Travel and Value: What Can You Buy For $0.66?

Value: a topic of great debate, perhaps nowhere more so than in the world of travel.

We’ve had friends rave about inns in Costa Rica that are a “great value” at $300 a night. At the same time, we’ve met travelers who do the “bad value” balk when accommodation anywhere runs more than $3.

Call one a spendthrift. Call the other cheap. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

The theme and concept of value reveals itself regularly on the road. What is something worth? How much are you willing to pay? What enjoyment or satisfaction have you attained for your money? And how much has the context — the location, the time of day, the feeling of insecurity, or the convenience – influenced your sense of value?

There are no definitive answers; there are as many responses as there are travelers. The value debate will forever rage on.

We consider the question of value because, having just crossed the border from Peru into Bolivia, we find ourselves readjusting our own value-meter to new circumstances. Peru was by no means an inexpensive travel destination — particularly in tourist areas — but there were nuggets of value to be found amidst the expense.

Here’s what two Peruvian soles ($0.66) can buy you:

1. A Haircut

A cafe owner in the town of Cajamarca pointed us in the direction of the town’s “barber street” where the going rate for a man’s haircut is two soles. Not only was this the cheapest cut of our journey, but also one of the best haircuts Dan has enjoyed in the Russian roulette of haircuts he plays about every six weeks.

Best Value Hair Cut? Cajamarca, Peru
Best value haircut?

(In case you are wondering, Dan’s worst-value barber experience? Lahic, Azerbaijan. He ran for his life from the chair after the barber butchered his neck in a shave and greased his hair into a butt-cut. Asking price: $5)

2. Bag of Coca Leaves

In preparation for the high altitude of the Salkantay Trek, we poked outside the Cusco central market in search of coca leaves, the local remedy for soroche (altitude sickness).

“Two soles worth?” the vendor asked.

We nodded, expecting a tiny bag. Instead, we got this:

$0.66 Worth of Coca Leaves - Salkantay Trek
$0.66 Worth of Coca Leaves

Note: In case you are wondering, coca leaves are indeed the raw material for cocaine. Roughly speaking, it takes two leaps — grinding the leaves into a paste and chemical processing — to transform the arguably innocent little leaf into the white powder known as cocaine.

3. Three Artichokes

One of Audrey’s most favored foods, fresh artichokes are the stuff of glee, so much so that she almost did a jig when we stumbled upon this artichoke stand at Surquillo Market in Lima. The going rate? Three artichokes for two soles.

In Artichoke Heaven at Surquillo Market - Lima, Peru
In Artichoke Heaven at Surquillo Market, Lima.

The outer leaves were meaty and their taste featured the slightest hint of allspice. The hearts, substantial and rich. We steamed and served them with Peruvian aioli. Audrey was on Cloud 9.

———-

The sense of value is a personal one, so we put the question to you: what’s the best thing you’ve bought for $0.66 (give or take)?

Be creative. You can also go back in time.

The most unique response gets a bag of coca leaves. Kidding, kidding.

Instead, we’ll send you something from Bolivia as a reward. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure it’s worth more than $0.66.

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m glad you found a good haircut … they can definitely be iffy! My husband’s hair – which tends to be a blend of 2s to 5s on the razors – did not fair well in Kenya where everything is one length.

    Great deal on the cocoa leaves ~ they definitely became our best friend climbing in Peru too (and I wouldn’t mind another bag if I win the $0.66 contest with this answer: I bought an extra seat on a matatu for my dog so we didn’t have to pay for a taxi in Kenya. We definitely got some weird looks, especially considering no one actually has a “pet” there.)

  2. says

    Haaa….Coca leaves ;) Definitely helped on that arduous trek to Machu Picchu

    Definitely puts things in perspective in terms of purchasing power.

  3. says

    When I was traveling in Egypt about 15 years ago it started to get cold in the evenings and I wanted to buy a blanket. In a market I found a fellow selling blankets, and they were very thick and I knew wool would keep me warm on cold nights. After the customary tea drinking, friendly haggling (“my wife and 6 children are starving”) and eventually a hug and kiss on the cheek I bought my blanket. I rolled it up and happily went my way.

    The very first night I was eaten alive by bedbugs. The darn blanket was infested with them. I had never encountered them before, and they were so fast that I couldn’t even see them. I spent the night with a flashlight in one hand, waiting for the pain, and then whipping the blanket off in a futile attempt to nail the little critters. Total failure.

    Unfortunately I had just embarked on a two week ride into the Libyan desert, hopping from oasis to oasis, and was stuck with the darn thing. I had people comment on how nice the blanket looked, but I couldn’t trade it knowing the poor victim would suffer at night like I did. Some locals advised me to hang all of my gear on a string all day long in the sunshine to drive them out … still the little buggers ate me at night!

    Since I didn’t have another blanket, and it was so darn cold, I just had to keep using it. It was really warm and soft and beautiful… but cursed!

    I eventually gave the blanket to a little street urchin after pointing out the bite marks all over my body. The little fellow laughed, pointed out his bite marks, thanked me and scampered off.

    That purchase was both the best and worst purchase I ever made for under a dollar!

  4. says

    I once spent $1.00 on a taxi ride from Miraflores to the Lima international airport in 1990. My colleague and I had a contest each morning we were working there to see who could get the cheapest taxi fare to the airlines’ flight kitchen where we were working. The “taxi” was a legitimate cab that was, shall we say, a bit rustic. It was a 1960 VW bug with no front passenger seat and only the back seat in it.

  5. says

    Roasted crickets at the San Juan Market in Mexico City. They’re pretty tasty– though I had to spend more than 66 cents to send some to curious friends back in the US.

  6. Mary Beth Keane says

    I’d have to go with 10 baht for a bottle of cold water purchased while walking around Bangkok on a hot April day. Boring, but WELL-spent.

  7. says

    I live in Peru, so pick my coca leaves up at the grocery store. ;) I’ve had so many great 2 sol finds in my time here – but I’ll say that the 4 soles that I gave the women who gave us our first dog would be the best bargain ever. She found a pregnant street dog that had been hit by a car, took it in and nursed it to health. When it gave birth to 8 puppies, this woman found homes for all of them. And wouldn’t accept anything from us when she delivered our puppy except taxi fare.

    2 soles for a hair cut! Things are cheaper in Cajamarca – here in Lima, it’s hard to find a cut for less than 5.

  8. says

    Wow, that is not an easy question. I can’t think of anything that I got for only .66 cent. Maybe candy, that’s the only think that comes to my mind.

  9. says

    Realistically, the best .66 ever spent was probably .66 given away to someone who needed it.

    Something I bought for that little, though, was in Jerusalem – a few pieces of broken pottery that had been unearthed in an archaeological dig. They find so many of these thousands-of-years-old shards that they’re useless to the researchers, so they sell them to students coming through. I took the shards home and gave them as gifts to some friends & family who couldn’t make the trip.

  10. says

    A banh mi from a street vendor in Viet Nam. You can get a delicious one with everything on it for well less than $1. I’ve had loads of great purchases that were $1 or less, but the banh mi is the one I’m most want to repeat.

  11. says

    For 2000 riels (about 50 cents), I scored a sweet street treat — a bag of four fried tarantulas in Skuon, Cambodia. Next best was a pay-toilet visit in Peru for 1 sol, but only because the attendant gave me a receipt that looked like it was printed in the same ornate style they’ve been using since the 1920s.

  12. says

    Loved the piece, pretty insightful! I just got back from Peru, and wished I had made better use of my 2 soles. But yes, coca leaves are a definite! They taste so good as well, I couldn’t stop munching.

  13. says

    I stopped in a quiet, off the beaten path, coffee shop one afternoon in Cape Town for a cup of tea. I was the only one seated in the coffee shop. Several minutes later HRH Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu walked in, ordered tea, and then before seating themselves to the table next to me, first walked over and shook my hand and introduced themselves. That might have been the best .66 cents ever spent for me!

  14. Phil says

    I bought a pair of leather sandals in Morocco for a little more than that (I think I figured it at 88 cents at the time, but I can’t remember exactly). They were obviously pretty cheaply made, but they were comfortable and light and did just fine for my trip. I wasn’t normally a sandals guy, but that trip was so hot my feet were absolutely disgusting, and my socks were worse, so it was a welcome move, both from the standpoint of cooling me down and sparing my girlfriend the pain of sharing a room of with my feet and socks after a day in hiking boots.

    The big down side with them was that they smelled like fish whenever they got wet (which wasn’t really an issue in Morocco–more so after I got home). Ultimately, they didn’t last that long after I returned home (the metal buckle rusted and fell apart, and the thin sole start coming a part) but they were just what I needed at the time.

  15. says

    The best meal I ever had in China was for 6 potstickers, cooked in a large metal pan, alongside the street. I brought my own chopsticks since the threat of hepatitis was big at that time .. but I will never forget how good those fried dumplings were to eat!

  16. says

    Thanks to everyone for sharing your $0.66 (give or take a few cents) stories from the road. We really enjoyed the creativity and variety of the comments.

    But alas, there can only be one winner. And for that, we choose TR (comment #16) with his story about popping into a small cafe to order tea (for $0.66) in Cape Town and meeting the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Great story!!

    TR, I am heading now to the post office in Sucre, Bolivia to mail your prize. Hopefully, you’ll receive it in the next couple of weeks.

  17. says

    I was looking for stories and quotes on Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But never did I expect to read about this lovely encounter by TR meeting not only the Arch but also Dalai Lama. Great stuff.

    BTW: I don’t know you it interests you but the Arch has been hospitalised during the last week but released again.

  18. says

    @Johan: Thanks for stopping by and your comment! We were recently in South Africa where several locals mentioned that Archbishop Tutu had been in the hospital recently. However, they felt that he still had lots of energy and years left in him. He’s been speaking out about the ANC and corruption. Will be an interesting year ahead in South Africa with elections next April.

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