No right answer – thoughts that circled my head on the trip, most of which have no conclusion

Part 1: Haggling

At the markets in Peru (and around the world), you are supposed to haggle for whatever you want to buy. There are no stickers to mark an item’s price and when you ask, the answer probably depends on your skin color and how gullible you look.

With the right attitude, haggling that price down can be fun. It’s a battle of wits and stalling and forced compromises. It forces a traveler to speak and interact with a local who is not there to please them – not a hotel concierge or flight attendant or a travel guide – a real person who must be kind to tourists but is not directly in the tourism industry. Buying souvenirs becomes a living, breathing transaction instead of through a screen and a credit card. In Peru, the language barrier added another translation element to the sales where Peruvian Soles are converted to American Dollars and bids are tossed around in Spanish, English, or the Arabic numerals displayed on a four-function calculator. (My Spanish lasted for the numbers 1-10 and then sort of 11-20 and then very quickly died – the vendors, brilliantly, have realized they can sell more when they tell you the price/haggle in English – I call it “transactional” fluency even if there is zero “conversational” fluency.)

But it gets old. And I start over-analyzing. Because the price of something depends so much on your looks and nationality, it feels like you’re being taken advantage of. And I don’t want to be swindled! And how am I supposed to know what a good deal even sounds like? When negotiating the price of everything got tiresome in Pisac I just paid the woman what she wanted – like I am over putting time and effort into haggling over a pair of socks. But then for pricier items I went to the other extreme of feeling like I haggled too hard core. At one point this woman looked like she was about to cry because at the last second I tried to drop the price by 10 more Soles – and if it was a fake almost-cry to try and get me to buy the tapestry already, it was damn convincing desperation, as she tried to close the deal while corralling her toddler son as he peed into the gutter behind us. 10 Soles is the equivalent of about $3 US. I was haggling over three more dollars. Which begs the question of who is really the one being taken advantage of? Sure, vendors push us to pay more than the locals. And as a former starving-college-student-now-living-in-a-basement typical millennial, I’m keen on keeping to a budget. But even the over-priced goods here are still so much less expensive than in the U.S. Here, I am giving money directly to the person who will benefit from it, not Walmart. And in a couple of days I will return to one of the wealthiest countries on earth where clean water is plentiful and free (well, not in Flint…but you get my point) and where $3 doesn’t amount to much – and I have no idea where she’s returning to. Shouldn’t there be two prices then? One for the locals and one for us, the wealthy tourists flitting in and out of their country? On a moral level, sure. On an individual, person-to-person transaction level, it still feels dubious and confusing.

Hunting and Deforestation

On a day off in Olympia, Paul, Chris, and I went shopping at Cabella’s an outdoor outfitters like REI, but with a more hunting/fishing slant. I guess the stores are famous for their taxidermy, making them almost like a museum with little plaques of the common and scientific name in front of each dramatically posed animal amidst some showy display. It was kind of heard to stomach. I tried to analyze why I was so shocked and slightly revolted – after all if this had been a purely scientific museum like the Smithsonian I would have gazed in awe…I think. I don’t want to hate hunting purely because I feel like that’s what I have been trained to do. I shot a gun for the first time this year at Bob’s gun and tackle in downtown Norfolk. I kind of wanted to do it, just to do it – to say that I had shot a gun, to understand the experience. Like those arcade games and that old duck hunting video game, I liked the skill of aiming and the thrill of it going off in your hand. But I didn’t like the power. Guns weren’t created to shoot at a piece of paper, they were for hunting – both of people and animals. I didn’t like bearing the responsibility of another life in my hands. I realize most people would not view an animal life in concert with a human’s, and while I certainly don’t value them as equals, it is still a life. I immediately jump to the bear’s family or all the obstacles it must have overcome to live to adulthood only to be randomly struck down. Don’t get me wrong, PETA bothers me to no end and I’m not about to head some campaign against hunting and guns – I’m actually completely torn over what I believe on this issue. I mean just because I personally don’t like it, doesn’t mean others who actually enjoy it can’t do it ethically and responsibly.

Reading about Roosevelt in “The Wilderness Warrior” had me at first wanting to try hunting, simply to understand why Roosevelt was so attracted to the sport and why his sportsmanship pleas coincided at all with nature preservation. But after seeing antlers in various ranger stations and the skins in Cabellas I realized I was out of my mind and would never be able to do it. In truth, it has been hard for me to connect at all with Roosevelt.  The core of what he did as president fascinates me: from rallying against corruption to saving wilderness, but his personal character of memorizing lists of every species (especially birds and their latin name) or voraciously planning his next hunts is not something I could ever relate to. I have always been fascinated with the way people think: not necessarily the specific actions that made them famous but what aspect of their character allowed them to make such decisions. In “Team of Rivals” I meticulously followed Lincoln, hooking onto his patience, perseverance, and clear mindedness. I’m not at all trying to state that I somehow resemble these people, but that I could understand them, that I could relate to their decision making processes enough to try and emulate their best qualities. And so far, though this is an incredibly good book, Roosevelt and I just aren’t clicking.

Deforestation/logging is slightly similar. Simply put, we need trees: for books, houses, and other stuff that requires wood. I understand this. I can’t completely deplore a practice if I still enjoy the benefits it reaps. I have never seen as many trees as I have in this forest, which makes the places of their removal that much more noticeable and disconcerting. I have to hope that most of these endeavors are done sustainably. Along the side of the road there are PR signs about how the forest was harvested and re-planted in 1985 and set to be harvested again in 2025. And while certainly not the most ecological practice, that seems pretty fair: plant a tree for every one you cut down, move in sections throughout the forest so that only pieces are broken and not the whole thing at once. In general, I do tend to be on Gifford Pinchot’s side instead of Muir: the forests should be put to use; sustainably, of course, but leave it to parks or other designated areas to be free from all human disturbance. But that is all politics within the park system. Outside, on private property, everything is up for grabs. We couldn’t survey one reach because an explosive welding company was working in a pit nearby. Logging occurs right up to the national forest property line. When Chris and I went looking for a stream on private property, we ended up on the front lawn of a logging company, my mouth agape to the sheer massiveness of an entire chunk of woods just destroyed as we looked out over the valley. And they were just getting started. Most of the roads we drove on looked brand new, nestled on the edge of steep cliffs that no longer had vegetation to hold them together. A new road was literally being bulldozed up against the stream we had wanted to survey with unfiltered culverts shooting fine sediment directly into the water. This is the most devastated area we ever drove past, but I can’t imagine it is the only one. Even Chris was sketched out (though more for being on private property) and we quickly high-tailed it out.