Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pisac Ruins (the Budget)

Since arriving in South America, every time the girls have been tempted to buy something, we've told them to keep their powder dry until Cusco. We've picked up small things here and there on the way, but generally managed to keep our Pesos and Soles in our pockets. For Nina and Sara, the second day of our use of Padre Nicanor's pickup truck (Sunday before last) was the only one that counted: we were heading to Pisac.

Every now and then, Livia would point out a feature of the landscape, or a town that we could see in the distance, and hazard a guess at its name. No dottora, Natalie would reply from the front passenger seat, sometimes but not always following up with the correct name and never taking her eyes off the road ahead. This happened so often that by the end of the day Nina and Sara were shooting back no dottora to everything their grandmother said.

Pisac lies about one hour drive north-east of Cusco, and on Sundays the entire centre of the town hides under the combined canopies of hundreds of market stalls selling every kind of artisanal product you could associate with Peru. But before we unstrapped our wallets and unleashed ourselves on the town, we had a little walk to do first. At least that's how Natalie described it. Rising above the town of Pisac, there is another monumental reminder of the culture that dominated here before the Spanish. By now, we were becoming familiar with the layout of Inca cities. The steep slopes that rose above the town were tamed with ancient terraces, and above those again lay the remains of Inca dwellings and temples. The scale of these gravity-defying towns never fails to impress, even more so when you're scaling them. In the constant heat of Cusco's so-called Winter, our hour's jaunt turned into a three-hour hike. The path was reminisent of our walk to the edge of Fox Glacier, in that it was narrow and fell away on one side in dramatic fashion (no sign of the the red-bearded Malcolm anywhere). I don't like heights (or to be more precise I love heights but I hate the idea of falling from them) but I've learned during this trip just how much Nina and Sara are affected by my adverse reactions and fears (thanks Leah ;-) ). Armed with this knowledge, Nina and I walked confidently along the precipice, neither allowing the other to give in to the fear.

Treats are best enjoyed when they are earned, and by the time we got back down from the Pisac ruins to the modern (so to speak) town we had earned both our lunch and our subsequent abandon to the marketplace. Another taste that I've acquired over the trip is haggling. What used to be an embarrassment is now something that I look forward to, and it's interesting to see the difference between haggling in China compared to that in Peru. Here it's harder. The vendors don't seem to enjoy it so much, and will too easily let a sale slip by rather than engage for a little longer. The Chinese vendors typically would never let you walk away without coming back with a counter-offer. Many Peruvian marketeers will just shake their head at your offer, and look at you with the same kind of disappointment as one looks at an errant child. Then again, in China the real price can be ten times less than the starting price. In Peru the maximum drop I've seen is about 30%. In China, a vendor will defend his inflated price with protestations of quality and originality. Here, you are more likely to see just a pained expression in reaction to your offer, and a plea for a lower price.

We spent more than 2 hours pinballing from one stall to the next. Every time we thought we were finished, one of the girls (and in this I include Letizia and Livia) would remember somebody else that they wanted to buy a gift for. The only thing that made the experience interesting for me was the haggling, the search for a charrango, and the knowledge that this would be our last shopping expedition before returning home.

And do you think this was the end of our shopping for the rest of our trip?

No dottora!

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