Our Guy In Cusco

--Amy M. Gardner

“Ya gotta have a guy.” 

When I was first out of law school, I had a conversation with a colleague about everything that Keith and I didn’t have the knowledge or time to do in our condo.  My colleague replied “Ya gotta have a guy.”  As we continued to talk, I learned what he meant: Regardless of gender, you need someone who can fix whatever issue you’ve encountered.  

Need your bathroom retiled? Ya gotta have a guy.  

Need someone to appeal your property taxes?  You need a guy.  

Someone to take care of your pet while you’re away?  Ditto.

A financial adviser? Same.

Cleaning person?  You guessed it.

Roman, Our Guy In Cusco

Roman, Our Guy In Cusco

It’s easier for those of us with condos – usually the building manager has a phone full of “guys” to take care of these issues.  They’ve been vetted by him or her, and have usually done work for other people in the building, so it’s both more efficient and reliable than asking Google.  

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve texted our building manager and asked him if he has a “guy” to take care of an issue.  And the answer is always yes.  

But when you’re traveling, you don’t have a building manager to text.  (Hi, Dave!)  Sure, you can get your “guys” through TripAdvisor, but do you really want to trust every aspect of your trip to strangers on the internet?  Probably not.  Instead, we’ve had good results with asking people who we personally know who’ve recently been to a destination and asking people when we arrive.  

For example, we arrived in Cusco, Peru, with a prebooked taxi (through taxidatum.com, which I highly recommend).  The driver was to take us to a couple of places we wanted to visit on our way between the airport and our resort in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley.  The driver was excellent and added some additional stops that made our experience even better.  As he was driving us around, we mentioned that we’d struggled to find a private guide for some of the other sights in the Sacred Valley that we wanted to visit. We didn’t want to rent a car and drive ourselves, but also didn’t want one of the expensive tour groups since we wouldn’t be able to stop as much or when we wanted.  We didn’t want one of the cheaper groups since they were large and had the same problem of not being able to stop.  We had found that the private guides were all in Cusco and not excited about driving the hour plus to Urubamba to meet us.  (In fact, one of the companies that fills Instagram with beautiful photos of the Sacred Valley couldn’t even be bothered with responding to my inquiry.)    

Did he know a driver, we asked, who would be willing to take us to the list of sights we had come up with? He pondered it, and then asked if the driver needed to speak English.  We told him no, and he told us – you guessed it – he thought he had a guy. He gave us the phone number of a friend, Roman, who was also a taxi driver and might be able to help.  

We called Roman, I explained what we were looking for, and he said he’d be there the next morning. Sure enough, we walked out of our hotel 5 minutes early and there he was, having driven in from Cusco that morning. We spent a packed day with Roman seeing sights on our list and scampering up ruins we hadn’t planned to visit because Roman gently prodded us up the terraces in his loafers and dress clothes while we puffed alongside in our tennis shoes and REI’s finest.  

While Keith took photos of a farm family plowing their fields, Roman told me about his daughter who is studying at a private university and his son in elementary school. I told him about Keith’s dad dying suddenly in February and the changes we had made in our lives since then.  Roman told us about the people who lived in the countryside and still farmed, and I told him about the small town where Keith grew up.  He told us about the irrigation systems used in some of the ruins, and I told him about our plans for our trip.  We ate quinoa pizza as he ate his grilled alpaca.  

When we said our goodbyes to Roman, I never thought I’d see him again.  He’d been a guy we’d spent a day with, but that was it.  

Until it wasn’t.  We moved on to Macchu Picchu, but then decided as we were leaving to see if Roman had time to drive us when we got back to Cusco to stay for two nights.  I left him a voice mail and sent him a text as we boarded the train to Cusco.  Then I realized on the train that I had told him the wrong time – our train arrived 2 hours later than I had told him!  I frantically texted him, but no answer. The train pulled into the station, and cab driver after cab driver tried to get us (and our bags!) into their taxi. Sure enough, though, in the cold night, we glimpsed a short man waving a sign with my name on it.  Roman had gotten my texts, but was out of credit on his phone so he couldn’t respond.  But he had come anyway.  He immediately asked about the cough we had both developed (thanks, high altitude!) and fussed about whether we had medicine and warm enough clothes for the cold of Cusco.    

Roman continued to drive us around Cusco and when we left, I told him he was my favorite person in Peru. That wasn’t an exaggeration.    

There was probably another way we could’ve found a driver to take us around the Sacred Valley.  And one of the many other taxi drivers in Cusco probably would’ve been fine as well.  But when you want someone reliable, someone who truly takes an interest in making sure you have a wonderful trip, and who isn’t going to demand double the agreed-upon price, you don’t want to leave it up to a stranger you find in a parking lot.  You someone who has been recommended.  Ya gotta have a guy.  

If you gotta have a guy in Cusco, call Roman.  (Message me for his number.)

Have you had an experience where a stranger became a big part of making a trip great?