendly, some I got to sit down and talk with for a while. One homeless man, when I asked if I could take a photo, had no idea what I was saying, perhaps thought I was trying to threaten him, lashed out and scratched me in the face with his long unkempt nails. I was fine. I left him some change and moved on.


Three Cuzcqueña women take a break from hounding tourists to take photos of them with their baby llamas outside the Iglesia de San Francisco.


Benito, a Cuzqueño, makes a living by hand-fabricating beautiful coloured bags, beanies and bracelets.


A homeless woman crosses Iglesia de San Francisco with all her belongings on her back.


A woman who sells bananas on the street stops for a break and something to eat.


A homeless woman walks amongst locals, carrying all her possessions on her back.


A street vendor hides from the camera.


A woman and child both clean nuts to sell to people passing by on the street. They sat meters away from the beggar who swiped at my face. She laughed at the scene. I saw the humour in it too.


A man organises his products on the street near my hostel.


A blind man sings loudly as he begs for attention first, and hopefully some money.


Children play around their mother who waits patiently to sell street food to locals or tourists.


Another woman waits patiently at the Plaza de Armas to sell street food.


A woman spends her days selling sunglasses to tourists.


An aged and frail, homeless beggar-woman who was incredibly grateful of my attention and generosity, despite having to do this every day of her life.


This incredibly friendly woman makes her living selling delicious plates of food on the street for less than $1 USD.


A woman and a child beg for money on a busy Cuzco street.


A lovely woman whom grew up in a small town just outside of Cuzco now makes her living selling Artisan products to tourists on the street. She said she does okay and is happy.


A boy studies while tending to a street cart.


Business as usual for this man and his street cart.


A lone child sits outside the Iglesia de San Francisco and waits for her mother whom is nowhere to be seen when I took this photo.


These are all photos from your world. Our world. This is not television. This is not MTV. This is real. This is all happening right now, not just in Cuzco, but in many, many parts of the planet. As I said on Facebook, it was the saddest day of my almost eleven months travelled. Despite the hardship, the struggle for life, these people all maintained an air of respect and friendliness towards me – something, that sometimes, people who have everything in more fortunate societies seem to lack. We live in a strange world.