I recently spent a month in Peru prior to attending business school and have wanted to share some of the stories of the people that I was able to meet and photograph along the way. My very favorite encounter happened in an oasis town named Huacachina where I met Juan, the “man who likes to explain.” Huacachina is an oasis straight out of the Middle East, except this is Peru. It sits about two miles outside of Ica, and is surrounded by miles of giant sand dunes. I arrived planning to stay for two days, and ended up hanging around for four.
I met Juan on the afternoon of my first night in town. There is a walkway with restaurants and shops that surrounds three-quarters of the lagoon, and Juan sits at the far end, where the sand engulfs the sidewalk. He works building and renting sandboards, and has been doing so for the last 19 years. I took a couple of photos of him working, and he called me over, telling me that I looked like a person who would be interested in hearing a story. I spent the next hour with him, listening to him describe ruins named Choquequirao that are larger than Machu Picchu, but listed in few guide books. He said, “me gusta explicar,” which translates to “I like to explain.”
I asked him if I could bring my girlfriend the next day to hear another story. He told me that if I came he would tell me of the time when the waters of the lagoon used to be red and yellow from the minerals that seeped in through the natural spring. When we arrived he described a time when Peruvians believed that the waters had leading powers, and even through the sulfur would sting their eyes, people would come to bathe, hoping for a miracle. It all ended when the adjacent city of Ica grew and tapped the spring that fed the lagoon. The waters are now pumped in artificially and most tourists who come are international. He spoke of the magic of Huacachina, which remained for me, but had waned for him as time had passed.
I’m not sure of all the reasons why I am drawn to people like Juan and the stories they tell. I do know that I feel a deeper connection with any place I visit through the people that live there.