Arriving in Cusco: The Gringo Tax

 

After saying good-bye to the Sueros family, we took a taxi directly to the airport. The ride was crazy as always but by this time we were already used to the highways. One of the things that has always amazed me about Latin America is the size of the statues that are peppered around each city. Not every country in Latin America has large statues. For example, Guatemala tends to be more conservative in the construction and many of their cities tend to be a lot more simpler than, say, Mexico. Below I have attached some photos of what I am talking about. These are a small collection of statues that we have seen up to this point.

We got a really good deal on our tickets; I think we paid around 70 dollars or less on each ticket. The plane ride was really interesting. As I looked around the cabin, I had a strong impression that the vast majority of people aboard where headed to Machu Picchu as well. The plane ride was really short which is something I appreciate after taking 5-12 hour bus rides. I believe the flight lasted a little over an hour while a bus ride would have taken us over 12 hours due to the terrain. The airport in Cusco was small and unimpressive. As soon as we deplaned, we were greeted with several travel agencies that offered tours to Machu Picchu. Many of the agencies offered free coca leaves to help suppress symptoms of altitude sickness; the leaves are also part of the Peruvian culture and are chewed by the vast majority of native locals. I am not sure if it actually works, but I can tell you that chewing them will put your mouth to sleep which helps you forget about your altitude sickness while you are experiencing the numbness in your mouth. Sadly, once the property of the leaf runs out, you have to chew more to keep what ever active ingredient going. With that said, I tried the leaves at the airport. I was not sure how much I should take, so I only took three leaves and put them in my lip as if it were chewing tobacco. I found out about a week later that in order to get any results from the coca leaf, you need to chew at least ten at a time. Okay… The only thing I noticed is that the coca leaves have a really unique taste. It is not good or bad. It just tastes like coca. I know that doesn’t help, but it is something I can’t quite describe because it was a completely unique and new experience.

While we were in Lima, we rented an AirBnB that was about half a mile outside of the city center (La Plaza de Armas). The problem was that we were tired and completely disoriented. Taking a taxi from the airport, just like in the U.S., is expensive. My plan was to walk some distance from the airport and find a taxi, to take us to our apartment. However, by this time in the evening I was really tired and gave in. We exited the airport and a man ran up to us really excited and telling us to follow him. He wanted to give us a ride. He was a younger gentleman that looked to be about 25 years old. We told him where we were headed and showed him the map from my cellphone. He said that he knew the area and gave us a price for the ride. I don’t remember what the exact number was, but I do remember that it was expensive considering what we have been paying for taxis up to this point. We agreed. Before we could leave the airport parking lot we had to pay for parking. This is where I come in. The driver told me that I had to give him money to pay for the parking and sat there waiting for me with his hand open. I looked at him for a second a little perplexed, reached into my pocket, and give him the money he needed. He left us in the car for about five minutes to pay the fee and then we were off.

One of the more interesting things that I have learned while traveling through Latin America for the past 4 years is that commerce is king here. What do I mean by that? Well, if there is something you need, there is always someone there to provide it. For example, while we were in route to our AirBnB, I mentioned to the driver that we were going to spend several days in Cusco in order to acclimate to the altitude before our hike to Machu Picchu. He mentioned that in addition to being a taxi driver, he was also a tour guide. Once we stopped at the front door of our apartment, he reached into the glove box and pulled out a binder that had a list accompanied with photos of all the tours that we could go on. He said that he could set up a tour for us at that moment if we wanted. It was a tempting offer, but we were all tired and at this point in the day, my Spanish was starting to get a little rough from exhaustion. This is not out of the ordinary in Latin America–in general. You see, most places that we have traveled people always are able to offer other services and they just happen to be the ones we are looking for. Granted, we are tourists and that is something that the locals are aware of and have planned for, however, from an outsider’s perspective it is very interesting and exciting at the same time.

We said goodbye to our driver and met up with a young lady who welcomed us to our new home for the next several days. She was very nice and gave us a brief tour of the apartment. It was really nice and huge. I am not sure but I think we were only paying about 20-25 dollars a night for the place which was a two bedroom apartment with a living room and full kitchen. The honeymoon wore off pretty quick once we started to try to take showers and discovered that there was no hot water. After playing around with the faucet for a bit, we discovered that we had to put the water really low in order to get any hot water. It was good that we had hot water but bad that the water could only come out at a trickle. We chalked it up to part of the adventure.

We decided to explore the city center that evening even though we were really tired. We were about 3/4 of a mile away from the Plaza de Armas. It was kind of a creepy walk because it was so dark and we had to go down several narrow alleys where there were groups of people hanging around talking in a few dark corners. I doubt that they would have robbed us, but it is still an uncomfortable situation to be in, and it is better to avoid a potential dangerous situation. We decided that if we had to walk to the city center at night that we would find an alternate route so we wouldn’t be trapped in a small corridor if something happed to us.

The Gringo Tax: 

Alynn and Alisa got a little excited once we got to the city center and bought a lot of things on the street. They forgot the most important rule of buying thing on the street–“Everything is negotiable” They might have paid a little more (or a lot more) than what the items were worth, but it’s part of the experience. I myself really enjoy haggling for products on the street. Often times people will charge you up to double what they would charge a local for the same product. The best strategy I found is to think of a price in my head and then cut it by 40% and then we can go back and forth with counter offers. About 50% of the time it works, but often I end up paying a little more than what I want.

You might be thinking to yourself that this is kind of a scum bag thing to do. Well, I would disagree and let me tell you why. Last year Alisa and I were in a small and very beautiful costal town in Mexico called Playa del Carmen and Alisa really wanted to buy a blanket. She walked into a store and found one that she liked. I should preface this with the fact that Alisa, my wife, is caucasian and looks the part, and I am Mexican American and look the part as well. The vender walked up to Alisa and told her that the rug was selling for 2000 pesos or roughly about 105 dollars U.S.. I walked up to the man and greeted him with, “Hola, ¿Qué tal?” or “Hello, whats up?” we exchanged pleasantries and after he realized that I could speak Spanish and that I was Latino, he said he would give me a “Spanish Speaking Discount(I have always wondered what people would think in the U.S. if vendors in the U.S. gave an “English speaking discount” and charged foreigners more for the same products in their stores as a general rule). Immediately, he dropped the price from 2000 pesos to 1000 pesos or roughly 50 dollars U.S.. I was a little taken back, so I said 600 pesos. He came back with 900, then I said 700, to which he replied with 800, and I bought the rug. Just think about that for a moment. If my wife was alone, she could have paid 1200 pesos more than what he was willing to sell it for. In case you are wondering, this is called The Gringo Tax and is a common term in Mexico and Guatemala. I can’t speak for Peru or Bolivia, but it is well known and alive in southern Mexico and other countries. It is most common, in my experience, with taxi drivers.

We ended up having a amazing dinner at a local café (I can’t remember the name). It was vegan…I think. It was amazing. We turned in early that evening and prepared ourselves for adventures the next day.

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