‘Tu eres sola y yo solo también’ seems to be the number one chat up line in Peru. ‘You’re on your own and so am I’ is hardly a great sales pitch if you ask me. Faced with such a proposal, ‘Mejor ser sola que mal acompañada’ is my well rehearsed answer – it is better to be on one’s own than in bad company. As I wait outside my hotel for the bus that will take me to my next destination, a skinny middle-aged man named Pedro is taking a different tack, declaring that I am the love of his life. I reply that this is the line by which he greets every woman who ventures in this hotel, but he acts indignant, insisting that I am the only one who’s ever captured his heart. I ask the hotel’s receptionist how many women have been at the receiving end of Pedro’s amorous declarations this week, and she counts on all of her fingers. Pedro is briefly taken aback, but then decides to come clean and tells me that if we get married, I will be free to get a divorce as soon as he has a European passport.
As a direct consequence of tourism, it seems every Peruvian man is intent on finding a Western wife to get himself out of the country – and out of poverty. I know a French woman who took pity on a local guy and married him, even though she knew love had nothing to do with it, a bad case of misplaced guilt in my opinion.
Pedro tries to soften my heart by telling me what a hard life it is to be poor. I know he has a point, but since I still have no intention of marrying him, I tell him that it is his government’s responsibility rather than mine. He nods in agreement and I win the argument. With democracy a relatively recent phenomenon in South America, Peruvians have sometimes unrealistically high expectations of their politicians. They pin high hopes on a newly elected president, hopes which turn into disappointment as reality – and corruption – sets in. The president’s term often ends with record low approval ratings and sometimes even riots in the streets.
Bolivia is harder to travel than Peru and as a result, sees less tourists. This is one of its great attractions for me. As I’m heading towards Bolivia, I’m hoping it also means that Bolivian men have not yet learned to see Western women as a ticket out of poverty.