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Friday, July 15, 2011

Traveling and Getting Close to Everyday People


Traveling Among Black Latinos in Black Latin America


Wedding Party
I am second from the left at a party
in the District of El Carmen, in Chincha, Perú.


As one who has traveled to more than 100 cities in 13 countries, I take pride in avoiding tourism and getting as close to the locals as possible. In my opinion, it is among the locals where you get a real sense of the country's culture. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan friend said it so well, “the barrio is where the culture is.” However, I'm finding that Perú more than any other country I've visited, with the exception of the Philippines, there is a price to pay.

By living close to the locals, I endure a standard of living that will “annoy” the average tourist.

Although, I make only a modest income with a non-profit organization, people in many countries seem to feel that I'm in the same income bracket as Bill Gates or Donald Trump. As I get closer and more acquainted with the people, the more I find that I'm approached like an ATM machine. One lady with whom I have a very good rapport, showed me her gas and electric bill asking for help. Then came the big boo-boo, when as planned, I took a trip into neighboring Ecuador for six days and was telling everybody without taking into consideration that this type of travel is unheard of in this community. That really made me look wealthier than I really am and has caused some people to hustle me more.

My block in Cartagena
I felt very much at home in Cartagena, Colombia


A dance instructor asked me about my motive for hanging out in a poor, non-tourist area when most visitors from Europe and North America stay in major hotels and go to popular tourist attractions. My response to him was that this is the way I practice my Spanish (by immersion), and at the same time, explore the black Latino experience. You don't get these things living in five-star hotels and hanging around expensive tour guides. Speaking of tour guides, I found it more more rewarding and more economical to hire a struggling citizen who can use some extra cash and bring me closer to the real people of the land.

R1-25ACops in the all black town of Juncal, Ecuador wanted to know
what I was doing
so far off the beaten path.

To get around, I prefer as much as possible, to use the same type of public transportation as the locals. Of course, dressing down is important because you don't want to be marked as a tourist with fancy clothes and bling-bling; it invites robbers, cheats, and pickpockets. Most of my time was spent among the so-called lower class. On two occasions I ventured into one of Lima, Perú's roughest neighborhoods, La Victoria, where Perú's famous, historically black soccer team Alianza Lima have their stadium. I went into the area wearing an Alianza Lima team jersey. Thus instead of being harassed, I was cheered. People shook my hand. Others drove by honking their horns and giving me the thumbs up shouting "ALIANZA LIMA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A! I wonder if they thought I was one of the players. After all, I did fit the profile--black and athletic :-)

Untitled-13Dining with my Cuban dance partner in Havana

By living close to the locals, I endure a standard of living that will “annoy” the average tourist. As a result, I have more spending money to enjoy myself, and at the same time, help others who need the help in a way that I can afford. It was a total joy, a heartfelt pleasure, and worth every penny to see how they were enjoying my company and my treats as I achieved my goal of making lifetime friends, learning the cultures, but most importantly, improving my Spanish.