Friday, June 6, 2014

Don't Get “Taken” While Traveling in Latin America

Avenida Italia (Italy Avenue)
The shopping district in Chincha Alta, Perú

Recently, I was annoyed by one of my blog readers who informed me at the last minute that he is flying to Perú and asked for advice. Because he did not give me enough time to explain all that he needed to know, he ended up spending much more money than he should have. Perhaps, he could afford it and didn't matter to him, but if you want to get the most out of any trip, it is imperative you do some homework before hopping into an airplane! 

Doing the homework is an awful lot of fun as you vicariously enjoy the activities of your trip while being enlightened on what to do and not to do to stay safe and solvent as you will learn where to go and where not to go; how much to spend and how much not to spend.

In Havana, Cuba, I stayed in a community where everything was cheaper than the tourist area, which was a 45-minute walk from my location.

In my last trip, I was in a large supermarket in the business district of Chincha, Perú—population 150,000. I stopped at the poultry section to get some chicken for the family I was staying with in nearby El Carmen. The sales clerk, clearly noticing my foreign accent, instinctively blurted out a price that I knew was rather high. Determined not to be taken advantage of, I called her on her dishonesty, and insisted on paying the proper price or take my business elsewhere. Wisely, she quoted a more agreeable price. 

While on layover in Mexico city, I took the metro train to the Pino Suarez section of town where there are no tourist traps.

This sales clerk attempted to charge me what is known among seasoned Latin American travelers as the “Gringo Tax,” that is being overcharged for items and services because one is a gringo (foreigner), and in most instances, are totally unaware that they are being overcharged. This generally happens in tourist areas.

It took a little persistence to get accepted by Ecuador's black community up in the Andes Mountains. Maybe they thought I was "Five-0!"

Generally before traveling to any country, I spend months doing research, consulting with others who've traveled there, and particularly with those who happened to live in that particular country. Making friends with residents of such countries on Facebook and has been especially helpful. In the event of Chincha, my home away from home; a place to which I travel regularly, I know what to pay for whatever item or service, and if I don't know, I ask a friend who lives there.

In Cartagena, Colombia, even with a large black population, merchants and street hustlers saw me as a gringo a mile away.

When I do pay extra, it's from the goodness of my heart; not out of manipulation. For example, in my first trip to Perú, I saw an elderly black woman selling homemade cookies at a bus station. As I passed her table, I plopped four Peruvian dollars (nueva soles) on her table and kept walking. I didn't even want the cookies. I just wanted to donate to the cause of a struggling black person whose job opportunities are limited because of the color of her skin.

For $60, I spent three hours hanging out with a cab driver at the beach and around town during a layover in El Salvador

During my travels, especially to a Spanish-speaking country, I steer very clear of tourist areas and fancy hotels, and spend little time as possible with those who speak English. This is how I improve my own Spanish, get a better understanding of the local culture, and save hundreds of dollars by being among local people who naturally know first-hand the real cost of items and services, and due to economic conditions, are much more frugal.

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