Since we arrived in Ancash as new volunteers the presence of other gringos was obvious. They can even be seen in my smaller provincial capital of Yungay. Huaraz is a very popular destination for backpackers and tourists who are interested in spending time in the mountains. One can come to Huaraz to take advantage of a host of activities. The Cordillera Blanca and Negra are home to mountaineering, rock climbing, bouldering, mountain biking, hiking, trekking etc. Because of that, there are normally always other travelers in the area. Not the mention the ex-pat community that resides in Huaraz as well.
When we arrived it was November and the start of the rainy season. Despite the bad timing for any and all activities that are done outside and at high altitude, there were still gringos and backpackers trying to take advantage of the mountains. During those times, we were told, “just wait until high season, it will get so much worse.” At the time I was skeptical of that, and still am. For one, I wasn’t ever sure that the presence of other foreigners was a bad thing. And if more were to come, why would that mean things are getting “worse”?
Well, we are approaching the high season for tourism in Ancash. The rains are settling down and blue skies and starry nights stay around for longer. The time for enjoying the altitude mountains with limited weather is now (and for the next 4-6 months). And like clock work, the presence of more tourists is very apparent in Huaraz. Changes in the city can be noticed also. More street vendors, changes in prices, different hours of operation etc. As a PC volunteer, I don’t really see it as a bad thing. But I know others can be annoyed by it. So why might that be?
For one, I think there is a certain pride that comes with being a PC volunteer. Like any other foreigners, backpackers, tourists etc, you come to a new place in order to learn from and enjoy its culture. However, unlike those people, you put down roots to live and work. You spend time to learn the language, adjust your eating habits, practice a profession, create lasting relationships and maybe even make a difference. You commit fully to being just another community member.
The pride that comes with that decision and lifestyle should not be taken for granted. It really is an amazing experience. And the trials, tribulations and successes that come with it should be something to be proud of. However, that pride should not overstep its boundaries.
I think it’s unfair that other volunteers, myself included sometimes, think that the touristy times of the year are “worse.” I include myself in that because I’ve caught myself casting judgments also. Sometimes, in conversation with other travelers, I try to separate myself from the image of tourist by talking about my work or how long I have been in town. I don’t always like when I do this. I feel like it creates a hierarchy– a system of organizing whose pursuits in Huaraz or Ancash are more worthy than others.
In reality, we are all just visitors. Not just in Huaraz, or Ancash or Peru. But in this world. We all have a limited time to live and to travel, whether that be around the world or around the block. Trying to figure out whose travels are better, or who comes with better intentions, or who is more committed to the local context is silly. When it comes to Huaraz, any and all tourists are just trying to enjoy the mountains and the activities that come with them. If they come in peace and with respect, so be it. And if not, then hopefully something along the way will teach them to travel otherwise.
In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the high season in Ancash. I will continue to take advantage of the good weather to spend time outside and explore the mountains I am lucky enough to live in. And I will continue meeting and spending time with other foreigners. So far I’ve met amazing groups of Argentinians, others from Colorado, Canadians, Uruguay… the list goes on. We are all here just trying to enjoy. No judgment needed.