Can You Shop This?
My "Take-Aways" From Peru
By Justine Seligson
Photo by Nick Rossitch
On the packing list, they asked for long underwear, a headlamp, and a mess kit?
With the exception of the mess kit, these items mostly came to great use on my National Geographic Student Expeditions trip to Peru. However, there was a major bullet point missing from this list. And that was: room in luggage for new items.
It can certainly be argued that every place on earth is equally shoppable. You can buy volcanic ash in Iceland and rugs in Morocco. But for me, it’s different. There is just something about shopping in Peru. I’ll explain.
Usually on my family’s trips, we don’t do much shopping. This is because, in especially the very touristy areas, it can be difficult to determine which items are legit and which are made in China (unless you’re in China, of course, and want something made locally). In fact, in one of my earlier columns, I wrote about these “Made-in-China” shops.
So when I first arrived in Peru, I assumed that this trip would be just like all the past ones, that I’d ignore the touristy stores full of foreign junk. But before I even got acclimated to the high altitude of the Andes, my "look-the-other-way-when-near shops" routine was being challenged. All around me, I saw my fellow group members happily bedazzling themselves (and ultimately their families and friends) with sweaters, leg warmers, hats, you name it. Along with that, there was the constant question of, “Justine, why aren’t you buying anything?”
It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t have a reasonable response to this question. I was in Ollantaytambo, a beautiful little mountain town where—from what I could see—everything for sale was Peruvian. So I figured, why not buy a souvenir or two?
The first thing I purchased was a white llama sweater. Along with its cool design and comfy texture, it was super cheap, as the American Dollar goes a long way with the Peruvian Nuevo Sol. I immediately got tons of compliments for it and decided it was definitely a smart buy. As well, it was the catalyst for my other purchases. An immediate catalyst.
By the next day, I was in love with Peru's paintings, musical instruments, and anything made with their yarns. I couldn’t control myself and just wanted to buy, buy, buy.
In any other country I would have probably been forced to attend Shopaholic’s Anonymous. But I wasn’t, because as I said before, my group members were purchasing just as much stuff as I was--if not more. And the price was right!
I definitely bought a lot during our 20-day trip through Peru. But thinking about it now, I probably shopped the least out of my group members. For instance, over the course of the trip, I bought two sweaters (well…and lots of other things, but we’re talking about sweaters here…). Some of the other students bought at least four. One girl scooped up 14 for herself, family members and friends. But she didn't seem crazy to me, as one's shopping vibes are just so electrified in this South American country.
So for those of you planning a trip to the Land of the Incas, when it comes to shopping, I have some tips for you. Leave plenty of room in your luggage, which is a suggestion that I wish I had gotten (it’s a miracle that my bag’s zipper hadn’t broken by the end). Allow a lot time in your itinerary to shop, chunks of time (don’t just try to squeeze it in as you’re rushing to catch the train to Machu Picchu). And lastly, indulge yourself and your friends with the Peruvian products. Find an excuse to get everything that even so slightly catches your eye. There's always someone you can give it to.
Yeah, my third cousin’s young son who I met that one time so needs those little leather booties.
Photo credits: Market scene by Nick Rossitch; other photos by Justine Seligson.
About Justine Seligson: Just-Teens Travel columnist
Justine Seligson, our teen columnist and photographer, is a high school student. Justine started her Just-Teens Travel column providing teen insights, ideas and advice for students (and their parents) when she was in 7th grade.
At 14 years old, Justine won the Cynthia Mullins Award in Youth Photography at the Annual Juried Student Exhibition at Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, CT. She has also been published on National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog. See her piece
If you would like to suggest topics--or contribute a teen travel piece--e-mail Justine.