Peruvian Birthday Adventure
“Are you crazy?!”
“You’ll starve to death.”
“You’re going to end up mugged or killed.”
“Why would you put your daughter in harm’s way like that?”
“How are you going to communicate?”
I heard all that and more.
As my daughter’s 18th birthday approached, I told her that I was consciously trying to downsize my life. As a result, I wasn’t going to buy her some trinket she didn’t really have a need for. Instead, I would rather treat her to an experience. So I offered to take her on a trip.
The guidelines were simple: we only had six days so it had to be somewhere we could get to and from while still leaving enough time for fun. Being the middle of a dreary winter, I also wanted it to be somewhere warm.
We are both adventurous, off-the-beaten path type people who prefer to do things that others in our social circle don’t typically do. There is nothing wrong with going to the Bahamas or Disney but we’d both prefer something a little less ordinary.
So I was not at all surprised when she asked if Peru was out of the question.
Being adventurous, we don’t need a step-by-step itinerary spelled out. Peru is a huge place but for me that was enough detail to begin planning. With the destination settled, that’s just what I did.
When planning any trip, the first order of business is generally how will you get there and where will you stay? There is only one way to get from the northeastern United States to Peru and back in six days and that’s to fly.
With that settled, I focused on where to stay. And that’s when the comments and advice from well-meaning friends began…
True to spirit, I went online and found Peruvian families with extra rooms for rent. The internet makes it easy to find such families and to negotiate staying with them. Cost is generally much cheaper than for a hotel, plus we get a more authentic experience of the place.
As my friends saw it, there was only one small problem: we spoke essentially no Spanish and the families we would be renting from spoke essentially no English.
In their minds, my friends foresaw nothing but bad outcomes from this arrangement of sleeping with strangers who don’t even speak a common language. We saw nothing but adventure!
Lima airport wasn’t so difficult to negotiate. In a huge city like Lima, and especially inside the airport, there are plenty of people who spoke English. Cusco, on the other hand, is a rather small city with a very small airport. No one spoke English.
The first family we stayed with arranged for a cab to pick us up from the airport. The driver spoke not one word of English and we didn’t even know how to tell him where we were going. Truthfully, we didn’t even know if this was the right driver! We hinged all our hopes on a single word: Carlos.
That was the name of the man we’d rented the room from. Our assumption was that this taxi driver was saying that Carlos had sent him to pick us up. We also assumed he knew where Carlos’ home was because we had no way of giving him directions.
In a foreign country (our first time venturing beyond the US and Canada, I might add) with no sense of direction and facing an impenetrable language barrier, we settled in and enjoyed the ride.
My daughter and I were taking pictures out the windows and gawking at every new thing we saw. We don’t even know how long the ride was from the airport to Carlos’ home but eventually we made it safely.
Our host actually knew a few dozen words of English and, growing up in Albuquerque, I knew a few dozen words of Spanish. Neither of us knew the grammar of one another’s language but we were able to communicate just fine.
A few days later we left Carlos and his home to head to Machu Picchu. There we stayed in a small hostel which we were, again, on our own to find in a strange land with a language barrier. From there we flew around the country a little to see Lake Titicaca and the Nasca Region by air before heading back home.
My daughter had an amazingly memorable birthday and nobody got killed or mugged.
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