Posted by: Jessie Kwak | September 15, 2009

Sad Tourists

We succumbed to an organized tour. It’s not our style to be carted around from tourist trap to tourist trap, but somehow we talked ourselves into it.

We signed up with Peruvian Tours; for S/.30 it seemed like a great deal. Transportation, guide, boat ride, and all entrances were included. Or so we thought.

As we were leaving the kid we’d signed up with came running out to tell us that we were actually going with Adrenaline Tours. Weird. OK. Adrenaline Tours picked us up the next morning outside of John’s hotel promptly at 10:30…then spent the next hour papering the Plaza Constitucion trying to round up some more people to fill out the tour while we sat in the van, waiting.

The tour we signed up for was a “tour clasico,” which would take us to various villages in the Montaro Valley to show off each village’s signature craft or product. It was a tourist circuit, without a doubt, and we were ferried around to large shops to hear a spiel about the production of the craft, then set loose to spend our soles. In between stops our guide would give us a history of the area, which I tried to translate to Rob and John.

The Montaro Valley itself was fertile and gorgeous, cradled by barren dry hills. It reminded me of the Lower Yakima Valley, wide and very flat, and mostly farm land. It’s fed by a system of rivers that provides irrigation, as well as the substantial rainy season during the winter. Animals were staked out to graze alongside the road—sheep, cows, pigs, and a donkey from time to time. Cactus grew in roofless abandoned houses, garbage fills the empty rooms.

Hualhuas was our first stop, where we got a tutorial on ceramics and weaving. I bought a purse with alpacas on it, despite my worries of it being too touristy. Last time I checked I was indeed a tourist, and the alpaca purse was pretty damn cool. I’ve decided not to worry about it anymore.

Loom at Hualhuas

Loom at Hualhuas

In Concepcion we got a quick verbal tour of a milk factory from a plexi-glass-enclosed observation deck–”this tank is where we add the sugar, vitamins,and vanilla flavor that milk needs”–then we flood downstairs to gulp down ice cream and cheese samples.

We went to the Laguna de Paca, where resorts stand shoulder-to shoulder serving the same mediocre food and offering the same S/.1 tour of the lake. The resorts compete with their music, blasting tinny traditional songs out over the lake, loudspeakers pointed toward the shore. Vendors swarmed us there with the exact same merchandise—fistfuls of keychains, racks of little drums with “Laguna de Paca” scrawled on them. Even our boat guide took time to offer his mass market keychains.

Laguna de Paca

Laguna de Paca

In Ingenio, we ate trout in all its flavors at a delicious restaurant called El Encanto. It is one of many restaurants in the area, but apparently the only one with a contract with our tour agency. The trout is all farmed here, and so we went on an obligatory tour of the trout farm. Here was our first surprise. We had to pay our own entrance. Sure, it was only fifty cents a person (S/.1.50), but weren’t entrances included in our ticket price? We asked the tour guide, but he said he knew nothing about what Peruvian Tours had told us. We shrugged and paid.

At the Convent Santa Rosa de Ocopa, however, things got tense when he told us to go buy tickets, then began distributing tickets to other members of the group. I confronted him, and was told the same thing. He didn’t know what was told to us by Peruvian Tours, but they hadn’t given him money for our entrances. It wasn’t his fault, he knew nothing of the arrangement, this was all a miscommunication between the two agencies, he had had this problem before with Peruvian Tours, when he called to ask how many of their people required their entrances paid for he had been told no one, he was sorry, but this was not his fault.

Granted, it became a question of $3 a person, but being jerked around like that after an afternoon of mediocre tourist attractions didn’t leave any of us with a good feeling.

The Convent was probably the most interesting part—it’s filled with paintings, sculptures and other amazing pieces of religious art, but it was hard to enjoy it after all this.

Convento Santa Rosa de Ocopa

Convento Santa Rosa de Ocopa

Anyone interested in seeing the Montaro Valley would be better served by knowing where they were most interested in going (I’d recommend Hualhuas for its textiles, San Jeronimo for its amazing silver work, and the Convent Santa Rosa de Ocopa for its history and art), then just catching a taxi or combi there so they could wander around and see whatever they wanted at their own leisure. The tour was pretty lackluster even without us being misled.

Granted, this is just a review of Peruvian Tours and Adrenaline Tours. Other companies in Huancayo might be better, or other tours might be more interesting.

We’re just glad we learned this lesson early on in our trip. No more tours for Rob and Jessie.

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