For Christmas this year, I stuck with the Advent Conspiracy theme of spending less and giving more. I kept a few good stories secret and then wrote them up and sent them to family. But now that they’re gifted, I wanna post it here too.
I had to cross the border to get a new visa for Perú, and I had to do it on the cheep. Now to be clear, I wasn’t totally at the end of my rope. I’ve met people who are literally traveling with what they have in their pocket, that wasn’t me. I had some cash, but I was trying to make it last for another 6 months. Because I didn’t (and still don’t) want to come back to Portland earlier then planned, I was traveling on a budget.
Arica is a small coastal town in the Atacama dessert region of Chile. It’s known for being the driest place in the world and also a decent surf spot. As soon as I got off the bus I noticed how different it was from Perú. Car’s stopped for pedestrians, there was little trash, and no shanty houses. After getting my bearings my first decision was get a hostel or sleep on the beach. I didn’t have a tent, but this was the driest city in the world supposedly. My pack was getting heavy, and I wanted a place to safely stash it while I explored so I opted for the hostel, that left me with 3,000 pesos for the next day.
That’s about 5.60 US, not a bad budget, but I got an idea. I was gonna invest it. The week before we had a fundraiser with the comedor where I help out. We made Arroz con Leche and sold it in the plaza. People went nuts and I sold about 50 cups in an hour. I did some quick math; buy rice, milk, raid the free bin for sugar, get some plastic cups. If I charged 400 pesos a cup and sold it all, I could turn my 5 bucks into 20 or 30. While I was at it, I made some more trash paintings, because they cost nothing to make and I might be able to sell one or two.
bottles on cardboard
I started with my paintings and some reading material if things got slow. In the back of the hostel book shelf I had found a faded 70’s paperback. “La Chinchilla” declared the cover in bold letters. Sure enough things started slow and I had quite a bit of time to read. After a while, I didn’t care if I sold anything, I was totally into chinchillas. Maybe it was just boredom, but this book on raising, feeding, and eventually breading chinchillas was absurd and ridiculous in all the right ways. You don’t need to know much Spanish to be
shocked at the sentence “reccoleción seminal post-mortem” and that was after the drawings on constructing your own baby chinchilla feeder and how to choose a male for it’s lustrous coat.
By late afternoon, I was done learning about Chinchilla’s and I took the streets with Arroz con Leche. Things were going slow so I lowered my price; I gave some away to a guy riding his bike around the world; and ate about 3 cups of Arroz con Leche myself. I did sell quite a few, and got to talk to some skaters, families, 2 dudes in a car that I think were having a drug deal. I got
some complements which felt good. One person told me they didn’t actually like Arroz con leche but wanted to help me out. Yeah, it sucks getting a pity buy, but I took their money anyways. When it was all said and done I had recovered my money and made about 1,500 pesos profit.
2 bucks for a day of work? Worth it? If it was a real job, no way. But, my experiment in street vending introduced me to the city in a different way. I met people. I got to walk around and see the neighborhoods and plazas. I learned how to extract semen from a dead chinchilla. And that is what I call a day well spent.