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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Just for the tour

Our tour of the Sacred Valley in Peru was a great way to see a lot of interesting places all in one day. The tour was fairly inexpensive (only a few dollars per person) but the tour operators had to make their money somehow - and that's how we ended up making stops at a "traditional market" in the middle of nowhere and a restaurant serving a "delicious buffet lunch for only $5"

The real Pisac market was closed that day, so the traditional market we visited was little more than a wooden and clay structure on the side of a dusty road.
For sale were the same ponchos, knitted hats, handmade jewelry, wood carvings, and other souveniers that we could buy in Cusco - but at twice the price. The proprietors knew we were on our way, greeting us with steaming cups of coca tea as we stepped off the mini bus. Surpringly, the tea really was free - but anyone wanting to use the restroom or snap a photo of a lady wearing traditional clothing with her alpaca would need to pay a fee. Our bus left us there for nearly half an hour - more time than we would have at some of the sites we were really on the tour to see.

After visiting the market and wandering around the ruins of Pisac, it was time for lunch. Lunch was not included on the tour, which we knew ahead of time - but what we didn't know is that we would not really have a choice of where to take our meal. The bus pulled up in front of another building in the middle of nowhere, a tourist restaurant featuring a long buffet with soup, lomo saltado, various chicken dishes, salad, and lots of rice and potatoes. The food didn't look bad, but at the same time $5 is expensive as far as meals go in Peru - and still suffering from altitude sickness, I didn't feel like stuffing myself at a buffet. I snacked on the banana chips I had saved from the plane and an Inka Kola, while watching other members of our group fill their plates.

Visiting this market and this restaurant made me think about tours I have taken in other countries - and they included stops at the same sorts of places. Places you would never go on your own - places that exist just for tour groups.

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