Sometime towards the end of December the thought arose from nowhere, as thoughts are wont to do, that I wanted a one-piece swimsuit. Not long after this, in Copacabana, Bolivia, we took all our dirty clothes to the local laundry. Later when we collected them some were still a little damp so we strung up a clothesline in our room, as we are wont to do, and hung them to dry. We both clearly remember seeing the bottom piece of my swimsuit there. A couple of days later, as we were packing to leave, we searched that room high and low but the bottom half of my swimsuit was nowhere to be found, and has not been seen since. Be careful what you wish for. You want a one-piece swimsuit? Here you go!
The under-chin strap of my sunhat was elastic, and every time I pushed my hat back off my head it choked me a little. What I wanted was a chord with a toggle so I could adjust the length at will. I had no confidence whatsoever of finding a toggle anywhere in South America short of a major search in a big city, but the thought kept on arising. I want a toggle. I want a toggle. In one of the smaller Chilean towns we visited Don found a store selling fabric and sewing notions, but once again I had no confidence they would have a toggle, and anyway I felt too lazy to go check. I think it was the next day, or the one after, we boarded an empty long-distance bus for the next leg of our journey north and there, discarded on the seat I had been assigned, was a chord with a toggle on it. Exactly what I wanted for my hat was there on the seat waiting for me. I was stunned. My jaw dropped. Once again I was floored by the synchronicity of the Universe.
We were in Puno, Peru for Fiesta Candelaria, a major festival of indigenous dancing, lined up to buy tickets for the stadium performances that day. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, a young Peruvian woman who spoke English came up to us and introduced herself. That was the beginning. That was the miracle from nowhere that began a whole series of events leading to us being able to be in the media-only area that day, and getting official authorized press credentials for the media-only area for the following Sunday. There were over one hundred different dance groups the first Sunday and more than eighty on the second Sunday.
Without the press credentials our view of the dancing would have been this from the lower seats:
or this from the upper seats:
See the umbrellas in the photo above? That’s where the people with press credentials get to be.
The young woman explained to us that the stadium was divided into four sections and that it was not possible to move between the sections. I asked her what would be the best section for photography and she said the South section so that’s where we went. When I walked into the stadium and saw the metal fence, beyond a surprisingly mild twinge of disappointment, my first thought was well I guess I won’t be taking any photos today. We walked a little further in and suddenly I saw a gate in the fence giving access to the field. Spontaneously I walked up to the man guarding the gate and explained in my best tourist Spanglish that I have an online journal and please please could we be allowed in to photograph. He asked us to wait. Someone was sent to get a person of greater importance. When he arrived I explained it all again and he let us in. We were so excited. That day I took 1263 photos! The most ever in one day.
Later I asked if we could do the same again the following Sunday. He said we would have to get press credentials from the Candelaria office and told us where it was. So the following day we found the office, explained that we had an online journal and before we could even really say what we wanted the man there said you want press credentials. Si si we replied most emphatically and with veiled astonishment, hardly able to believe our luck. Between my ability to say a few words, and Don’s ability to understand what was being said, we understood what was needed – send an email to them requesting press credentials, and bring in passport photos. We returned, having sent the email, half an hour later with the required photos, and a few days later picked up our press credentials. Never mind that Don’s was in the name of Marcelino Zamata Hincho! In big red letters, stamped across both passes was the word HABILITADO. Authorized!
If that woman hadn’t introduced herself to us we would not have known about the different sections of the stadium, nor would we have known to go to the South section, nor would we have found the gate onto the field. What sweet serendipity it was. We couldn’t believe our luck. We were both so excited. We were official press! I was a periodista! And as it turned out we were the only non-South American media there, and I was interviewed, in my halting Spanish, for Peruvian television. Too funny.
We booked and paid for a nine-day adventure in the Amazon. Then we booked, and sent a deposit, for an eight-day Galapagos cruise to start right after our return from the jungle. Unexpectedly we received an email from the agent saying that we’d been bumped from the cruise because the ship had been filled with a tour group. What?! We were not pleased. Then I mentally decided that if we couldn’t go on that cruise it would be something better. It turned out to be so much better than we’d imagined. After some back and forth with the agent over a couple of days we settled for a very similar cruise going a week later and asked what compensation we would receive for this, um, disruption, in our schedule. She couldn’t give us a discount, but she could give us two extra airport transfers (meaning we would have four in total). And that turned out to be a gift as well.
We came out of the Amazon exhausted. We’d been hiking over rough and muddy and swampy ground for two to four hours most days, out and about in dinghies and canoes, swimming, and not sleeping well but determined not to miss anything anyway. What a huge blessing that we were given a week to recover before we went to the Galapagos. We were in no condition to head straight into another round of hiking, swimming, and snorkelling everyday, and have any chance of being able to appreciate it. Being bumped from the cruise we’d initially booked was a gift we didn’t even know we would need. Not only that, on arrival we were told we’d been given an upgrade from a cabin with port holes to a bigger cabin on an upper deck with large picture windows. Now we were very pleased :)
Quito is an astonishingly difficult and complex city to navigate. The area around the airport is pretty rough and there’s nowhere nice (read safe) to stay there. The airport is an hour or more from the downtown core. We really needed those airport transfers – when we arrived, when we left for the Galapagos, when we returned from the Galapagos, and when we left for Cuenca. Once again the universe took care of us.
Losing the bottom half of my swimsuit was amusing really, and a harmless reminder for me of the power of thought, and to listen to my thoughts and be careful what I wish for. But the toggle?! That leaves me kind of breathless at how unfathomable it all is. Did a butterfly flap its wings somewhere so that a hat chord and toggle would be discarded on a seat on a bus in Chile? On the same seat of the same bus that I would later take? Is that it? And the forced change of plans for our Galapagos cruise. Again dumbfounded, as if there is something that knows what is needed better than we do ourselves, far better, and then just arranges it. What is that? Is there even an answer? But the most astounding of all for me was that woman who spontaneously approached us at the festival, and how that lead to the series of events that culminated in us having press credentials and the best seats in the house – for free! It makes me feel small, but not in a bad way, and humble, and so very very grateful. It’s a kind of puzzled, bewildered, silent, aching stillness, this recognition of the mystery of life. I think I don’t know anything. And it’s better that way.
Photo of the day: Dancing in the street at Fiesta Candelaria, Puno, Peru. Even here our press credentials allowed us to be on the street rather than behind the rope barriers.
PS After a fairly extensive, and unsuccessful search in Lima for a one-piece swimsuit, I did find a replacement bottom half for the “one-piece” swimsuit I already had.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.