One of my favorite things to do in any city or village is to visit the local market, whether it’s a wet market in Hong Kong or the Feria de Mataderos in Buenos Aires. In Peru, I was most taken with Pisac’s market in the Sacred Valley. We got rooms in a hostal right on the main square (named, as always, Plaza des Armas), with windows providing colorful views. But although Sunday is Pisac’s most famous market day, attracting busloads of tourists, my two sons and I missed it. On the other hand, if we hadn’t gotten sick, we wouldn’t have stayed five nights. I’ve never observed the workings of a market this close for this many days. I didn’t buy much, but Pisac Market offered more than I bargained for.
Pisac’s Sunday market is so large it fills up the square, radiating down side streets and on the slope leading to terraced Inca ruins. Locals sell fruit, vegetables and souvenirs, including alpaca sweaters, jewelry, flutes and handwoven tapestries. Unfortunately, the night before the boys and I ate chicken at a local restaurant while watching the video Motorcycle Diaries (incredibly, life in Peru seems almost as poor as it did when Ernesto Guevara rode through) and on Sunday we were all sick. So we spend Pisac’s most famous day in bed, being able to cast only cursory glances over the street scenes before heading back to the bathroom.
On Monday we awoke to find the square cleared of all its market stalls. It was Independence Day! The morning began with marches and speeches and in late afternoon came the music. The square was packed with villagers–nary a tourist in sight–who all seemed to belong to their own group and who drank copious amounts of beer and chicha, a pink alcoholic brew made from fermented maize. Feeling somewhat recovered, I ventured into the melee with my sister, and everyone was very friendly to two foreign women in their midst, smiling at us and toasting (I have to say, chicha must be an acquired taste). Some Peruvians danced, though with their conservative, modest steps, they will never threaten the Argentinians. We went to bed around 10pm, but the partying went on past midnight.
The next day, Tuesday, was market day again, though on a less grand style. What fascinated me the most is that every single night, all the wares are packed up for transport and all the wooden stalls are broken down and carted away. In addition, every day I went to the market there were different vendors there, thereby assuring that everyone had a chance to sell their goods, either as middlemen selling crafts others had made or those they had made themselves. Tour buses came by regularly, disgorging tourists who must have been weaned on inflated prices. I saw an American guy buy two woolen caps for about three times what he could have bargained for, and a Japanese man paid about 10 times more for a necklace than what I paid after scoping out prices for several days. Striking a bargain is the name of the game, meant to assure that both buyer and seller feel satisfied. With a budget of $3,000 for the three of us for a month, I didn’t have much money to spend. That necklace reminds me of Pisac every time I wear it.
The end of our stay in Pisac was almost the end of our one month in Peru. By then, what had seemed so unfathomable just one month before–what was Peru like! How would we get around! How would we manage!–now seemed commonplace. The fact is, Peru is easy, well geared to meet the needs of travelers on the “Gringo Trail,” making it much easier to get around there than, say, in Japan. And while guide books warned of thieves, pickpockets and taxi-driving robbers, we encountered only kindness and, at worst, indifference. Perhaps it helps to travel with children. Maybe even crooks have too much integrity to take advantage of a child.