My first day in Cajamarca was characterised by a visit to the thermal city of Baños del Inca which is, as the name indicates, the place where the Inca was enjoying the hot springs. I didn’t do it that day, reserving it for another trip to the place. In terms of discovery, I rather settled for eating one of the national dishes of Peru, I have named “cuy”. Grilled guinea pig. The taste is not bad. It reminded me of rabbit, which it is customary to eat in Belgium. But the fact that they serve you the whole animal, so you can clearly distinguish it was once a living being, is a little bit disturbing. My host specifically asked the waitress NOT to bring me the head. An instruction she obviously forgot. Herbert sent it back. He wanted to avoid me being disgusted. Though I have to admit that I am not really sensitive for that kind of thing. Having had a veterinarian for a father, who used the family car as an ambulance and a hearse, and told yucky jokes while we were having dinner has probably something to do with it.
In the afternoon, I tested the inefficiency of my mobile operator again. As my internet connection was still not working – when I went back to see them in Chiclayo, they told me I should wait about two hours. I took a margin of 34 hours before getting back to them. And then lost an additional 40 minutes to hear them tell me that the culprit was my cell phone, which needed to be formatted. Which meant losing all the information that was saved on it. I decided to give up the 3 Euros I had spent on it, renounce on having internet on my phone on a permanent basis and release Herbert from his sufferings, as he was waiting in the shop together with me.
You can get one of the best views over Cajamarca by going on top of the Santa Apolonia hill. So after a quick city tour at customary level – around 2700 meters above sea level -, that’s where I headed for. Although there are plenty of German volunteers in the city, it is apparently still odd enough to see a Westerner to stop him and try to have a chat with him. The person in search of conversation who crossed my path that day was an elderly impoverished man holding a cactus. “A present for a friend”. I’m never sure on how one should react when offered a cactus. Is the person who is offering it trying to tell something? Something different than “you might be a disaster on keeping plants alive but I defy you to manage to make this one perish?” We were going in opposite directions but when I was about to go past him, he smiled. So I smiled back at him. This he interpreted as an invitation to stop and ask me a few questions. As he left after 5 minutes, I thought I had managed to discourage him but after a few steps down, he turned around and decided to grant me an escort to the entrance of the park on the hill. The conversation continued to evolve around the cactus.
Once I entered the – paying – park, I was on my own again. But not for long. As I took out my camera to capture the panorama, a young man asked if I was interested in some historical background on Cajamarca. Obviously, his guiding offer was an improvisation, as his two friends were giggling behind his back. Which means in front of me. But I have to admit he was doing a good job, so I let him continue until he had finished and gave him a few soles. I stayed a few more minutes, then went back down to the city centre.
As I sat on one of the benches of the Plaza de Armas, taking a rest after my short walk, I observed the Peruvian ladies, with their traditional clothes, thinking on how it would be nice to be able to take some pictures. But it’s sometimes hard to deal with the sensitivity of the people. You can’t really take a picture without asking but, if you ask, you lose the spontaneity. On the other hand, I don’t like to take portraits of people with whom I had no or few interaction. You often see tourists in search of beautiful pictures of “the locals”, who mainly manage to give people the impression they are a mere touristic attraction. As I was having this deep philosophical discussion with myself on how to interact with total strangers you want to portray, a lady came to sit next to me. On the extremity of the bench. She had enough space to sit comfortably but, as I was sitting in the middle, I moved a little, so that she would understand I had no problem with sharing the space. Suddenly, I realised she was with her family and that her husband was trying to take a picture. So I figured I must be in the way and asked if they wanted me to move. But that didn’t seem to be an issue. On the contrary. As I was talking to the lady, the husband continued to take pictures. As a matter of fact, I was the one they were taking pictures of. To these people coming from a smaller town, I was the touristic attraction. Once again, the best way to feel empathy is to be directly put in the other person’s position.