The Best $20 I've Ever Spent Traveling...

Feeling drained and burnt out from my office job, I vowed to be far, far away from my 9 – 5 daily routine. I recruited a few of my close friends to travel to Peru to celebrate my first birthday since graduating university and becoming a “real” adult.

Still young and mostly broke, we opted to stay in hostels and travel by buses. It was after a three-hour drive on one of these buses that we staggered outside the dark vehicle blinded by the bright, mid-day light.

In our scramble for our belongings being unceremoniously tossed on the dusty road, we overlooked the smiling Peruvian man standing a few meters away with a cardboard sign. It stated a very familiar first and last name. We didn’t arrange for anyone to pick us up.

We stared at the sign, then looked at each other, then stared at the sign again. Completely confused and bewildered, we walked over to the cheery fellow out of pure shock and curiosity. How did he know we were coming?

The man laughed at the puzzled looks on our faces, shook our hands and quickly explained that we were staying at his brother’s hostel near the Nazca lines that night. He lived in the little town where the buses arrived and his brother told him to look out for us (for a fee, of course!). As we had no set plans for the day, we agreed to be chauffeured around town for several hours.

Still slightly perplexed and uncertain if we should trust this friendly stranger, we piled into the silver sedan and prayed we wouldn’t get held for ransom. We paid him our $20.00 and sped off along the dusty roads. We quickly relaxed as he chitter-chattered in broken English about his life and the history of the town.

Our local guide took us straight to a winery. He eagerly threw open the car doors when we arrived and we were greeted by the sight of a huge pit filled with purple remnants of grapes. The air was pungent with grape juice and we could see dark purple liquid dripping into barrels. Our guide nimbly squatted down and plunged his hand into the mush slurping the goop it as it dripped down his arm. He informed us that we had just missed the yearly wine-making festival where folks gathered to stomp the grapes in this pit.

We walked around the grounds listening intently about the wine process, peered at the wooden tools, examined black and white photographs and tasted various wines from the region. Once happy with his tour, we set off on the dusty roads once more.

This time we arrived at a Pisco factory. As Pisco Sours are one of the signature drinks in Peru, this was a treat. Learning about the Pisco process, the long distillation method and then trying different type of Pisco with locals was a highlight.

In addition to the generous pours of the yellowish liquid, we were welcomed with bright pink cacti juice (which we were never able to find again!) and large portions of stir fried beef, chicken and potatoes. We shared drinks, stories and jokes around the table until it was time for us to continue our journey.

It was the most unexpected event during our ten-day trip in Peru. However, I still look back at it with a laugh and a shake of my head at how we let a random stranger drive us around for a day. We took that chance and were rewarded with some of the most unique and authentic experiences with local Peruvians and their businesses.

That is why this was the best $20 I’ve ever spent while traveling – because experiencing culture and trusting the goodness of strangers provides memories that are far more valuable than $20.00.

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