On our recent trip to Peru, my friend Miles and I assigned ourselves a task – we were going out to find the national gemstone - Andean Opal. Wandering across Cusco, visiting jewelry store after jewelry store, the answer came back negative. Nobody had any. Most didn't even know what it was. And finally, one let me in on the truth - apparently, there is a big international push to get access to Opalo Andino, and the local guys don't even have access to any.
Finally, Miles located a place online that said they had it. Out of an abundance of caution, we had the desk clerk at the hotel call to make sure (my phone Spanish is less fluent than my conversational Spanish).
Question 1: Do you have the Opalo Andino?
Answer 1: Well, what we have is different - it is not Opalo Andino, but Opal Ultra.
Question 2: Is that the pink one? Or is it blue, like the Andino?
Answer 2: It is purple (purple?!) with a little bit of sky blue. (Miles and I both get excited….)
Question 3: Can we walk there from here?
Answer 3: (from hotel clerk: No. You will have to take a taxi. It is too far).
Question 4: Do you have some of the Opal Ultra?
Answer 4: Well, yes, we have it. Plenty.
We got into a taxi, gave him the address, and started talking to the cabbie as we drove out of Cusco’s town center. We got into successively worse and worse neighborhoods. The taxi driver even asked us, “Do you mind if I stay? I don't want to leave y'all out here without a ride back.”
Miles and I independently do a quick, silent mental calculation to figure out how much money we’re carrying on us, and whether that would be worth killing us over.
We have gone outside the downtown city limits, past the university setting, past a slummy area, and into a construction/industrial zone, populated by warehouses with vertical gates and sliding peepholes. No signs. No businesses that are open to the public.
Not even numbers anywhere on the buildings. Eventually I found 11-C on an electrical box and knocked.
The peephole slides open. “What do you want?”
"I am here to talk to the jeweler."
"Jeweler? There is no jeweler here".
I held up the piece of paper so he could see the address and the name of the company. "Oh. Yeah.... that's upstairs." Reluctantly, the guy opens the door and lets us in.
We head upstairs, and ask about the Opalo Andino. The guy is still perplexed, but is willing to do business (after correcting us again, reminding us that it is Opal Ultra). "How many kilos do you want?"
Miles and I look over at each other, greed plain on our faces. We were thinking a few carats, but a few kilos? We could cut all we want, set all we want and sell the rest. Once again, we mentally calculate how much money we have on us, hoping it will be enough to buy kilos of opal.
"Can we see it, please?"
Back downstairs, and unlocks the padlock on the door, rolling it upwards. Breathless anticipation from the two entrepreneurs behind.
Pallets atop pallets of laundry detergent. Exactly as described. Purple, with blue on it.
Once we got over the shock, we started laughing hysterically and taking pictures. Eventually, Miles saw the look on the businessman’s face, and told me to explain what had just happened.
After a couple of conditional tenses and at least one mangled subjunctive, I managed to explain to the guy so he understood where we had misunderstood one another.
“Ahh. Gemstones! Hmmm… My brother-in-law has a jewelry store in downtown Cusco. I think he might have some.”
Five minutes later, our taxi driver has a new address, located two blocks from our hotel, and we end up cleaning him out of Opalo Andino.
And Miles bought one package of laundry soap. Just for good measure.