A Gaffe in Paracas

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My wife and I ran into some problems in Paracas, and we were pleasantly surprised when a couple of brothers stepped forward to help us out.

By Ben Jonjak

A Gaffe in Paracas, PeruRecently my wife and I were traveling in southern Peru and we stumbled into a series of misadventures which were, I have to admit, as much due to our own actions as to my ever present-paranoia that the universe is conspiring against me (somehow, you feel less silly if you blame the universe, but it doesn’t bring you any closer to inner peace).

Although we’re both highly experienced in the ways of travel in Peru (my wife is Peruvian, so I guess that makes her more experienced than I am), sometimes it’s possible to get a little too relaxed. When that happens you fall into the devilish trap of assuming that everything is going to go as planned and anybody who has ever planned everything knows that’s rarely the case.

Our first mistake was to buy a bus ticket that went through our destination without having an official stop in it. In the old days before I knew Spanish, I wouldn’t even have attempted a tricky maneuver such as this. But now that I’m more or less fluent I’m pretty sure I can make myself understood, and when that fails I turn things over to my wife who has no doubt whatsoever. Within the first few minutes of the bus trip, my wife called over the attendant and explained to him where we were planning to get off. He assured us that he’d tell the driver, and he was so reassuring and convincing that my wife and I drifted off to sleep, only to wake up about an hour and a half farther down the Panamericana than we ever intended to go.

In fact, we weren’t even on the Panamericana at all! Instead, we were at the small bus station in Paracas!

Now, such a setback might have caused a little difficulty in a less well-adjusted couple as my wife and I (you never see better shouting matches than between young couples on vacation). All travelers are aware that the dark cloud of hopelessness is ever-present and lurking, but you can generally drive it off with a few laughs (if they come easily) or a good attitude (if you can maintain it). At that moment, my wife and I were more focused on achieving our destination than blaming anyone, so we quickly hired a taxi driver to take us back out to the Panamericana so we could jump on another bus. The driver was very polite and sat with us on the desolate stretch of highway outside of Paracas until a bus came along.

"Take that one!" our driver yelled, pointing at the bus with one hand while flashing his lights to get the bus’s attention with the other.

Even with a couple hundred meters of warning, the bus was still traveling at highway speeds so it took a moment to slow down. The result was that the bus overshot us by about two hundred meters, leaving my wife and I (already annoyed that we’d lost 3 hours of time, but feeling better now that our ride had arrived) to sprint up to where the bus came to rest while our taxi driver happily waved good-bye.

We scrambled up the stairs and the bus started rumbling off again. We were halfway to our seats when my wife gasped.

"We’ve got to go back!"

There was a kind of frantic tone in her voice so I just turned around without question.

"Stop! Stop!" I yelled.

The driver and the ticket collector looked at me with a justifiable expression of annoyance.

"We’ve got to get off!"

They didn’t like it, but what could they do but obey? The bus quickly stopped and my wife and I were left coughing in a cloud of dust as it rolled off in the direction we were supposed to be heading.

"What’s the problem?" I asked finally.

"I left my handbag in the taxi."

The words sent a shiver down my spine. I looked back down the highway with the hopes that the taxi would still be there, but he had, of course, long since departed.

A Gaffe in Paracas, PeruThere is nothing worse than that horrible sinking sensation that crops up between realizing that something is not only lost it is in fact gone. In that moment, all the strength drains from your limbs as you intuitively understand that no amount of frantic flailing about is going to bring it back. You’re helpless. The universe has won another round and it’s now standing there pointing at you and laughing.

"Well," I said, trying to move on to something productive, "maybe we can call your phone and the taxi driver will answer it."

"Good idea," my wife replied, "lend me your cell."

"The batteries are dead," I said and instantly regretted it as the dark cloud of hopelessness reared its ugly head once again, this time threatening to swallow us whole (it’s odd, sometimes, how much despair an innocent remark can evoke), I had to act fast. "Uh…call from a pay phone."

I dug some coins out of my pocket and my wife stared at them unhappily for a few seconds while the dark cloud hovered nearby. Eventually, the need to act won out and my wife trotted into a shop to make a call, while the dark cloud sulked in the background. A few minutes later, she trotted back out.

"No answer."

"Well," I said hoping to distract my wife by keeping her occupied, "Paracas isn’t that big, maybe the driver went back to the bus station."

A Gaffe in Paracas, PeruIt seemed as good a place to go as any, so we flagged down a passing vehicle and got it to give us a ride back into town. It was a quiet, unhappy trip for myself and my wife as we couldn’t help but go over the numbers in our heads and deduce that the probability of ever retrieving the handbag was somewhere between zero and nil. The loss that I really knew would be upsetting to my wife was that of her cell phone. There’s something about a woman’s relationship to her cellphone that could make a man (a less well-adjusted man than myself anyway) almost jealous. The fact was that we were only on the first day of a planned three day trip.  At that moment on the outskirts of Paracas, it seemed hard for me to imagine how we’d enjoy the subsequent days after suffering the loss of the cell phone (not to mention her DNI, her money, her ATM card, and the rest of the contents of the bag).   The mood was glum.

Our ride stopped at the bus station. There were no taxis, but there was a local there who mentioned that after the buses came, the drivers all conglomerated in the center of town. Feeling the need to keep mobile, we got another ride and went to the indicated place.

All through our various rides, my wife had been scouring the highway for a gray taxi (which had been the color of our driver’s car). When we reached the center of town, she began asking other drivers.

"Do you know a guy who drives a gray taxi?"

Almost immediately we had an answer. "Yes," somebody said, "that’s Peluca."

"Peluca?" My wife responded, excited, "Where is he?"

"He should be down at the corner."

Instantly we sprinted down to the corner hoping against hope that this mysterious "Peluca" would be there and he’d have our bag. It’s funny how, in your moments of desperation, you build towers of hope on only the merest grains of sand. These towers are fragile.

Finally reaching the indicated corner, we began asking around.

"We’re looking for Peluca!"

"That’s me!" Somebody cried.

Hooray, I thought to myself, we’ve actually done it. We’re going to come out of this nightmare. We spun and looked at the guy and our hopes crashed.

"You’re not him!" My wife said. At this, even the self-proclaimed Peluca looked a little hurt.

"But I am Peluca," he said (he sported shoulder-length hair which was probably the inspiration for his name).

"No, the guy we’re looking for drives a gray taxi," my wife said forlornly.

"Oh," Peluca said smiling, "that’s my brother Peluca dos!"

The flicker of hope was reignited! My wife explained the scenario about the handbag. Instantly Peluca was on his radio to Peluca dos. Through the crackling radio lines, we could hear them have a mini-argument. "Peluca dos, did you find a handbag in your taxi?" "I’m not giving it to you!" came the rattling reply. "No, I don’t want it, the owners are here!" "Really, well bring them over!"

A Gaffe in Paracas, PeruPeluca dos gave us his location and Peluca (uno, I suppose) drove us out to him happily regaling us with stories of other good deeds the two had done throughout the years. My wife sat contentedly beside me, secure in the knowledge that her handbag (and her beloved phone) was about to be recovered. We were under a white cloud now (the dark one had been vanquished for the moment), and it gave us a chance to laugh back at the universe for a change (nothing is ever so sweet). Even the fact that our plans had been irrevocably destroyed due to the fact that we had lost so much time wasn’t enough to bring us down.

I learned long ago that life’s a lot easier when you don’t focus too much energy on sticking to the things you think you want, half the time they’re not nearly as good as the things you end up accidentally getting anyway(maybe the universe isn’t A Gaffe in Paracas, Peruquite as malicious as I thought). Certainly, our day hadn’t gone as planned, but there had been so many emotional highs and lows that I slept like a baby that night (always a sign of a good experience).

In a world where people spend far too much time being suspicious of one another, it’s rewarding to stumble into a moment of genuine vulnerability and to be pleasantly surprised when people go out of their way to help you out. That was our case with the Peluca brothers, and I am happy to give them their just recognition (which of course they didn’t ask for).

The two of them run taxi tours through the parks around Paracas, and their real names are Oswaldo Pena Advincula (oswaldo.paracas@gmail.com) and Jose Pena Advincula (taxitour242@hotmail.com). If you’re looking to take a tour of Paracas, these two brothers have, at least to me, amply proven their honesty.

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