I could stay here forever, I thought, as soon as I walked through the foyer and into the courtyard of the hotel. Quaint brick sidewalks outlined the meticulously trimmed grass. Two wooden benches faced each other with a cozy table in between. A small fountain bubbled nearby. The tranquility within betrayed the liveliness of the town outside the walls of the Calle Union hotel in Cusco, Peru.
Behind me at the front desk, an issue prevented us from properly checking in. The clerk had asked for both my husband’s and my immigration papers. When we’d traveled internationally before, we’d completed a combined form for both of us. We had done the same on this trip. We’d already stayed at a hotel in Lima the night before, and needing two forms wasn’t an issue. What’s the big deal now? After several minutes, I learned what the big deal was, and it wasn’t just a complication with check-in. Checking in had become the least of our worries. Because I lacked the proper documents, I would not only be prevented from checking into the hotel, but I would also be prohibited from leaving the country at the end of the week.
When one travels, one tries to plan. Plan for almost everything. One packs for every kind of weather: both sunscreen and rain ponchos. Shorts and slacks, short-sleeved shirts as well as sweatshirts. We plan activities, adventures, excursions. We plan in order to avoid setbacks or complications. Sometimes, we even plan to experience surprises, but that doesn’t mean we are not surprised when they occur.
Following an intervention by the local travel agent, Laura, who accompanied us to the hotel, the clerk reluctantly checked us in on the condition we would have my immigration papers prior to checking out in two days. After dropping off our luggage, our next stop would be the immigration office, not the plaza mayor, as we’d planned.
Without hesitation, Laura, who we’d only met less than an hour earlier, stepped up to assist us. She escorted us to the immigration office and spoke, on our behalf, with the worker there. Unfortunately, because it was late in the day, we would not be able to complete the process that day and were instructed to return in the morning.
Laura encouraged us to meet her at her office the next morning so she could, again, accompany us.
“But after I drop my kids off at school,” she clarified. With that comment, Laura suddenly became someone more than just a travel agent. She became a fellow mother looking out for someone in need. We’d already secured a driver through her company, and he was on his way. How easily she could have just dismissed us to fend for ourselves at the immigration office.
The next morning, we, in our anxiousness, beat her to her office. But, as promised, Laura arrived shortly after us, carrying a large tote. She unlocked the door, and we followed her into her neat, modest establishment. She tossed the tote onto her desk and positioned herself in the chair behind it. From the bag, she retrieved a curling iron and plugged it into the wall behind her. Once it was heated, she began casually curling her hair.
Admittedly, I selfishly wondered if we should be focusing on my emergency rather than styling her hair. However, I quickly realized her calmness and general lack of a sense of urgency actually could work to alleviate some of my anxiety. After all, if she wasn’t worried, then why should I be?
As Laura continued to curl her hair, she proposed a plan that involved her taking care of the paperwork with the immigration office while we spent the morning with her driver, who would transport us to several of Cusco’s most renowned sites. Again, I was skeptical. We were just some poor travelers who had made a traveler’s blunder with our documents. She had a business to run, clients to secure. Money to make. Children to feed.
Although we took her up on her offer, enjoying the morning’s excursions was a little challenging. However, once we returned to the office, Laura was waiting with all the necessary paperwork. I was overjoyed, appreciative and humbled.
Now, when we travel, we still plan. But, after experiencing the kindness of this compassionate stranger in Peru, I certainly worry less about how we might resolve potentially challenging issues.
(Note: Margie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)