Value: a topic of great debate, perhaps nowhere more so than in the world of travel. We’ve had friends rave about inns in Costa Rica that are a “great value” at $300 a night. At the same time, we’ve met travelers who do the “bad value” balk when accommodation anywhere runs more than $3.
Call one a spendthrift. Call the other cheap. Value is in the eye of the beholder.
The theme and concept of value reveals itself regularly on the road. What is something worth? How much are you willing to pay? What enjoyment or satisfaction have you attained for your money? And how much has the context — the location, the time of day, the feeling of insecurity, or the convenience – influenced your sense of value?
There are no definitive answers; there are as many responses as there are travelers. The value debate will forever rage on.
We consider the question of value because, having just crossed the border from Peru into Bolivia, we find ourselves readjusting our own value-meter to new circumstances. Peru was by no means an inexpensive travel destination — particularly in tourist areas — but there were nuggets of value to be found amidst the expense.
Here’s what two Peruvian soles ($0.66) can buy you:
1. A Haircut: A cafe owner in the town of Cajamarca pointed us in the direction of the town’s “barber street” where the going rate for a man’s haircut is two soles. Not only was this the cheapest cut of our journey, but also one of the best haircuts Dan has enjoyed in the Russian roulette of haircuts he plays about every six weeks.
(In case you are wondering, Dan’s worst-value barber experience? Lahic, Azerbaijan. He ran for his life from the chair after the barber butchered his neck in a shave and greased his hair into a butt-cut. Asking price: $5)
2. Bag of Coca Leaves: In preparation for the high altitude of the Salkantay Trek, we poked outside the Cusco central market in search of coca leaves, the local remedy for soroche (altitude sickness).
“Two soles worth?” the vendor asked. We nodded, expecting a tiny bag. Instead, we got this:
Note: In case you are wondering, coca leaves are indeed the raw material for cocaine. Roughly speaking, it takes two leaps — grinding the leaves into a paste and chemical processing — to transform the arguably innocent little leaf into the white powder known as cocaine.
3. Three Artichokes: One of Audrey’s most favored foods, fresh artichokes are the stuff of glee, so much so that she almost did a jig when we stumbled upon this artichoke stand at Surquillo Market in Lima. The going rate? Three artichokes for two soles.
The outer leaves were meaty and their taste featured the slightest hint of allspice. The hearts, substantial and rich. We steamed and served them with Peruvian aioli. Audrey was on Cloud 9.
The sense of value is a personal one, so we put the question to you: what’s the best thing you’ve bought for $0.66 (give or take)? Be creative. You can also go back in time.
The most unique response gets a bag of coca leaves. Kidding, kidding.
Instead, we’ll send you something from Bolivia as a reward. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure it’s worth more than $0.66.
Next up in the value debate: when the discussion moves to the 100s and 1000s of dollars.