They say adventure begins when everything starts to go wrong. If that’s the case, then Peru was a series of almost non-stop adventures. Nothing too cataclysmic — no one lost a passport or fell off a mountain (though, both could very easily have happened at any moment.)
Basically, things could have been worse.
But as someone just who’s just getting into the idea of foreign travel and already a meticulous planner, even the smallest unplanned inconveniences can throw me for a loop.
Just Getting There…
So when I arrived at the airport Friday night at 6pm, ready to catch my flight to Miami (and then on to Lima, and then to Cusco) only to find that my flight had been delayed two hours (meaning I would miss ALL of my connections), I sort of freaked out.
“Sorry, it’s plane maintenance.”
“Okay, well, what are my options?”
“Well…” the airline customer service rep clicked through her computer. “You could still go and just get stuck in Miami, and we could get you out tomorrow morning.”
Nope, I would still miss my flight to Cusco where everyone was meeting up. Also, who wants to get on a flight knowing they’re going to get stuck on their connection?!
“What about other flights?”
“We just shut the gate 30 minutes ago for the last one.”
“I’m not seeing anything…”
Confession: I’m almost in tears at this point.
Then, she looks me dead in the eye and says, “Are you sure you have to go?”
This is generally not a good sign.
I had friends looking up flights, connections, options—everything—sending support and promising they wouldn’t do anything fun in Peru without me until I could get there…a day and a half later than scheduled.
Eventually, I was booked on the same flights, only leaving the next morning (since they eventually cancelled the flight to Miami all together). This still meant I had to rebook my domestic flight from Lima to Cusco, as well as get a hotel room in Lima that night. An unexpected $400 later, I finally made it to Cusco. But my trials had only begun.
Lost & Alone in Urubamba
Getting to Cusco was actually the easy part. The flight lands and you’re there! The tricky part is trying to find the other seven people you’re traveling with who are apparently staying an hour and a half outside of the main city, but aren’t even home because they’re on a pre-scheduled tour, and now you have to meet up with them during their lunch stopover with neither group having WiFi or cell reception. Now that’s complicated.
The previous day when I did have WiFi, my friends gave me the name of the restaurant they’d be stopping at for lunch. So, armed with that and the name of a town, I hailed a cab and gave him the address. There is nothing more unsettling than a cab driver staring blankly back at you as he tries to process your words, particularly when he then tries to clarify in a language that you have, at best, a toddler-level of understanding.
“Necesito ir a Urubamba. Un restaurante Huacatay.”
This becomes even more challenging when you realize that the cab you hailed is actually a tourism company and they first drive you to their office. The cab driver, a lovely and patient man, invited me in while we waited for his brother, the person who would actually drive me to Urubamba. He offered me some Coca Tea to help with the altitude, which was around 11,000 ft. (Before I understood what coca leaves were, this situation boiled down to a man I barely understood giving me leaves in hot water before he drove me to an unknown location an hour away. I did not drink the tea.)
Eventually, his brother arrived and I started off on the next leg of my journey. The countryside was incredible. Unfathomably beautiful mountains juxtaposed with extreme rural poverty, and a smattering of stray dogs for flavor.
When we arrived in Urubamba, the driver dropped me off in the main square. He offered me a hearty, “Good luck!” (in Spanish) and I was left alone with nothing but a giant backpack and my high school level Spanish to help me navigate.
“Holá, tengo una pregunta. Dondé esta el restaurante Hua-ta-kay?” (I think I pronounced the restaurant name differently every time I asked.) And each time I was given a mix of verbal and hand directions, making me wish I had brushed up a little more on my vocabulary: Left, Right, Straight, Blocks, Streets…etc. I asked nearly twenty people—some were amused, others dismissed me, and some were incredibly patient and helpful.
But after an hour of searching in the hot, sacred valley sun—asking at every shop front or market stall I could find—I finally found it! Except I was an hour early and the restaurant was closed. So I headed back to the town square to find a bathroom and some WiFi, and ended up stumbling into an adorable café owned by a very understanding older woman and her skittish cat. I paid s/ .50 to use their facilities, bought a bottle of water for s/ 1.00 (which, all added up, was equal to less than $1 USD), and then logged on to the wireless.
Urgent messages from my friends popped up on my phone.
“Wrong restaurant!! Meet us at the bridge. I hope you get this in time!”
Damn. Okay. New plan. I asked the café owner for the location of the town bridge.
“Urubamba tiene dos puentes.” Two bridges in town? Of course! Just my luck.
I asked for directions to the biggest bridge and headed that way. I think I stood by there for a good 25-30 minutes, watching the time tick past 1:30pm when they said they’d arrive and slowly beginning to worry that I’d made a terrible mistake.
Around 1:50pm, I resolved to head back to the café to check for more messages, certain I’d chosen the wrong bridge. Just as I began to walk away, a bus drove by and I saw a familiar logo. I jumped a foot in the air and the bus slammed its brakes on the main street. I found them! And just in time for lunch.
I’m Not Sure You Can Call This A Bed
The trek was amazing—no issues at all. But once back in civilization, it seems that troubles just sort of follows you around.
Lima is a cool city. Especially the Miraflores area, which is clearly where all the cool kids hang out. We’d scheduled a room for the remaining four of us at a local Hostel (the group had split at this point, some on earlier flights and others spending extra days in the jungle). It was adorable, great security, good community…except they had no record of our reservation. And they were full…as was the next place…and the next place.
Turns out, for the one day we were in Lima, every hostel in the area was completley booked. We walked around for a solid two hours (where I think I accumulated most of my post-travel sunburn) looking for a place to sleep that night.
One hostel offered us a makeshift room on their roof.
“So we have some additional space, and you won’t have to pay full price….”
No bathroom, beds unmade, and the only electric outlets were an extension cord that came from the floor below. Plus we had to climb over some broken pots and storage to get into the room. I wish I’d taken a picture, but the shock that some people were already sleeping up there was too much.
I guess I’m not a shoestring traveler because I vetoed this idea immediately. Not worth the possibility of whatever bugs lived on that roof, or the lack of security for my bags.
“Uhhh…can we use your phone to book another place?” They weren’t offended. They knew what they were (and weren’t) offering.
Sometimes, you just have to eat a little more money and find a hotel. So we did—nothing spectacular, but it was close to the restaurants and seemed pretty safe by comparison. Heck, it was only for a night.
And aside from a giant moth attack at the restaurant (honestly one of the funniest, best highlights of the trip), everything went smoothly from there…just in time to head to the airport the next morning.
But So Right
It may sound like I’m focused on all the things that went wrong on my trip, even though most of it went really, really right. But if someone asked me to describe my experience, I’d have nothing but good things to say. I had an incredible time and will always remember Peru fondly.
But come on, the misadventures are way more fun to share! If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that every traveler runs into those less than perfect moments and we have to learn to embrace them. They help us bond as adventurers, and they remind us that we can take on whatever the world throws at us.
When it comes to travel, you can’t do everything right. And accepting that things will go wrong is the best way to feel ready for anything.