The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town. I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait. The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts. The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever. Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.” We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.
It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru. My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca. We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine. Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.
After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines. Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground. Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area. When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride. We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.
A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish. My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts. But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience. Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.
I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language. Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could. Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands. He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related. But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate. It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile. Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.
With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language. Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him. It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead. Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around. With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.
Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again. The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends. The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind. We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.
Many months later, my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday. I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special. As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”
A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that. It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”. I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure. I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father. I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.
He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him. It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.
Happy Father’s Day…