Regarding bargaining: I’m getting better at it (there was no place to go but up…) but at certain times I still not just suck at it, I completely forget to try it. I did that when I signed up with an agency for a trek yesterday – just didn’t even negotiate price at all, which in this part of the world is ridiculous. I’m feeling a bit ashamed of myself as I know I could have gotten it cheaper, which is a consideration when traveling on a budget. I’ve only paid a deposit, but at this point I think my leverage is lost. And in reality it’s not very much money to me and a lot to Nepalis: for a guide / porter and guesthouses for fourteen days I’m paying about twenty dollars a day. Add in food and rental of a backpack, warm clothing, etc. I may get up to twenty seven bucks a day. Just hiring a porter on my own I might have been able to do it for closer to fifteen, or I could have gone completely alone and carried everything, which I’m not sure I’m in the shape to do yet. Also, the Annapurna Circuit is extremely well-traveled, but apparently the Langtang where I’m going isn’t nearly as crowded, so I don’t know if I can count on meeting people to hike with.
I think bargaining is more fun when you have friends to do it with. In Jaipur Holly and Eric and I had a great time in the clothing stores, developing a system of when to stand up and walk out, when to agree to a final price. There’s a whole lexicon you learn in India: “give me a better price”, “what’s your last price”, “I’m sorry, my budget is very small”, and the clincher of “OK, x” which is lower than their last price but one that everyone agrees on. Leverage is obviously important; Jaipur in early April was the end of the tourist season so people were begging us to buy (even more than normal). Nepal in April is high season, though I think the prices are still highly negotiable. But my western guilt kicks in at a certain point: that fifty rupees means nothing to me but means one hell of a lot to most Nepalis.