Ever notice how an image of a country comes to mind, and it’s something from a movie
or a book you read as a child? Someone says ‘Switzerland’ and you see Heidi up in a
mountain pasture or the guy from the Ricola commercial playing his Alpenhorn. Just say
‘Austria’, and ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’, and a younger Julie Andrews
will come bounding into your mind. For me the mere mention of Peru flooded my mind
with images of llamas and guys wearing funny hats that matched their multi coloured
vests made from—you guessed it, llama wool.
A visit to the country proved that it is much more. Sure, I took the time to find
llama wool and people with multi coloured vests; Peru is indeed a country of bright
colours—Peruvians have not yet bought into the beige period.
Our ship docked in General San Martin and from there it was a 45-minute shuttle
ride into the city. Everything is a new experience—signing up for a cruise one thinks that
every port is the same: the ship will pull in, the band will serenade you as you make your
way off the ship and to the end of the pier where you will have an array of tour operators
offering you an endless selection of tours dealing with your interests. Or if you have
already booked a tour on board, you expect that you will have priority leaving the ship
and making your way to a waiting bus that was allowed in the No Vehicle area. That is
not the way it happens, each docking is an experience, and sometimes you have to wait
for the other gigantic floating hotel (cruise ship) to leave so you can get a parking spot.
Sometimes you have to tender in on the smaller boats. Some ports are primarily industrial
and you have to make your way through stacks of waiting cargo. At this particular port
you landed and made your way to a shuttle bus that took you to the city proper, and you
could make your way from there.
I found that I was the only one interested in visiting a local market; try as I might
to convince another passenger to come with me, it was not happening at any port. In fact
many times Sandra was not even interested in my obsession with local food markets and
seeing how people shopped for what.
The bus unloaded us at a central location and I was sure to get the address and the
times of departure back to the ship, now I was safe to move on.
Going through the market I found an endless array of shops selling high priced
fashion items. My lack of Spanish did not help as I inquired about a market where locals
shopped for groceries. I returned to the street and was soon accosted by a young man who
asked if he could help. I explained my situation to him and he told me what I wanted was
the Indian market; waving his hand and pointing he told me that it was several blocks in
that direction. He added it was a long walk but it could be done—though it was across the
highway. I thought I would see more of the city from the sidewalk than the back of a cab
and headed off.
The crossing of the highway did present somewhat of a challenge and it was a
serious road with at least four or five lanes of traffic that at times spread to six or seven.
There was not a pedestrian crossing on the street that I came upon so this was going to be
a “Cross at your Own Risk Venture”. I did so and after a couple blocks happened upon a
group of stores where I inquired about the Indian Market; a lady speaking perfect English
informed me she was heading that way, and would walk with me. I accepted the offer,
and a few steps into the journey I thanked her for her kindness.
“I want to practice my English and I needed to go to the market sometime,” she
smiled. I thought she might be an angel—she wanted to speak English and was aware of
the city, exactly what I needed.
Peru is alive with colour everywhere. Clothes, food, buildings, cars and
advertising make North American streets seem pastel by comparison.
We walked through a park that featured at least two-dozen artists selling their
canvases, in a range of prices and abilities. I found the art interesting but it was not what I
could take home on a cruise ship. I had learned the lesson of “Don’t ask the price, if you
are not interested in buying” long ago: In most of these markets a question about price is
the opening volley of negotiations and once started you are in the death grip of the
vendor. So it is much better to view the products and move on.
My impromptu guide proved a good source of information; she deposited me at
the gate of the Indian Market then disappeared. I brought out my camera and by the
second stall had found a vendor who spoke English and could provide me with the names
of the vegetables on his shelves and how they were used in the kitchen, for me time well
A few more questions about why it was called the Indian Market revealed that I
was in the beginning of the market place and the Indian Market was in the next block
through the large gates. That is where the people of Indian descent sold what I would call
hardware, or everything not food.
The young man who originally sent me on this quest reappeared and asked what I
was looking for. I told him I was looking for some wool and wanted several skeins in
natural colours. He took me to a stall and assured me the two young ladies would give me
the best price.
The price was acceptable but the volume of their stock was far from adequate.
The ghost like man appeared again and assured me he would find the amount I needed. It
took him three shops but he did secure the desired number, and now I was carrying a bag
with 42 skeins of wool for the rest of the day. A lesson I had learned earlier but set aside
because I was not sure I would be down this road again.
The lesson I did learn is that Peru belongs to those who hustle, and it was obvious
that this young man was a hustler, I like that. I had wool secured for Amanda’s knitting
project and I was going back to the vegetable section to get some pictures.
There she was! The lady with the brightly colored woven jacket and a hat, skin
browned from years of working without a roof over her head, selling her wool products in
a corner of the market where she did not have to rent a stall.
I made my way over and lifted my camera, she said ‘No’, waved her hand and
turned away; she asked what I thought an outrageous price and I walked away. I refused
to pay the equivalent of eight bucks for a photo; that was against my rules. I wandered
through the market and found chicken hanging from hooks, I was sure they had never
been cooler than room temperature. The variation in vegetables was enough to fill a seed
catalogue. I had got what I came for and went back to the lady in the corner, again she
turned away, but I offered her what I thought a reasonable price, she smiled, we shook
hands and laughed, and she picked up her wool and posed for my pictures.
Peru does belong to those that hustle, and this lady knew what she was selling.
The afternoon was wearing on and I had to cross the highway and get back to the
downtown bus pickup area. To say I crossed the street without incident would be an
understatement but I am here, alive and writing.
I found my way to the bus depot with time to spare so allowed myself to go a
block down the street for a malted refreshment in a sidewalk cafe. I did not want to spend
more time in the afternoon sun; an open fronted eatery provided a shaded stopping place
and a very well priced beer. The hustle was still on and two pretty ladies that could only
be described as ‘eye candy’ invited patrons to the establishment and a waiter appeared
with cold beer in the blink of an eye. It was exactly what I needed.
The shuttle got me back to the pier. I hated to waste the time in port aboard the
ship, so I made my way to some of the establishments just outside the shipping area. I
met one of the staff of the ship a half block from the line dividing port and city.
“There are so many police,” she said, “It must be safe.” The only time I had seen
more police was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras where each corner was held down by
a pair of cops—yes, eight per intersection. I had thought they were in this locality for a
reason, to bring order and safety, not that their presence here was an overriding feature.
From my perspective, there was no visible need for her to share this observation as we
walked through a district of brightly painted houses that were small but well kept. We
bought refreshments and walked the area without incident.