From Latin America

Weekend Antics – High Altitude Fishing

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on September 6, 2011

What we got up to this weekend…..

http://escapedtolatinamerica.com/blog/?p=33

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Pisaq Market in the Sacred Valley, Peru.

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on August 1, 2011

The market at Pisaq is a popular stop on a Peru tour package. The market is not just about handicrafts but as you can see in the video many country people come in to the town to sell their goods to each other.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTjZsAzLZqA

How To Haggle Like A Pro In Any Latin American Market

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on December 19, 2010

Roll your sleeves up, it’s time to make some purchases on your Latin American vacation! It could be a market stall, back-street shop or wandering vendor. Whatever the custom in your country, you are practically expected to haggle for prices or pay much more than you should. Here are some tips to help you have fun and get a good price.

Getting your haggling head on

First of all, expect prices to be flexible and don’t feel worried about asking for a discount.

• Vendors will try their luck and ask for a much higher price than normal, so you should try your luck and ask for a much lower one!
• Remember that negotiating is not arguing; you’re not aiming to get into a screaming match, but trying to find a fair price for the item that is acceptable to both parties.
• Don't be embarrassed about asking for money off! Being price savvy is not being cheap.

Preparation

As with any good negotiation, you shouldn’t walk into things cold.

• Work out how much you want to spend; haggling is the process of getting the best possible value for that amount of money.
• Research the product you want to buy – typically Latin America markets and shops are full of the same items, so you can do a price survey in a couple of other locations.
• If you can, bring someone with you who speaks the language.
• If not, bring a calculator to show numbers (the universal language) and do conversions if you are not totally familiar with the local currency
• Dress down and don’t give the impression of someone with a lot of money to spend.

Beginning the negotiation

A much as you may want to discuss price, never jump straight into it…

• Build rapport with vendor, and show an interest in their business, life and country whilst remaining polite and positive.
• If you notice something you like, never show interest. During the haggling process never appear needy and be prepared to walk away empty handed (sometimes this even helps as part of the negotiation).
• Price-wise, what is good for one is good for all – out of respect for the vendor negotiate quietly so no-one else can hear and don’t shoot off at the mouth about the deal that you just got.
• Allow the vendor to sell their product – this will relax them.
• Make sure the vendor makes the first offer, no matter how much they ask you for the opening price!

Getting down to business

OK, the first move has been made. Now comes the fun part!

• Establish their baseline price – go as low as possible in your counter-offer! Expect a dramatic response, as it’s all part of the haggling game…
• At no point in the negotiation should you mention your budget!
• Have an excuse to walk away if the haggling gets too intense – maybe you’ve got to meet friends or your tour group is waiting.
• Don’t say anything after your counter-offer until the vendor replies – silence is awkward, but golden.
• Check the quality of the product – if you can see any flaws, angle for an extra discount!

Closing the deal

It’s all agreed – counter-offers have gone back and forth and you’re both finally set

• At this point you should really commit to purchasing to honor your verbal contract. Many Latin America vendors are poor and it is unfair to commit to a price without purchasing.
• However, when the final price is fixed, there’s no reason not to try and go for low-value extras or accessories to throw in with your purchase. You should try to do some research into these before you begin your negotiation as well.

Do you have any other tips for haggling in Latin America? What are some of your haggling experiences?

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America


 

10 Reasons You Need A Latin American Vacation Right Now

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on December 19, 2010

If you’re reading this, you are struggling with a decision. You want a vacation, probably to Latin America, but there seem to be a hundred reasons not to go. Maybe you are worried that there’s not enough money in the bank, or you are concerned about losing your job in the current economic climate if you “slack off”.

At a time like this, you need a motivator! Instead of focusing on reasons not to travel, turn things on their head. Lets look at ten great reasons to book your Latin American vacation and start getting excited!

1) For starters…having something to look forward to
It’s good to be excited in anticipation of something. Preparations, speculating what will happen, the impending freedom and escape…it will make the last couple of weeks as work so much easier!

2) Be able to step back and look at the bigger picture
A vacation is a break – a pause from routine, a chance to get away from regular life. If you leave on vacation with a problem or decision that has been bothering you for ages, you won’t have the distractions that normally prevent you from getting some head-space. With time for yourself, the decision or solution to your problem will come much easier.

3) Get the health benefits
Countless studies have proved that people who use their vacation time enjoy the benefits; reduced chances of heart attack, depression, mental fatigue…the list goes on. Think of it as a more pleasant alternative to a grinding gym routine or chewing salad for the rest of your life.

4) Come back from your vacation a different person
On vacation you’ll be exposed to countless new experiences, places and people. If you open yourself up to Latin America, it has the potential to change your world perspective. From spiritual retreats in the Sacred Valley of Peru to fireside discussions with indigenous Guatemalans, you’ll see a side of life you’d never get close to in an office cubicle.

5) Challenge yourself and become tougher for it
Travel is hard. Well, as hard as you want it to be. Everyone has their own comfort level, and travel helps you push that – maybe you never knew you could dance the tango, or could do a four day trek. You’ll come back from vacation a stronger person for the challenges that you’ve faced.

6) Put your Spanish lessons to good use
Been struggling with Spanish for a while? There’s no better motivation to practice than using your language skills in a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English…

7) Be the envy of your friends
Don’t deny it; there’s always a kick of satisfaction when people ask you about your vacation…and you have some incredible stories to tell them. It also helps that while you were away exploring Latin America, not a great deal changed at home!

8) Get closer to the friends or family that you travel with
Real life sometimes takes away the time that we’d otherwise spend with friends and family. If you decide to travel with other people, it’ll be a wonderful opportunity to re-establish a bond. The relationship will grow from your shared experiences.

9) Discover the beauty, ridiculousness, surprise and variety of the world
Be inspired, get creative, laugh at the craziness of Latino life that you’ll encounter. Things certainly won’t be the same as your home country…

10) Return to everyday life refreshed
With all the things that your vacation has to offer, you’ll be going back to life at home feeling refreshed, energized, ready to take on the coming months – quite different from the person who left a few weeks previously!

Are you struggling with the idea of cutting loose and booking a vacation? What are your concers? What other benefits have you got from vacations in the past?

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

 

 

 

5 Latin America Visa Nightmares And How To Avoid Them

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on December 10, 2010

 

 

There’s nothing like a pile of paperwork to take the joy out of a dream Latin American vacation.  

No, correction – there’s nothing like realizing that you haven’t completed a pile of paperwork, too late on to do anything about it.  No-one likes having to do it, but you need to make sure that you’ve got your visas covered.  Take heed of the 5 nightmare scenarios below to make sure you don’t get caught out at the airport before your Latin American vacation has even started.

Wait, what’s a visa?
A visa, if you’re not sure, is a stamp that goes in your passport (yes, you’ll need a passport…) which allows you to visit a country for a specific duration with a specific purpose.  Like tourism, for example.

Nightmare scenario number 1
You’re an American that wants to visit Brazil.  Surprise!  The Brazilian Government doesn’t like you…speaking in paperwork terms.

How to avoid the nightmare: Some countries will make you jump through flaming hoops in order to be able to get a simple tourist visa, whilst others will just let you show up at the airport.  The rules are changing all the time, so your only option is to check out requirements for your specific vacation destination on your government’s website.  It is also worth getting in touch with the embassy of your vacation country to check the latest requirements.  A call or email should do it.

Nightmare scenario number 2
You’re leaving in a week – your tickets are booked and everything is arranged.  That should be enough time to sort out your visa, right?  Oh.  It isn’t.  And you can’t get a refund on those tickets, or re-book your holiday…

How to avoid the nightmare: Check the requirements for your destination country before you book anything!  Time-frames vary for applications, and with thousands of people applying each week in some cases, your application could be delayed in a paper-storm.  Avoid the stress, and simply apply for the visa in good time.

Nightmare scenario number 3
You’re at the airport with a nice fresh visa pasted into your passport.  But they won’t let you board the aircraft because your passport is about to expire…in a few months?!

How to avoid the nightmare: Believe it or not, you need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of return from your trip. If the expiry date is too close to your vacation date, apply for a new passport.  Make sure that you allow a few weeks for that application as well.

Nightmare scenario number 4
Ok, all set for that Brazil vacation again.  You’ve got the visa, a good passport…and the accompanying paperwork?  Sorry Sir/Madam, for a one-way flight you need some other proof that you’ll leave the country.  We’re going to have to keep you in custody until you can produce it.

How to avoid the nightmare: Some countries go beyond needing a visa. Check requirements for all accompanying paperwork with the relevant foreign embassy.  Hot topics to affect your entry could include:

  • requiring an onward flight ticket from the country you are entering
  • stamps from previous visits abroad affecting travel to new countries
  • medical conditions and taking medicines into a country
  • previous criminal convictions affecting entry eligibility
  • travelling with children of whom you are not the legal guardians

Nightmare scenario number 5
What a great vacation!  Until you return to the airport…and a very large fee for an expired visa.

How to avoid the nightmare: Get the absolute maximum duration for your visa to avoid any problems – you can check this maximum with the relevant foreign embassy before applying.  Make sure that the visa fits with your dates of travel!

Do you have any nightmare visa stories?  Does any visa advice for Latin American vacationers come to mind?

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

How Your Latin American Vacation Could Change Your Life

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on December 10, 2010

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With the global economy forcing us all to cut back on spending, it’s often vacations that are the first thing on the chopping block.  This is a huge shame – travel is a life changing experience, recognized as one of the best ways to spend your time.  Especially if you are escaping from the doom and gloom of home!  

If you need a little nudge to be convinced that booking that next Latin American vacation is a worthy investment, check out the following stories of some previous clients that I’ve arranged trips for.

Realizing what is really possible
David was a nervous person, but in a moment of madness his friends persuaded him to book a mountain biking tour on Bolivia’s infamous ‘Death Road’, a couple of thousand meters descent around narrow perilous switchbacks overlooking sheer drops.  

Egged on by his speedy companions and the reassurance of his bike guide, David actually ended up really pushing himself even though he was trembling like a leaf from the adrenaline.  By the end of the ride he realized that the only thing holding him back was his own attitude.  

I received an email from David after his return home, telling me that his trip had finally given him the boost he needed to quit his job and start a business – inspiring stuff!

Getting in touch with your spirituality
Sandra and Mark had both been struggling with their lives since their kids left home, and decided to book onto a  spiritual retreat in the Sacred Valley near Cusco.  The retreat was a challenging 10 day experience in an isolated setting, and both of them confronted tough personal issues as a result of the process.  

However, it turned out to be worth the effort – they left the meditation centre with a much clearer idea of what they wanted from the next stage of their lives.

A journey that you finish as a different person
Pilgrimage has been around as a religious journey of self-discovery for thousands of years, but you don’t have to commit to a religion to get the benefits.  

Carlos and three of his friends booked a cycle tour around the vineyards of Argentina.  They had a great time travelling between some of the best vineyards in South America, but also got to know much more about themselves as a result of reflective thinking time on the road.  

Friends and family were quick to notice the difference when the guys got back, and the group has since booked onto another cycle tour to allow for time away in reflection every year.

Seeing another side of life
The favelas of Rio De Janiero are known as some of the worst areas of poverty in Latin America.  Julie was determined to give her time and effort to help out some of the families in the slum areas, and I arranged for her to volunteer as an English teacher as part of her vacation to Brazil.  

“It was incredible,” she told me afterwards, “They were living in the worst conditions I’ve ever seen, and had nothing, but they were so happy and contented with life.”  

The experience changed her perspective dramatically.  “Even though it was a challenging experience for me, it made me think hard about what is important to me in life, and to be more grateful for what I have.”

What do you think is the common factor for life changing vacations?  Do you remember a vacation that changed your life, and what happened?

 

 Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

7 Tips For A Safe Latin America Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 30, 2010

Travel Guide

You’ve booked a Latin American vacation with a reputable tour operator or travel agent and you’re looking forward to enjoying your trip – maybe even relaxing a bit, right?  Well according to a ton of websites and articles out there, you just made the worst decision of your life!  Danger awaits you around every corner, and a long queue of people are poised to steal your stuff and do horrible things to you.  But, you are assured, you should try to relax and enjoy yourself…

Guess what; with the right advice and a little common sense, your upcoming vacation is going to be FINE.  You’re going to have a great time.  And if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to deal with it.  Why?  Because you know the deal with your vacation destination before you arrive and will have the correct advice before leaving home and all the necessary contacts.

Here are 7 tips to prepare you for your vacation so that you can just get on with enjoying your Latin American vacation once you leave your home country.

1) Get your body ready
Nope, not some punishing bikini workout, but getting all the immunizations and medications that you need for your destination.  Check with your local medical health-care professional and make sure you have all the right jabs up to date.  If you’re going somewhere with the risk of malaria, make sure that you get a course of medication; normally they require you to start taking the pills a month in advance.  Once you’re immunized, you can forget about it!

2) Overcome the language barrier, medically speaking
Prepare a piece of paper with any allergies, medical conditions or medications that you are taking in the language of your travel destination.  If you ever need to let anyone know any of this information, just hand it over.  No stress, easy!

3) Something could go wrong…but that’s ok!  Just have it covered
Arrange an insurance policy, but be careful about the small print!  Make sure that you are covered for all the locations that you will visit and all the activities that you want to do.  Once you’ve got your policy arranged, print out a summary of the details and keep it with your medical information slip, ready to hand over if you should ever need it (which you probably won’t). Even the best laid plans made by you, your hotels or your tour company can go wrong, travel insurance is a must and you should not just assume your nominal credit card insurance will cut it!

4) Send your travel itinerary to friends or family
Again, a simple precaution in case something should ever go wrong. If you are traveling with a reputable travel company they will give you a full rundown of your schedule and 24 hour numbers in an electronic document so you can print it out and carry it with you, and send it to friends and family so everyone knows where you are (only if you want them to know of course!)

5) Get to know your destination
What are the local customs?  How do people dress?  Are there any common problems that you should be aware of?  This can be great fun to research (much of this may be covered on the websites, blogs and articles that your travel company produce), but it can also dispel any myths about the dangers of certain destinations, as well as helping you make well-informed decisions on your trip without any agonizing.  Other good sources for information include checking the latest news from your destination country and guidebooks.  Your government’s website is also a good source of information, but remember that it will probably produce a long, terrifying list of worst-case scenarios.  Just read the information once, process it and leave it – you’ll remember it if you need to.

6) Travel with common sense!
Most of us are well equipped with common sense, thus foregoing the need for a long list of “do not” orders.  If you spend a little effort in preparation with the previous points, your common sense will be boosted by a little well-honed caution.  This will serve you much better than memorizing a list of “The Top 20 Deadliest Dangers Of Your Death-Trap Vacation” (seriously).

7) Take things slowly if you can, dont cram absolutely everything in!
It’s your vacation and you need to relax. Dont try to see everything in one visit and be crazily running around the whole time making mistakes, forgeting your belongings and accidents more likely. Some tour companies will try to sell you everything but the best ones will advise you to have a free day here and there, especially on a longer trip.  If you ever get the feeling that someone, especially a stranger, is getting pushy with you, you’ve got 100% authority to tell them to get lost.

Remember that things can go wrong…if you’re two blocks away from your home or on the other side of the world.  The trick is not to let the possibility of problems cloud your Latin America vacation.  Prepare well, make sure you book with the people in the know and leave your concerns at the check-in desk!

Do you have any extra tips for a safe Latin America vacation?  How do you get rid of travel worries? Do you have any stories, good or bad, about travel in Latin America? var host = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://secure.” : “http://”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + host + “wufoo.com/scripts/embed/form.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));var z7x4a3 = new WufooForm();z7x4a3.initialize({‘userName’:’escapedtoperu’, ‘formHash’:’z7x4a3′, ‘autoResize’:true,’height’:’443′});z7x4a3.display();

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

 

How to Get The Most From Your Luggage Allowance and Avoid Sneaky Charges

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 29, 2010

Ever been left fuming when the smarmy check-in assistant at the airport slaps you with an excess baggage charge?  You’re not alone.  According to research, one in five travellers get caught out on vacation with their luggage.  However, all is not lost – not only can you easily avoid paying top dollar for your cases, you can play the system at its own game.   Here’s how.

1) Find out the luggage allowance rules
This will take a little bit of preparation on your part.  Each airline has its own unique and frequently-changing set of rules.  If you have any hope of avoiding a nasty surprise at the check-in desk, you’ll have to go to the airline’s website and find out what they are.

  • Check weight and size limits for check-in baggage and carry-on items.
  • Find out which items are prohibited and in what quantities (for example, 50ml of specific liquids).
  • Some airlines also permit you to check extra bags for a relatively low fixed fee.  Find out restrictions and costs for this

2) Break the luggage allowance rules!
Ok, you’re up to speed with the airline restrictions and all the cunning ways that they will try and squeeze you for money.  Have you considered any of the following hacks to get around the charges?

  • Pick some of your biggest and heaviest clothes, and put them all on.  If you’ve got a jacket with lots of pockets, fill them to bursting; you don’t even have to wear it!
  • Family outing?  Everyone has a baggage allowance, and if you check with the airline you’ll see that parents can normally combine luggage allowances with their kids.
  • Check in people are not always unbending – if you are a little over the weight limit, and know you are, a nice smile and an apology often gets you checked in charge free!
  • Some items of specialist sports equipment can enjoy free check-in (for example, golf clubs on a couple of airlines), so try stuffing other items into the equipment cases.  If there are no equipment exceptions with your airline, it’s probably best to pay up-front as showing up to the airport unannounced with your specialist kit could result in some much larger fees.
  • Most airlines allow you a “personal item”, which can include a briefcase, camera, handbag/purse, laptop (in carry bag) or a multitude of other items.  Instead of stuffing a bulky SLR camera into your case, why not just carry it on-board?

3) Avoid the luggage allowance rules
If the airline has been too cunning in planning out its rules, you’ll just have to avoid them. Preparation is key here, so take a little time to run through the following steps.

  • Weigh your bags to check if you are within limits.  Use electric scales as manual scales can be a little inaccurate.
  • Avoid the whole debacle by sending your luggage ahead by courier to your destination.
  • Don’t pack anything that you can buy at your destination – toothpaste does exist in other parts of the world…
  • Leave out non-essential items by checking the weather where you are headed – maybe you don’t need that ski-jacket after all.
  • Prepare for the return journey – you’ll inevitably want to bring some things back from your vacation, so make some space!  Pack your bags and then take out 5 items that, on brutal reflection, you really don’t need.  If you need help, get someone else to pack with you and ask if you really need each item that you’re trying to cram into your suitcase.

Have you ever been caught out by luggage charges?  Do you have any other advice or tips for air-travellers?

 

Author: Jon Clarke – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

5 Quirky Traditions To Watch Out For On Your Peru Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on November 11, 2010

Random. Surprising. Frustrating. Strange.

If you've ever taken a Peru Vacation, one or all of these of these words will float into your mind sooner or later. If you were expecting to encounter life in the same form as back home, you'll be in for a shock. Why is Peru so different?

It could be thousands of years of civilizations steam-rollering over each other, each leaving their own mark on the population and its behaviours. Peru today is an anthropological melting pot with modern and colonial Spanish influence in towns and cities while in the countryside Inca and pre-Inca cultures dominate day-to-day life.

As a result of this cultural mega-mix you'll bear witness to some quirky, and often disturbing, practices on a Peru vacation. Here are 5 common ones to watch out for.

1. Two Bulls, a ladder and a cross on the roof
Something that is very common in the highlands is the placing of two ceramic bulls on the roof of the house. The roofs of traditional houses are covered with red clay tiles and as you wander the streets of cities like Cusco, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo look up and you will see many pairs of bulls sitting side by side.

The most traditional bulls come from Pukara on the altiplano between Cusco and Puno and two bulls side by side (male and female) are said to signify various things; they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure wealth, health and unity of the occupants. The bulls may be combined with a ladder and a cross allowing an easy passage to heaven when the time comes. This is a curious mixture of Inca and Catholic symbology, but one that is typical of many things Peruvian.

2. Red plastic bags on sticks
As you drive through the Sacred Valley of the Incas near Cusco you will see lots of red plastic bags on the end a very long bamboo sticks projecting from houses. These are signs! They say, "We sell Chicha," a maize or corn based alcoholic drink which is very (and in some cases, a little too) popular in the countryside.

On Sundays you will not only see the red signs but the effects on the people drinking Chicha as they stagger around small towns and villages mumbling and being overly friendly or abusive to tourists depending on what sort of week they have had.

It is said that, as yeast is expensive, people spit into the brew to make it ferment. To add to the fun, it is said that in some parts of Peru and Bolivia a severed dead baby´s hand is thrown in too for good measure. Make mine a double…

3. Babies shoes hanging inside or underneath the car
When you are taking a taxi, public bus or even some private cars in Peru you may notice a small shoe hanging by its laces. This is mostly done within the car, which makes sense (who wouldn't want a memento of their kid when on the job?), but sometimes logic is stretched when people hang the shoes underneath the car. This shoe is from the first born in the family and is said to bring wealth and luck to the family and aid family unity (a recurring theme it seems!).

4. Chewing Coca leaves
This is a very common habit in the countryside but you will see it in town markets too when country people come in to sell their goods. It is an Inca tradition where people build up a ball of Coca leaves in one of their cheeks and allow the resultant liquid to seep into the blood stream. The alkaloid ingredients of the Coca plant, containing around 1% actual cocaine, allow the fanatical chewers to fight fatigue, hunger and cold more easily and therefore work harder in the fields.

Many people will chew the leaves when they are not working hard, maybe when they are just sitting around chatting, and while it is not necessarily an addiction many people will go through 300 to 400 grams a week. Is that bulge in your cheek coca leaves, or are you just pleased to see me?

5. Decorating graves
When you are traveling by road you will inevitably see graveyards in nearby fields and often there are shrines at the side of the road where people have died in traffic accidents. Around special public holidays such as Todo Santos these graves are decorated by family members with many articles that the deceased used to enjoy. This ritual often happens on the birthday of the deceased person too. Things are placed on and around the grave like football related objects, model cars or dolls, photos, beer or rum bottles, favorite clothing, families may play favorite music etc.

Have you seen any of these traditions on your Peru vacation? Are there any others that you can think of? Just send us your comments in the form below:

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America