Sometimes it's all too easy for people from a certain place and of a certain background to be represented in a one-dimensional way. And, often, it is the traveller or tourist whom is most responsible for perpetuating these stereotypes.
In seeking to show that we've visited a place, we want to get a picture of somebody who most, in our minds, represents it. An old toothless tribal woman in Vietnam selling banh mi, a Moroccan snake charmer with leathery skin and a fez perched atop his head or simply a Scottish man in a kilt with his bollocks on show.
We're both guilty of this. Sometimes, all we want as travellers, is for a place to stand still so that its stereotypes and caricatures will forever be available for those of us who parachute in for a few weeks.
When we visited the Quilotoa Loop, a zig-zagging DIY hike through valleys, along rivers and in between eucalyptus forests, we wanted to use our camera a little differently. Sure, the lush landscapes on offer would provide a constant source of photographic inspiration, but to give a sense of the people who lived in some of these remote Andean villages was of more importance.
And not just of them in freeze-frame postcard images to convey their difference (yes, they're quite poor and all the ladies wear awesome hats) but more to just display some of the normality of their lives; highlighting and recognising the similarities between people is just as important as tut-tutting, gawking or marvelling at the differences.
The problem with this ethos on the Loop, as it turns out, is that most adults we encountered, or even befriended, were either very shy, reluctant or very pissed off at having their picture taken.
That's nothing new or strange to us in Latin America but, as covert street photographers, it often doesn't cause issues as people usually don't even realise that we're taking photos of them. However, on this trip, we wanted to take some portraits, something a little different and more personal than our usual street shots.
The solution came easily.
You see, we have a tendency to get lost. A lot. Particularly when hiking at altitude with no signs and a map which proves itself next to useless multiple times throughout the day. And so this meant we were often asking directions of anyone and everyone we bumped into along the way, just to check that we weren't heading in the completely wrong direction.
And, more often than not, the only people around to ask were the kids on their way to or from school. Kids who were more than happy to chat to us and hang out for a while.
Here's a little bit of their story:
football stickers and lost lollipops
Our map for this stretch of the walk looked like it was done by a drunken one-eyed pirate and was riddled with mistakes. We both got into an argument about which road to the left we were supposed to take in a village when a group of kids exited the school nearby.
The wellington-booted boys couldn't decide whether their favourite footballer was Messi or Ronaldo, whilst the two girls were far too busy unwrapping their blue bubblegum lollipops to care either way.
They all asked us to take their photo and, at Andrew's suggestion, sat themselves on a handy little bench. Three-quarters of the group proceeded to pull faces, make naughty hand signs and, in general, do what little kids do.
We asked what they were going to do this evening. All of them had homework, which we stressed the importance of doing.
And in response, as little kids do, they pulled more faces at us before telling us the correct road to take on the left.
Dolores and Yolanda
As we were struggling up a steep incline, heading in what transpired to be entirely the wrong direction, Dolores and Yolanda were meandering along on their long walk home from school. With lollipops and friendship as currency, we recruited these two to guide us along the path.
Shy around strangers but curious to know a little about our lives, we chatted about favourite colours, foods and family members. We taught them (much to their surprise) that guinea pigs, Dolores' favourite food, were pets not food for us and that the distance home was measured in hours on a plane not minutes on foot.
We hugely appreciated their kindness in helping two lost and exhausted travellers find their way on what, to them, was just the walk home from school.
In a world of fairytale books, where flocks of sheep are led by weather battered men or young men who find gold, we were surprised to learn that in Ecuador at least, this job fell upon women. In fact, almost exclusively young girls.
This shepherdess, only eight years old, allowed us a glimpse into a world where feeding a family was reliant upon one's ability to guide livestock along rocky ridges, not an education.
a lesson in football and photography
On the final day of our hike, we passed a local school, along a section of road most tourists venture only in the back of a pick-up truck. As multiple, wind burnt smiling faces appeared along the road's edge, a small girl asked us if we wanted to join their football game.
An hour later, we were still there. Whilst Andrew was happy to remain on the pitch with the boys, Emily soon disappeared to the sidelines content that a life behind the lens was infinitely more fun than anywhere near a football.
As it turned out, she wasn't the only one. As confidence grew (theirs and ours) the camera was gently passed around, the children amazed by what they saw in front of them replicated in the viewfinder. For all of them, it was the first photo they had ever taken.
We and the children took so many photos that day. Our only regret is that we will not be able to share them with the school. Instead, however, we will share our favourites with you.
For some unknown reason, a number of local girls have gotten a little giggly around Andrew - including this group of young ladies. Whilst he will steadfastly proclaim it is his boyish good looks, on this particular day, having not showered for a while and wearing every dirty item of clothing he was carrying, he did at least provide a good distraction so that we could get this shot.
the pick-up truck crew
Out here, the pick-up truck is king. Usually driven by men in check-shirts and cowboy hats, they ferry everyone around to villages large and small. We've both come to really enjoy our time spent in these, given that these moments usually provide the chance to talk to people going about their daily business, without strict labels of 'I'm a tourist hoping to buy something' and 'you're a local trying to sell me something'.
We took this photo on the final uphill walk of the Loop to the main road to catch a bus back to Latacunga. This little group said hello to us and asked where we were going, so we explained and asked where they were going and if they wanted a quick photo.
Despite the stoic expressions of most of them, they said yes with a chorus of giggles and smiles.