Integration (or Not) in Pisac

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I’m living in a retreat centre in Peru founded by a New Yorker (turned Peruvian shaman) and frequented by people (mostly “gringos”) from around the world. Pisac is also an area with many expats and tourists; so many that English is heard at least as much as Spanish is, and there’s even a little area of Pisac called “gringo-ville”, where there is such a tight congestion of gringos living there, that locals and gringos alike simply choose to call a spade a spade.

This massive influx of foreigners to the area creates a rift between foreigners and locals. I’m used to living around the world in towns as small as Pisac; small enough that everybody says hello to one another when they pass in the streets.

This doesn’t happen here.

Most locals have blinders on to the many tourists and foreign expats; they don’t even see you when you pass in the streets.

This post was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Main street through Pisac

Pisac: Is it the chicken or the egg?

Do locals ignore foreigners because there are just too many passing through for them to bother, or did it start with the foreigners – bringing their anonymous lives and ways to this small town and forgetting that they’re guests and should treat the locals with more reverence?

I don’t know.

Pisac outdoor market

But visit the Pisac market on a Sunday afternoon, and the gap narrows. Although locals rarely shop the extensive artisan tents and stalls, the plentiful produce, breads, and food stalls set up just in front are an array of Peruvian colours as families shop for groceries for the week, stop for a glass of chicha (fermented corn beer), and eat some lunch sitting on plastic stools at temporary tables set up by the “Mamas” cooking large pots of local specialties for as little as three soles (about $1).

Panorama of Pisac Market from above, with blue tarp roofs

Here, locals and foreigners alike enjoy the food, ambiance, and camaraderie. I have a few Mamas that I like to buy produce from, who are starting to recognize me. I probably still pay gringo prices, but I’ve learned a few tips for buying things and not getting completely ripped off.

Similar to my experience of slowly becoming a local in Panama, after a month in Pisac I’m feeling a similar sense of familiarity and loveliness here in Peru.

walking in Pisac

And even if not everybody does it, I’m sure to say “buenos dias” to the people I pass in the streets – and most of the time, they look up, smile, and respond accordingly.

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12 thoughts on “Integration (or Not) in Pisac”

  1. So you really are kind of living there… so odd. I thought it was going to be a track of a couple of weeks, that’s all. I cannot imagine staying somewhere so remote and quiet. Zen and relaxation is good, but I wouldnt know what to do with myself after a few days. What DO you do there, as a matter of fact?

    • Anna – That’s how I travel! I go somewhere, and camp out there for a few months. I choose to live around the world, rather than simply pass through it.
      As for what I do, there’s lots to do in Pisac and the surrounding area, from workshops, to exploring ruins, to visiting Cusco, eating at local markets – almost too much, in fact! I don’t expect to remotely “conquer” the place in three months.
      Remember also, that I have a living to make with my location independent career. This also takes time – just like any job.
      But I guess I also like rural life. The luxury of being able to lie in the grass and read a book is absolutely beautiful.

      • This is incredible. I mean… even with a full-time job (the last 3 months have been 10-16 hr days in the office plus weekends on iPhone) I feel anxiety if there’s no life bustling at the speed of light around me. I was at loss for what to do with myself for one week on the beach in Florida – and I was on the phone w colleagues back in Moscow every other day. I am also insanely impressed with self-discipline that’s required to do location-independent work. I basically answer to myself in terms of when I come in and leave the office, and sometimes even that feels like too much freedom for me 😉 (I bet you’re picturing a hamster in a wheel by now….)

        • Anna – Ha ha! I don’t mind the quiet life; in fact I crave it most times. Cities are a little too much for me in general. I’ve lived in enough places where the pace of life is relaxed that I’ve come into it quite nicely. Different strokes for different folks!
          And yes, time management as a location independent entrepreneur requires an epic amount of discipline. 😉

  2. This is a very interesting issue to me, just 11 months into our live around the world adventure. I had the best relationships in Pallanza, Italy, because there are few foreigners and because I showed up at the local tennis courts day one (on the lake in view of the snow-covered Alps, no less) and had my first tennis match the next day.

    From then on, for six months, I played tennis three times a week with Italians who spoke no English at all, and we became good friends, all in Italian.

    Cuenca and Cusco have been the opposite, with mostly English speaking friends. I’m thinking of playing tennis again in Malagal, partly just to have an easy, natural way to make Spanish friends.

    • Bob,
      You touch on an interesting point about immersion; because you went to a tennis court that was frequented only by locals, you stepped outside the regular “tourist comfort zone” and were rewarded for it. It’s not always easy to intentionally put yourself in a situation where you’re the odd man out, but it’s usually quite rewarding!

  3. Wonderful. I am heading here soon. I love living in quiet places. I spent 2.5 years at Lake Atitlan. Thank you for sharing your experiences. M

  4. Hello,
    I am planning to do anthropological fieldwork in Pisac for 6 months. This place seems lovely, full of culture and traditions, especially the market. I would like to know how is the situation with safety there and how easy is the access to Cusco (public transportation). Also, do they speak English or only Spanish? Lastly, are the people outgoing and easy to contact? It seems like a really small community, in which it would be easy to ‘enter’.

    • HI Maria,
      I was last there in 2016 so my take won’t be entirely up to date.
      Regarding safety, I always felt safe in Pisac, even walking at night. Stray dogs are the biggest danger!
      Cusco is easily accessible by “collectivo” – a public van system that shuttles people back and forth for a few dollars.

      Lastly regarding language, you will certainly find people who speak English, and there is a very large international community of travelers/expats who largely communicate in English.
      However, if by “the people” you mean local Peruvians, then you’d best learn some Spanish if you want to establish relationships with them.
      Here’s how I became fluent in Spanish, by the way: (check out Live Lingua in the post)

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