An old man slowly sits next to me. His back is painfully bended forward and almost forms the shape of half a moon. With great effort he lifts up his head as far as he can to greet me. His face is deeply wrinkled by the many years of intense sun in this altitude. “Buenos dias mi hija.” (Good morning my child) he says with his toothless smile. “Buenos dias señor.” Even though I was used to the fact that elderly people would apply to me as their child, it still felt uncomfortable to reply with the common `Papi` or `Mami`. With a firm sip I try to suck the last bit of juice out of my glass. I sneak over the counter to see if the lady has a bit more left in the blender. There is, at least enough for another glass. I put on my charming best and do the trick I`ve seen other with Peruvians.
“Mmmmmmm… that was lovely Señora, is there maybe some more left to fill up my glass another time?” Without hesitation she grabs my glass and fills it up with the rest of the fruit juice she had made for me. The whole process went so smoothly that it gave me a chuckle. In modern society this would be completely out of the question. Getting two glasses, if you only payed for one, especially when you realize it was only $0.50 to start off with. The man next to me orders a Crema de Leche with sirop and then tries his outmost best to turn towards me so he can ask me the usual questions; “Where are you from?” “How long are you traveling for?” “What places have your seen?” Although I would love to have a proper conversation with him, I found it hard to understand him. He belongs to the native people from this area and therefor usually only speaks Quechua. Also the lack of teeth doesn`t lift up the level of articulation. Grown up in the country side, he had to help out on the farm. Even if he was allowed to go to school, the area was so remote, there wasn`t any. Nowadays the heavy work on the farm has left his weight on his back, making it impossible to making a living. In order to survive his elderly days he decided to move to the city and started to sell toilet paper on the streets of Cuzco. Full of pride he shows me his bag full of rolls. “Do you want any my child?” he says with his ever-lasting teeth less smile. “No thank you señor, my boyfriend had some stomach issues, so we are well supplied at the moment.” I stand up and pay the lady. “This is for the juice and this is for the `Crema de leche` of señor. “Ow gracias, mi hija, gracias.” The man says while he grabs my hand. “Your welcome, saves you selling 5 rolls of paper today.” And with a last tap on each other shoulders our go our separate ways.
It`s busy on the market of Cuzco. Woman, men, children, everybody is buying their supplies for the upcoming week. Women in traditional clothes walk pass, carrying their shopping in a cloak with every imaginary color in the world on it. A butcher chops off the right hind leg of a pig, which is hung upside down on a hook. Two street dog sit in front of this scenery, swiping theirs tails full of hope to get a bite. On the background the vocals of the salesman and –woman echoing through the hall “Manzanaaaa… manzanaaaaa!” “Pan suaveeeeeeee… pan suaveee..!!!!” “Carne, pollo, muy baratto, baratto, baratto!” When I breathe in, my noise gets entertained with a million smells of meat, herbals, fruits, chocolate, warm soup, cake, bread, etc. I`m so intrigued by all the magic that is happening around me that I totally forget my little mission. “Oh bummer… a hat Sanne, you came here to buy a hat you little daydreamer!” I say to myself, while I force my little remark by giving myself a slap on the forehead. We were leaving on a 5 day track to Machu Pichu tomorrow. With an average altitude of 2500 m. and a bright sun, you don`t want to walk around without a hat. I quickly find one, a flat one, brown. Unfortunately the lady doesn`t sell ribbons to fancy it up. “Ah tranquillo señora, I`ll have to go and buy fruits anyway. The handicraft ladies are close from there.” I tell her while she gives me the hat. I head off to my favorite fruit stall, but to my surprise the lady has been replaced by a 10 year old boy. “Buenos dias Hermosa (handsome), welcome to the best stall in all of Cuzco! We have apples, oranges, strawberries, you name it, and we got it.” He states proudly while spreading his arms as if he was giving a speech in the theater. “Well, well sir hahah, I`m sure you`re good salesman.” “Best one in town hermosa.” “Hahaha, I`m sure about that, but don`t you have to go to school chico?” The raises his eyebrows sky high. “It`s the weekend Hermosa, there is no school. The stall is open 7 days a week. I take over from my mother in the weekends, so she has time to do the housekeeping.” He proudly states while opening up a bag and putting in the fruits I point out for him. “But what about your homework?” “I make my homework in the evenings. Don`t worry Hermosa, I`m an intelligent man, I always finish my homework in no time.” Proudly he hands me the fruits, while I pass him the money. “If you need any meat Hermosa, my sister is more than happy to help you, she is on the corner.” With an indecisive mind I make my way to the meat court. There she is, with a big shiny meat knife in her hand. Her hair perfectly held back in two braids, tight up together with a red band. She raises the knife high above her head and with a big swing she divides the dead chicken lying in front of her on the table into two. How her skinny little arms got the knife so high in the sky is a mystery for me. She lifts up the pieces and put them on display. The next one has its turn now, it`s a lot bigger than the previous one. After three unsuccessful attempt she ask the neighbor for help. The big (for Peruvian standards) fat guy takes over the chicken and the knife and with a small `Chuck` cuts straight through the breast of the lifeless bird. All of a sudden the girl noticed my appearance and stares back at me with chestnut brown eyes. It gave me a fright and with a look of shame I try to save as much of the situation as possible. I slap my own forehead, theatrically gesturing that I just remembered something and quickly continue walking. She was 8, at most…….
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto