Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seek And Ye Shall Find (Eventually)

Photo by Luis Garcia
I’ve never understood some people’s aversion in asking for directions when lost. It never made sense. Why would you spend all afternoon roaming the streets, confused and stressed, when you could be in a bar, enjoying the local brew and watching other tourists wander past, puzzled expressions adorning sunburnt phizogs, and clutching out-of-date guidebooks?

Luckily, I’ve never had a problem asking questions, which is just as well because I am very good at getting lost. When I became a tour guide in South America, my family and friends had every right to worry—for my clients. But alas, their fears were unfounded (in the end).

When I first started out as a tour guide, my Spanish was so-so. I had a firm understanding, certainly enough to ask for beer and where the nearest hospital was, but asking for directions, well… let’s just say a pen and paper and a big, fat smile worked wonders. I became adept at drawing stick figures (hey, my cows don’t look like chickens!), and through my, ahem, diversions, I have met some amazing people and experienced some very unique places.

For example:

When I worked as a tour guide, I needed a home base in Cuzco, Peru. All I wanted was a small apartment to call home between tours and my shifts at the Irish Pub, so one late (and slightly inebriated) night, a friend scribbled down an address of an apartment they knew was up for rent. The next day, bleary eyed, I made my way to where I thought the apartment was, only to find I had the right street name but wrong neighbourhood. The kind lady, whose door I’d bashed on, fired rapid Spanish at me and I stood on her doorstep, my brain whirring but not connecting.

I pulled out my trusty pen and paper, and through some excellent drawing that Picasso would be proud of, I worked out there was a lady down the road who had a place for rent. Figuring I was already in the hood, I toddled down the street and after much searching for non-existent house numbers, I found the place.

Pachacuti statue near my apartment. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson
When I was given a tour of the apartment, I nearly fell over with excitement. For a modest rent, I could have an apartment that offered views of the terracotta roofs of Cuzco and the hills behind. Every morning I could wake up and watch the sun rise while hot air balloons floated across the horizon. I could take a thirty minute walk into the city, where the offices of my employer were located, and down the street from my abode was the local market where I could shop for fresh produce and guzzle as much juice as I wished.

Turns out, there’s a lot to be said for getting lost.

After that, every time I hit the road (sans clients), I allowed a bit of wandering around with sunburnt phizog time to allow a new, unplanned experience. Sometimes the windy roads led me to dead ends, other times I stumbled upon a cute ma and pa café that served local cuisine or sold interesting art work. And each meandering left me with an experience I would never forget.

How about you? When have you gotten lost and found a lovely surprise?


  1. Mmmm, love this kind of getting lost. I'll fill you in on my getting lost experiences tomorrow but in the meantime, I'm dreaming about that view of Cuzco over your balcony. Great story!

  2. From your post this may be one of the few instances where a thirty minute walk to work could be classified as fun!

  3. I wish you still had that lovely apartment in Cuzco, Alli! Then I could visit you there. Except you'd probably never get rid of me...