During 2009 I was lucky enough to visit South America, specifically Chile, Boliva and Peru and if you haven’t been I can’t recommend the place enough.
Whilst on the Inca Trek in Peru I met a girl from Arequipa– it wasn’t like that, she wanted to practice her English and I wanted to say something in Spanish a little more meaningful than ‘Donde estan los banos’ (where are the toilets).
Anyway, we struck up a friendship and on my return began exchanging postcards.
Initially this was fine; I would send a rather pretty – if bland – postcard featuring a North East scene and tell her how Peru’s most famous export, Nobby Solano was getting on (Nobby Solano is the David Beckham of Peru).
Postcards soon progressed to letters and this is where my problems began.
Through these letters I soon realised that her, and possibly her friend’s and family’s, entire perception of the North East was being shaped by what I sent her.
I was effectively the North East ambassador for a small corner of Peru, a one man PR machine, encouraging tourism and promoting the region. This I found slightly daunting.
Things got worse when we started exchanging parcels. Newspapers were always on her wish list but I feared sending a newspaper would ruin the good impression made over so many postcards that here the sky is always blue and the streets clean.
Would sending a newspaper shatter that illusion?
Just like our perception of life in the United States is shaped by a happy cast of perfect teenagers living out their high school dreams, atrocities like Columbine point to a darker reality.
I didn’t want to send her a newspaper full of negative stories on crime, corruption and poverty but by not sending a newspaper was I painting a false impression of what life was like here?
Whose perception of life was most accurate, the one I had carefully cultivated or that of the newspapers each with their own viewpoint? Perception and reality nearly always differ.
I picked up a copy of The Times on Monday to consider, its lead story focused on the growing row erupting with Argentina over the Falkland Islands – a story on Britain flexing its old imperial muscle against Peru’s South American neighbour – I couldn’t send this!
So what could I send, what should I send? In the end a key ring and a copy of Tuesday’s Times with a lead on the Russian election results and not a single murder until page 7.
Someone else’s problems, someone else’s reality.
Had I chickened out? Probably.
- Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2012 (therepublika.com)
- Must See Cities in Peru: Arequipa, Aguas Calientes, Puno, and Cuzco (maximizetravel.wordpress.com)
- Travel Journals Through Postcards (ayearofletters.wordpress.com)