The Best Tour Guide in the Whole of Peru

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, August 22, 2008

- A True Story -

Deep in the heart of the Peruvian jungle a few kilometres from Arequipa, Miguel, a hotel receptionist, was awoken in the dead of night by a loud and frantic banging on the hotel door. Outside in the dark inky night stood a tall, hairy and bespectacled American man all alone, and looking for a bed. The hotel was totally full. At 2am in the dark jungle with no other lodges in sight, the American stepped inside and asked that he could sleep on the sofa in the lobby. Having never seen a man quite like this, Miguel did not have the heart to send him back out into the night and so agreed.

Miguel's own bed was a camp bed behind the reception counter. However, he could not sleep and felt sorry for the tall man on the small sofa and so decided to offer his own, still warm bed to the strange looking American and set to work early.

At 6am the owner walked in. To a Peruvian, the American, called Ray, with his long white hair, thick jam-jar style glasses, a droopy moustache and a goatee beard and was a strange sight indeed - especially when found in Miguel's bed by the owner ! Needless to say Ray swiftly removed himself from the bed and then headed off for a coffee and a roll-up smoke in the hotel garden to wake up properly and to wait for a room to become available.

Miguel often worked 2 x 12hour shifts back to back. He was also a new father and his baby boy, out of necessity, sometimes had to accompany him to work, where he would be wrapped in a blanket and hidden from view behind the reception counter whilst the mother went on to her own workplace. This was one of those days.

Miguel had his hands full, explaining to the manager why there was a strange man in his bed, keeping the baby quiet whilst dealing with a hotel full of demanding guests and their even more demanding tour guides. The hotel remained totally full to capacity and reluctantly Miguel told Ray the news that there was no room for him to stay.

So off Ray went, trekking along the dusty track to find alternative accommodation. Not two minutes later a guest unexpectedly checked out and Miguel ran up the road and managed to shout loud enough for Ray to hear and return to the Lodge. In appreciation Ray offered to buy Miguel a meal for his trouble, but even though he had already worked all night, his shift did not finish until 7pm that evening. Ray was happy to wait, but Miguel's day did not get any easier. The only room available was between two ardent non-smokers and not only did Ray smoke, but his choice of roll-ups were particularly pungent. This meant some creative re-arranging of rooms without upsetting any guests, some super-fast room cleaning and lots of luggage carrying to see everyone settled and Ray ensconced in his room right at the top of the hotel.

Finally at 7pm, an exhausted and tired Miguel sat down with Ray. Ray ordered a whole litre of Beer and put this in front of Miguel. Peruvians would usually share this amount with a whole table of people, but Ray was insistent that it was just for Miguel and that he was neither hungry or thirsty. Ray then ordered a whole chicken and put this in front of Miguel too and told him to tuck in.

As Miguel tucked in, Ray set about firing question after question at him. He wanted to know all about his son, his wife, his life, his hopes and dreams. Miguel had always dreamed of being a teacher but had to drop out of college due to family and financial pressures. Ray asked what it was that he really, really wanted to do with his life now. Miguel admitted that it was no longer teaching as the salary and the politics of teaching in Peru made it a poor career choice. Ray continued to question Miguel, asking again and again what career did Miguel dream of. An exhausted was now also feeling somewhat intoxicated by the litre of beer, answered that he would like to become a lawyer, but Ray suggested that he really think about it. Miguel remembered the tour guides who came into the hotel and suddenly realised that this was exactly his dream job! Ray continued with the questions, this time about training at university - how long would it take, how much would it cost etc. and by the end of the evening, he had promised Miguel that he would pay for him to pursue his dream as long as Miguel promised that he would study hard and become 'the best tour guide in the whole of Peru'. They carried on talking and Miguel found out that Ray was an architect who lived in Seattle and who enjoyed travelling more than anything. Miguel had never really had the opportunity to socialise with a tourist before and found the whole evening entertaining and so far removed from the reality of his normal life.

Miguel went home to his wife and told her of the conversation, but that he did not really believe it to be a possibility, as after-all, he had drunk plenty of beer and Ray had been smoking his "special " roll-ups and had proclaimed that they would be friends for-ever.

Next day Ray checked out of the hotel-lodge and gave Miguel $100 as a tip and told him to take his wife out for a meal and to organise the paperwork to start studying Tourism in Cusco. $100 represented a huge amount of money - well over a whole months income to his family, and was massively appreciated. However normal life resumed for Miguel at the Lodge, although now, he could not help dreaming from time to time about becoming a tour guide, it seemed an impossible dream for a man in his position.

Weeks later, as Miguel was on reception checking in a female American guest, she asked his name. Then rather surprisingly, she asked about his meeting with Ray and handed him an envelope. Almost shaking with anticipation, as soon as he could, Miguel took the envelope to the only private place he could think of - the toilet - to open and read the letter. Only there was no letter inside, just a small piece of paper which had written upon it 'The Best Tour Guide in the Whole of Peru'. Also inside was $1200!

When Miguel felt steady enough to reappear, the American lady was waiting for him and explained that this money was to cover his moving expenses to Cusco for him and his family, advanced tuition fees and rent on a house to live in and that every three months Ray would send more money. She also wanted to know that he had resigned and was ready to go.

Miguel had not resigned as, as much as he had wanted to believe Ray's promise, he had not dared to. Time was now of the essence and he had to resign immediately to be able to get to Cusco and into the University program. The American lady urged him to do so right now and so he did. Only the owner would not accept his resignation and would certainly not let him leave in time to start the course. Miguel pleaded with him to work to the end of the week and to forgo the whole months wages, but the owner still refused and a fast and furious exchange in Spanish ensued in the middle of the reception area. Luck was on Miguel's side as the American lady, fluent in Spanish, intervened and the owner agreed caved in under her insistence. Miguel was free to begin his new life!

Ray was as good as his word and checked grades, gave encouragement and financially supported Miguel, until the time came for graduation 5 years later. Miguel graduated (top of the class) with a father figure in Ray and a tour guide license.

Today Miguel is a successful Tour Guide, still based in Cusco. He acted as our guide on our three day trek. He volunteers his time to give support to foreign travellers through the South American Explorers Club and has also voluntarily helped with conservation of the environment, excavation of Inca ruins and helps to provide fair employment for the underprivileged mountain villagers. He plans to expand his business by training local Quecha people to be guides in their own mountain areas and currently financially supports a student through schooling. His own child is now 12. Miguel still thinks of Ray as his friend, mentor and father figure. Ray continues to support other people in South America as he did with Miguel.
In our view, Miguel most probably is, 'The best tour guide in the whole of Peru'.


We returned to SA Explorers Club in Cuzco in August 2013 hoping to go trekking with Miguel once again. Sadly, we discovered that he had died in 2011. He died in the mountains he loved when a rockfall hit him and the horse he was riding. Tragic news. Our sympathies to his family. RIP Miguel.

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