Doing the Peace Corps essentially ruined my ability to buy things in other countries. Just a few years ago, buying a souvenir in a market or at a small street vendor seemed perfectly authentic and fulfilled my desire to:

  1. Have something from that country
  2. Support a small business
  3. Have something from that country that I could pretentiously brag about.

For example, “Oh this? It’s a hand-made spear from a small town in southern Indonesia.” Unspoken implications:

  1. I’m so much cooler than you
  2. I’m going to stab you with this spear.

I don’t actually own a spear from southern Indonesia, but you get the idea. I was bad enough before, but after Peace Corps, even a hand-made spear form a small vendor doesn’t feel authentic enough. Now, I would need the spear to have been hand-made for me, by a dying man who had sworn never to hand-make another spear, or something ridiculous like that. As a result, I don’t have many souvenirs.

While traveling abroad, I always feel superior to the other tourists when they naively buy things from roadside markets and other such places I used to think were authentic. Then, I return from the trip with nothing but memories and photos and imagine the tourists laughing at me, while hanging yet another cool souvenir on their wall of their heavily souvenired homes. Damn. Should have bought something. Should have been less pretentious.

Huaripampa, Ancash, Peru

“Sufficiently” authentic – weaving with locals

While not having a house full of travel mementos is not that big a deal, these incredibly high barriers to souvenir purchasing have consistently caused me actual physical discomfort on my trip here in Peru. Being much less intelligent than I think I am, I packed for this Peru trip as if I were going to Panama (where I did my Peace Corps service). Trouble is, Panama is always hot, whereas Peru has an actual winter. Additionally, Peru has a few little mountains called “The Andes” that, it turns out, are pretty tall. For the majority of this trip, I have not only been in Peru during the winter, but above 10,000 feet, visiting small towns that don’t have heating systems. So I’ve been really cold. To compound this, I have stubbornly resisted buying any warm clothes, because I’ve been holding out for a properly “authentic” hat and sweatshirt. Which is to say, I’ve been punishing myself with my own pretentiousness.

As I write this, most of my body is under four wool blankets and I’m wearing every layer possible and I’m still fairly cold. Earlier, I finally broke down my own barrier and bought a warm hat that is ubiquitously sold throughout Peru, which I’ve probably had about 130 chances to buy before today. I also recently decided that I would indeed purchase an alpaca (llama) sweatshirt, which is a pretty touristy thing to do, only to learn that I left alpaca country two weeks ago. So I’m again trapped by my ridiculous, pretentious standards – do I suffer but wait for the “perfect” warm piece of clothing, or buckle and buy something practical and avoid dying of hypothermia? At this point, I don’t even know what the “perfect,” properly authentic piece of warm clothing would entail, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stubbornly wait for it anyway, because, as I said, I’m not very intelligent.

While I’m glad I don’t jump for chitzy items that you buy in the lobbies of three star hotels, I feel like I’ve swung the pendulum too far. For one thing, I hate when people insist on showing you their hand-made, organic, fair-trade, artisenal hand-bag, made by indigenous women in the mountains of northern Guatemala, who sewed it together with nothing but locally-grown leaves and a needle made out of a sharpened stick. But then I have a bag like that. And I show it to people, which makes me the exact pretentious douchebag I hate. And now I’m unnecessarily cold because I’m holding out for the rare object that will allow me to continue to be the most obnoxious traveler possible.

Hopefully writing this post will help me snap out of my pretentious stupor and you’ll be able to visit my house and see the cool things I bought in Peru, without wanting to stab me with my hand-made spear.

(Note from June 18th: I have since purchased an alpaca sweatshirt, with a dubious amount of actual alpaca in it, and some wool gloves. All of the items I purchased are intensely touristy and for some reason, I love them. Maybe there is hope.)

Peru, Alpaca sweatshirt

My tourist garb