I had just spent two wonderful days in the Colca Canyon of Peru. (Well, after I got over a screaming headache from going immediately to 11,000 feet in altitude that is.) I was heading back to Arequipa and in one of those weird twists that comes from being a travel writer on a glitzy assignment, I was not taking the $5 bus but was instead being chauffered in a big wanking SUV.
I made some small talk with the driver in Spanish and then mentioned I had heard a festival had been going on in Chivay, the town we were going through in about five minutes. “La Festival es terminada?” I asked, knowing people had already been drinking and dancing for three days straight. No, he replied. It was still going on and he asked if I wanted to stop there for a bit to check it out.
I must admit I hesitated for a second. I was on a schedule, with only one night in Arequipa to get a long list of “to-dos” off the list. Things to do, people to see, e-mails that were screaming for a reply. But screw that. “Por supuesto—vamanos!”
As almost always is the case when some opportunity like this arises out of the blue, it was magical. There were parades, decorations, brass bands, and people dressed in their finest, dancing and swirling around in circles. And that was what I saw in just the first five minutes! Even the kids were getting the dress-up treatment, getting ready to march in their own little parade.
Nobody else in the swanky hotel where I was staying saw any of this. It wasn’t on the menu. I did see a backpacker-looking couple though just sitting in the square, spending their afternoon taking it all in. They could spend the night if they wanted since they had nowehre they needed to be. They may have had other plans originally, but this won out.
If you are in a hurry and have everything planned before you even leave home, you miss much of what’s out there. Forget the checklists. Forget the plan. When you hear, “Would you like to…?” say yes. It’s almost always going to be more interesting than what’s in your guidebook or on a tour group itinerary. Drop it all and go.