Yesterday I was on a bus for 14 hours and when I arrived at my hotel in Cuenca the receptionist said they were full and had no reservation for me. She pointed out that I could drag my suitcase down the street for several blocks and up a huge staircase and there I would find lots of hotels. I guess then I could go from place to place, alone in the night, to check out the accommodations and prices. I was a bit aggravated. She called the owner who came right away, apologizing and offering a stay in another hotel he owns, for the same price. He said he could take me there in his car right away. I agreed.
While we were driving he asked me about my travel plans and how I liked Cuenca. I said I had been here before and liked Cuenca very much, however, on this trip I am just passing through on my way to Peru. He took his eyes off the road and jerked his head around to look pointedly at me and said, “You won’t like Peru.” He continued, “Ecuador may be a third world country, but we have great cities like Cuenca. Peru is a garbage bin.”
I said that while I do love Cuenca, it is a bit “touristy” for me. “It’s too easy,” I explained. “I can get anything I want here and the shops downtown are just as sophisticated as in any city in the States.”
I sell Alpaca at the Charlotte Christmas Village in North Carolina every year. My study isn’t scientific, but I can tell you, lots of people visit Peru, most to see Machu Pichu. They come into my tent and tell me about their trip and that they still have the Alpaca sweater they bought, whether last year or twenty years ago. There are lots of people who do not describe Peru as a garbage bin.
I remember a few years back I took a trip to New York City. I was super excited to visit the restaurant from the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. When I got there, I saw that “Seinfeld” references hung everywhere, the prices were sky high, and the place was empty. I went across the street and had a reasonably priced bowl of soup in a place full of locals.
The thing about going to less “touristy” places is the difficulty. The path less traveled is fraught with hindrances. For instance, when you speak with someone who has never spoken to a non-native speaker, they don’t think about speaking more slowly or using different words. They say the same thing at the same speed, perhaps more loudly on the third or fourth try. They do things the way they do them, completely without foreign influence. They are interested to know why you are there and how you like their city. They are concerned about whether you are eating enough, staying warm enough, and avoiding the dangerous areas.
When you go to a touristy place, you are just a $.
If having your American breakfast is that important to you that’s fine. (You will probably end up buying an RV and traveling hundreds of miles to park next to others who are not from there either.) And while the beaten path is convenient and comfortable, the experience is, in my opinion, less genuine.
When I first tasted a two-dollar Arepa breakfast from a street vendor, I realized that it is every bit as delicious as a pancake breakfast.
I saw a field planted on the side of a steep hill. A very old indigenous woman wearing a long skirt walked across the field with her cane and a fifty-pound sack on her back, and I realized I have never done a hard day’s work in my life.
It is generally believed that commonalities are the basis for a good friendship. I have found that differences make as firm a foundation. I have a friend who takes great joy in keeping an immaculate house, even though she does all the laundry by hand and cooks every meal from scratch. I love her even though I will never be like her.
I know, of course, that it would be ridiculous not to go to Manchu Pichu just because a bunch of other people have already been. But I am much more excited to go to Cajamarca next week. What? You’ve never heard of it? My point exactly.