Lunch with a local shoeshiner

Copacabana Travel Blog

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Today I got up early, 630, having gone to sleep rather early as well. I showered, packed my bags, grabbed some free breakfast and headed into town for some internet usage.

Then I decided to walk further uptown toward the large catholic monument that I had noticed on my way into town the previous day.  I grabbed a park bench behind some colourful ladies selling their woven products and freshly cooked somethings I couldn´t identify, and I pulled out my copy of El Alquimista.

I was only a couple pages in when I was approached by a local shoeshiner who couldn´t have been much younger than myself.  He noticed my shoes (runners) and said 'oh I´m sorry, this is impossible. you have runners'.  Then we talked for a bit and he asked if I could help him out with some money as we was trying to get back to Arequipa, Peru because there was so little work here.

  I told him that he could join me for lunch if he would meet me in half an hour, to which he agreed.

Thirty five minutes later he hadn't returned so I headed down toward the restaurants where I met him walking up a side street.  He suggested a local place and we went in.

I have to admit my intentions weren't entirely altruistic as there a lot of subjects about Peruvian society that I wanted to know about, so I asked a lot of questions.

First of all his name was Javier and normally he was an agricultural worker in Arequipa, but he had heard that there were a lot of tourists in Copacabana, Bolivia and potentially a lot of money to be made shining shoes.  Unfortunately for him, the large majority of tourists wore sneakers in Copacabana as he explained to me.

  Javier told me that some days he would only shine two or three pairs of shoes and make only 5 Bolivianos each, and others he would go the entire day without a customer.  As 10-15 Bolivianos only works out to 1-2$ American this is obviously not a lot of money.  He told me that he was living in an Alojamiento for 10 Bolivianos a night. When I asked how he could possibly survive he said that he couldn't and that was why he was heading back to Arequipa.  Sometimes he would only eat a small piece of bread the whole day and drink the water from the tap in his room.  When our meals arrived he said that he had never seen pizza before, which made me realize that he had probably not been in a restaurant before.  He ordered the trout with potatoes, rice and salad.  He told me that he never eats like this.
  We talked less during the meal because we were focused on our food.  We still chatted though and he told me about his life in Arequipa.  Apparently agricultural workers don´t make any money whatsoever and it´s entirely subsistence living.  They are given clothing to work in, food to eat and some shelter.  When I asked about the social security system he explained that in Peru there is no social security at all and he is never able to go to a doctor.  When I asked him about what he was hoping to do in the future he told me that we would like to work in a hotel as he felt that that would be a very good job.

He also explained some of the intracacies of working as woman selling clothing on the street.  Apparently every woman pays 5 soles per day for 1 metre of space.

  If they want more then they pay 5 soles per metre and so on.  They don´t pay any taxes and the government doesn't provide anything for them.  A very libertarian relationship I suppose...

After lunch I gave him some more money to help him get back to Arequipa and in doing so I showed him my coin collection that I was amassing from my travels.  He reached into his pocket  and took out 9 coins from various countries around the world that he had collected.  He gave me three of them as a gift in return for what I had given him.

Then we parted ways I headed down towards the water to wait for my bus to La Paz.


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photo by: aliciaaa