One night in Lima, I found myself munching on skewers of marinated beef hearts at an open-air anticucheria by the ocean. I’d just played a concert with several local musicians and we wanted to celebrate, which meant pitchers of beer and a local sangria – sweet fermented purple corn chicha morada – to go with our platters of meat.
With tax and tip, the meal came to $40 CAD – or 100 Peruvian Nuevo Soles – and I offered to cover the bill. This seemed an appropriate way to show my appreciation for our collaboration (the exchange rate working in my favour didn’t hurt either!). But later I wondered if might have offended my Peruvian friends by offering to pay what seemed so little to me yet so much to them.
By virtue of favourable exchange rates, anyone traveling from a rich to a less affluent country – even a humble musician – can become a luxury tourist. In Peru, forty dollars, pounds or euros goes a long way. Flights may be expensive but once there, expenses bottom out. As I later discovered, in Lima as in many South American cities, if a three-course lunch, hostel bed, or cab ride costs more than $5 CAD, you’re getting ripped off.