Sunday, April 22, 2007
Cuzco and it's street peddlers
One thing that feels very different about Cuzco as opposed to Lima is this is a city that survives almost entirely on tourism. This is the closest airport to Machu Picchu and therefore almost all tourists pass through it. As a result, it often feels largely artificial, especially near the center of town where the primary sites are.
Also as a result, there is a never ending supply of agressive street vendors pushing various cheap wares upon anybody resembling a tourist. In places like the Plaza de Arma the entire population consists of three groups: tourists, peddlers and of course, taxis.
And of course the peddlers break out into groups as well.
There are the finger puppet kids. Generally in their early teens they greet you with "Hello my friend, would you like to buy a finger puppet? Where are you from?". Now before going any further, I want to just question the decision to peddle of all things, cheap cotton finger puppets to tourists. Did some plane crash in the Cuzco mountains full of finger puppets? Are old PBS kid's shows the only exposure they have to westerners? I'm just kind of wondering about the logic of the whole thing.
Anyways, the finger puppet kids (FPK from now on) seem to have all gone to a finger puppet peddling training school, because they all have the same routine:
FPK: "Hello my friend, would you like to buy a finger puppet? Where are you from?"
ME: *laughs* "No, I don't need a finger puppet, thanks"
FPK: "Why not? Where are you from?"
ME: "United States"
FPK: "United States, capitol Washington DC, first president George Washington, second president John Adams, third president Thomas Jefferson. Current president George Bush (sometimes accompanied with excited thumbs down)."
ME: "That's very good, you know them better than I do."
FPK: "Which state? Georgia? Louisiana? New York?"
FPK: "State or City?"
FPK: "Would you like to buy a finger puppet?"
ME: "No thanks."
FPK: "Ok, later you buy finger puppet ok? I come back."
The FPK's are definitely the most fun of the peddlers, they are good natured and frankly pretty darn cute. (Peruvian kids in general are just adorable) However it seems with age they must transform into either shoe shiners or sweater and blanket peddlers.
One word of advice if you ever visit Cuzco. Wear sandals.
Wearing black leather shoes in need of a polish is guaranteed to suck away 30 minutes of your life in turning down shoe shines. Sadly these peddlers are incredibly agressive and persistent. They will follow you around the plaza telling you you need a shoe shine, that they have just the right color, that your shoes are lacking color, all the while ignoring your statements, then pleas that you don't want a stinking shoe shine!
Thankfully the remaining peddlers are rather less determined than these first two breeds and a stern "No gracias" will let them on their way. Whatever you do, don't show any interest in their wares though, as their keen eyes instantly detect this and suddenly it's a hard sell once more.
The photo for this post is something entirely different. Just outside the banks groups of people stand with huge wads of US and peruvian bills, apparently doing exchanges. We can't quite figure out how they exist. Are they just faster? Ask less questions? I personally can't imagine the rates are better, but we did find it fascinating that in a country known for crime there were people standing around with what looked like thousands of dollars without any visible protection.
Ok, we're off to Machu Picchu.