Max and I met Pepe hiking through the Colca Canyon, outside of Arequipa. He surprised us with his ability to rocket while injured down a gravely mountain slope and for knowing which cactus we could use as lipstick should we so choose. Born and bred in Arequipa – where the locals pride themselves on their “warrior” personality – Pepe’s childhood forced him to display more of this characteristic than he’d possibly have wanted, when an accident robbed him of his mother at an impossibly young age. As well as guiding travellers through the canyons, mountains and volcanoes of Peru, Pepe is an aspiring writer and poet.
(This interview is incomplete as it was begun way too late in the night. Pepe’s a big talker and many, many tangents were taken along the way, meaning that we got too tired to continue, and unfortunately never finished. But what there is, is worth sharing.)
How has being Peruvian left its mark on you?
In the eighties, we were all very disturbed by the terrorism present in Peru; it was very psychologically traumatic for the entire country and affected us all at a very personal level. While no one I knew was directly involved, I watched it unfold on the television and saw that a lot of friends lost family members.
I feel very Peruvian, but in the end, more arequipeño (from Arequipa). In Arequipa, we feel that we’re a republic within Peru. We have a really guerilla-like spirit, we have always defended what defines our civilisation and we feel proud to know what it is to live and die at the base of a volcano. We define ourselves by our character, not by the language we speak.
What would your 13-year-old self think about you if they met you?
I think he’d look at me for a long time without speaking. But ultimately, he’d want to destroy me…because at that age, I was always looking for death.
If you could meet your 13-year-old self, what would you say to him?
So many things. So many, many, many things.
(pauses for a long time)
For example, I’d tell him that living is not easy and that you don’t learn in an institution, but rather that you find yourself on the streets.
I’d tell him so many things. That when you fall in love, you shouldn’t do it with your heart, but with your feet (and in Peru, “feet” means head). Love, I’d explain to him, isn’t easy. I’d tell him that when you find a woman, you should never confide in her completely, nor show her all that you are. I’d caution him to never trust a woman, because they are much more astute than men.
I’d tell him that it takes two to tango and that it will always be this way. I’d advise him to learn more than what he thinks he can at school, because when he’s 16 and leaves school, he’ll have to work and make his own life happen. I’d encourage him not to rely on his parents, because you never know what will happen to them. And I’d advise him to get away now from bad friendships.
I’d tell him that the world is good. But that it’s a very difficult place.
I’d ask him if he was happy. I think he’d tell me that he was not…he’d say, “Yes, I’m happy with what I do, but I don’t feel as happy as you. I need a mother.”
I’d tell him not to get into any more trouble. I’d question whether he bought the clothes he was wearing. He’d admit that he hadn’t. I’d ask him if he’d stolen them. He’d say he had. I’d ask him if that made him feel good…and he’d tell me that it didn’t.
He’d confide in me that he misses his father, mother and brother. He’d tell me that he wants to go back in time, be born again and be happy.
I’d advise him that when he gets to my age, that he not be such an idiot. And that he never let a great woman get away.
I’d remind him that he’s 13, and I’d tell him that when he’s 25 and he meets that woman, that he never let her go. I wouldn’t tell him her name – only that she’s the most noble woman he’d ever meet in his life.