I was recently recollecting turning points for me in the course of my travels with a new friend and fellow traveler, Kristy Randall (highlighted here ). I thought this particular instance was worth sharing because it applies to everyday life, not just travel, and has truly shaped the rest of my journey.
I was about eight days into the start of my international travel in the small town of Puno, Peru and I was supposed to take a leisurely bus tour through the countryside from Puno to Cusco, known as “The Sacred Valley”, stopping to see and explore several historical sites. However, the town of Puno had other affairs bubbling to the surface.
I was having dinner in Puno after a very long day of travel and touring and still fighting a bit of altitude sickness (Puno sits at about 14,000 feet), when all of the electricity went out in the town. It was pitch black. I thought nothing of it having grown up in the country myself and figured it was just a power surge. My waiter brought me a candle for my table so that I could finish eating my meal and we were all comfortable just waiting for the electricity to come back on… but it never did. I finished my dinner, tottered four blocks back to my hotel, and upon entering the lobby, was called immediately over to the reception desk to take a phone call. My tour operator was on the line explaining that a political strike had begun in Puno and it was expected that the electricity would be off indefinitely. In addition, she wasn’t certain that buses would be running the next day, as most public services were screeching to a halt in cooperation with the strike. Therefore, she thought it was best to get me onto an overnight bus to Cusco within the hour and have me forego the next day’s tour excursions. Still somewhat fresh on the road and adapting to solo travel, I certainly didn’t want to be stuck in a tiny town with no electricity and some very unhappy citizens, so I quickly agreed.
I went to my room, pulled out the pocket flashlight for which I thought I would have no need, and started packing my backpack as best I could while holding the flashlight in my mouth so that I could see what I was doing. As promised, my tour operator arrived to fetch me and took me to the bus station. She went as far as to change my ticket, put me on the bus, and ask a friendly stranger and father of two in the seat next to me, to look out for me since I spoke little Spanish. Now, this also meant that she was going to call ahead to the tour operator in Cusco to let him know of the circumstances and ask if he could meet me at the bus station in the morning. I would also need to call the host family with whom I was staying to let them know that I would be arriving at 6am instead of 6pm. It was a bumpy ride through the night, and I got very little sleep, but I made it to Cusco. Miraculously, the next tour operator was there to meet me in Cusco and my host family kindly allowed me to check-in early. The room I rented from my host family was a little more rustic than described and there didn’t seem to be any hot water, but I rested that day, explored the town a bit, and tried to make the best of the situation.
The next morning, I was scheduled to commence with my tours of the town and several historic ruins. I arrived promptly at the meeting point and patiently searched for my tour group. Considering that this tour company had been so prompt and on top of things so far, I half expected them to be waiting for me and calling out my name. No such thing occurred and after several minutes, I began searching for the group. At this point, the tour was supposed to have already begun. A few more minutes passed and now, I would be almost 10 minutes late… I hate being late. Finally, a girl walked out of the cathedral where the tour was scheduled to begin and called my name. I walked over to ask what was going on and she proceeded to apologize and explain that yesterday, someone else had mistakenly taken my “boleto turistico”, the tourist ticket that allows access to a dozen different historical sites, including the cathedral I was about to enter. Instead, she was giving me the ticket with the other person’s name on it; the person who had taken my ticket. This ticket is valid for up to 14 days, allows re-entry to all the sites during that timeframe and costs over $100. She continues to explain that the office that administers these tickets is unsympathetic to these types of mistakes and will not re-issue the ticket, nor can the tour company purchase another, so I would have to use the one she was giving me. This is why I couldn’t find them and they couldn’t find me. They were calling a different name.
“So, what does this mean?”, I say. She continues to explain that she has already informed the current tour guide of the mistake and has assured me that he will take care of any issues throughout the day. She says they rarely ask to see ID when you present the ticket at the entrance to sites, so it shouldn’t be an issue. However, for me, this ticket was also a memento for my travel journal and I would have to take care of explaining the situation in the following days to other guides and then be especially creative if I wanted to re-enter any of the sites. I was very frustrated. This is not consistent with my expectations of customer service. In the US, I would be negotiating my way to a new ticket, a discount, or some other resolution to make up for the mistake, but in Peru, where I spoke little Spanish, had no idea how far I could push the issue, and really didn’t want to waste any more time on it, I felt a bit helpless. The girl gave me her contact number in case I had any issues in the coming days, which was pointless since I didn’t have a local phone and the ruins are all in remote countryside towns. I felt a bit deflated, and also a little angry that I had just missed the first 20 minutes of my tour of a gorgeous cathedral. I had not arrived in Cusco under the best of circumstances, didn’t have the most comfortable accommodation, and was short on sleep so this was just the icing on the cake after my last 48 hours.
I walked into the cathedral to join the group and felt a bit awkward as everyone turned to look at me causing a disruption. The tour guide was talking but I had no idea about what since I was late. I could feel my negativity festering. I sat there a few moments pondering what I could do about this situation, completely ignoring what was going on around me. Then I looked up. I was surrounded by gold in-laid tiles, gorgeous stained glass windows, ornate artistry and symbolism unlike anything I had ever seen. I was stunned. In that moment, I thought, I could sit here and be pissed off about this ticket mishap, or I could forget about it and relish all of the beauty and history that I was witnessing and enjoy the rest of my day. Before proceeding to the next area, the tour guide came over to introduce himself since I missed introductions and asked me what my name was. “Hi”, I said, “I’m Janaina Paxer. Sorry to be late”.
Now, of course, I can look back and laugh about this entire week. So I was Janaina Paxer for three days. Who cares… after all, I had joked with friends before leaving that the best thing about traveling alone is not only that I can do whatever I want, but I can also be whomever I want. And guess what? My boleto turistico with Janaina Paxer’s name on it is an even better memento and reminder in my travel journal.
Whether while traveling, or in plain old, day-to-day life, it’s rare for everything to go as planned, but attitude is everything. I’ve always known this but find it’s easy to forget. As I continue my travel, I think about that 48 hours between Puno and Cusco regularly. I have had many more similar and different challenges and am happy to say that slowly but surely, I’ve learned to take all of them in stride.
Sometimes there are moments when I have to remind myself to revel in gratitude… and am so glad when I do.