Have you ever had one of those encounters that, for whatever reason, sits at the very front of your mind? Well this young girl made an impression on me. It’s her face that I see, possibly more than any other, when I think back on being in Cusco, Peru. The clarity of the moment for me is pretty exceptional. I see the texture of the stone, the patchwork of torn posters on the wall and Paco’s (the alpaca) frazzled fleece. I see the girl’s plump cheeks, dust covered feet, Paco’s braided rope in her left hand and some decorative paper in her right.
I stumbled on this couple on a quiet and hilly back street in San Blas. I’m not sure what they were up to but she was pretty quick to offer herself up for a photo. She was very quiet and polite and interested in us. Paco was equally calm and cooperative. Judging by her bright traditional dress I assume she patrols for camera-wielding tourists, though this was far from a high traffic location. It appears that Paco knows the drill as well, as he sat and posed for me on her command.
Most puzzling to me is her expression. I still haven’t deciphered it. The photo doesn’t at all represent the happy-go-lucky girl I encountered on those stairs. She has a rather Mona Lisa subtleness to her countenance – not exactly a smile or a squint. Feasibly, there’s more shyness than discontent but it really isn’t clear. Certainly, it’s possible that she’s done this a hundred times and has slipped into some character she’s developed over time – a kind of act that maybe rewards the largest tips.