I never thought I’d be relieved to see the burro-belly white skies of Lima. After two weeks in the desert I was ready to sooth my salt stained skin. A bout of food poisoning left me leveled in Chiclayo. I was forced to abandon my itinerary just shy of Trujillo and book a direct trip back to the capital—in 48-hours I’d place my camera upon a shelf in my bedroom and return to my day job of selling clothes.
The desert is unlike anywhere else on earth. Its endlessness is tangible; it plays tricks upon the brain. There’s a reason most of the world religion’s prophets received their messages in the midst of some sun-bleached nowhere. Once your eyes become exhausted from emptiness you have no choice but to turn your gaze back upon yourself.
What had I come to accomplish? To shoot photos yes, by why in Piura? What made these faces more significant than the other seven-billion in the world?
The collection of images on my camera looked nothing like the pages of a National Geographic. There were no rainbow-striped ponchos, no flower filled hats, or disked lips.
“We still appreciate our traditional dress,” the two-time Pope-meeting man of Cura Mori had told me, “But it is much cheaper to wear made in China clothes. The same goes for you, no?”
Nor did I have the type of images that might inspire sympathy or admiration: the dust-caked portraits of children one returns with after a term volunteering in Ghana or the ageless silhouette of a Sadhu folded in prayer.
“One secret,” Elion’s friend at the market Chiclayo had told me, “is that we don’t have true poor people in Peru. The government doesn’t look after us the same way they might in your country but even those without homes still play music all day long.”
I’d been swept up by golden talisman of the Sipan at the Museo Tumbas Reales in Lambayeque; shaken by the Chimu’s ceremonial slaughter of their own sons in, but none of that belongs in MY story. I’d decided to forego Machu Picchu and the Incan highlands altogether—something that shocked most Peruvians I met.
“I’m here to shoot images Piura,” was my simple answer (perhaps indicative of their shock: Piura is the region that receives that least funding for Tourism in all of Peru.)
I suppose without the eye-catching gleam of novelty, I hoped the honesty in my work would shine through.
“How do you measure the success of a trip?” I asked myself in a cab headed for the airport. The commute was an hour-long, even after rushhour, and thirty minutes of small-talk had worn my fledgling Spanish thin.
By kilometers covered? I’d netted a couple thousand.
Sites seen? Lonely Planet would be appalled.
By tick-marks on my checklist? Aside from the province in which they were issued, the clot of ticket-stubs at the base of my bag looked nothing like the journey I’d anticipated. I’d placed my faith in the recommendations of those I met, and been rewarded by a nearly un-Googlable trail.
I’ve travelled extensively these past five years and still didn’t have a clear answer to those questions. I saw the pyramids but hated Egypt. I spent my full 12 days in the country sipping Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi and have absolutely no regrets. One single metric I am confident in however: the friends I remain in touch with long after a trip is through. Was it not a girl in Nepal that had led me to Peru after all? The breast pocket of my shirt sagged beneath the weight of phone-numbers beginning +51.
At 1:40 AM I boarded the first flight in a series of legs that lead to Vancouver Island. My calves squirmed, anticipating 15-hours in a pressurized cabin, so I downloaded an e-publication of Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ to exercise my mind.
There’s a passage in the first half of the book where Murakami writes about the similarities between training for distance and writing a novel: the key is to wrap up each session before you become exhausted with the task at hand. Let your enthusiasm for your work pull you back, eager and refreshed. As Peru faded out—a red slab of sand beneath the airplane’s right wing, I played the image in reverse. Every dropped item on my itinerary was an excuse to return. Every meeting, a possibility.