By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: My girlfriend and I are planning on doing some backpacking in South America. When we’re out there checking out the vendors and their stalls, I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing some shopping. In the past I have been confused about the local currency and exchanges. Is there a good way to unconfuse the matter

A: Things can get pretty hot when you hear numbers from a vendor especially when being told in another language. Sometimes the vendors can get so intense you’ll feel as if you have entered a hornet’s nest with so many of them buzzing around you. The markets are competitive as the local economy depends on your purchases. In cases like this, it’s best to just step away and continue to your next stop.

So how do you make your next buy a pleasant one and what about handcrafted items? You want to feel confident that the vendor has sold his ‘handcrafted’ item at a reasonable price, right? Whenever I travel to far-flung places, I print out a currency cheat sheet from before my trip and tuck it away in my wallet where the tips are at my finger tips. It’s also helpful to learn some common phrases related to shopping and know what the key denominations are.

Be wary when it comes to handmade items. These days many products are manufactured in China and are made to appear as they are made in the area.

Once on a stroll through Chichen Itza in Mexico, a string of vendors had beautiful blankets, colourful folklore dresses and masks. A ‘mask carver’ flew his hands up, motioned for me to check out his ‘work’ and wanted me to buy one of his creations. “Sure thing, I’ll be here for a few hours and when I’m finished touring around I’ll return to buy the one you’re making,” I replied. Later that day I returned as promised and wouldn’t you know his ‘carving’ was still at the same spot. He hadn’t carved an inch. Needless to say, I did buy some other masks. Its funny how during that trip, every time we passed a stall of masks these carved figures all bore a strange resemblance and were actual duplicates to mine.


dispatches | q&a | photos | fork | newsletter | archives | links | search | store | submissions | about | contact | home

All text & photos © 2002-08.