Written by Oswaldo Muñoz*
Harry was a rather short and thin, Japanese-American playing “paparazzi” to the rest of his group while visiting Ecuador and Peru in the 1980s. Three cameras hung from his neck, plus a carrying-on bag dangling from his shoulder, containing roll film and accessories that included his pride and joy – a telephoto lens that looked more like a bazooka to better “shoot” us, the local natives and practically everything under the sun that captured his fancy. Having explored South Africa the year before with his companions, I was advised that Harry tended to disappear without notice during his photographic jaunts that did not honor itineraries, routes or activities to be followed. I was additionally advised that he would risk anything to get “the” picture to be seen only when he got back home, with dozens of rolls to be developed and packed in x-ray proof bags he did not trust. He also brought along several photos of his previous trips that were, quite frankly, outstanding. When asked how he managed to get those magnificent shots, he said he just wasted a lot of film, and in those days, “Kodak moments” were quite expensive, along with the long-forgotten interjection “I hope it came out”. We still wondered how he had managed to avoid being eaten up by the savanna’s wildlife. In that sense, he did have a close encounter with a baby elephant whose mother was ready to charge him out of her territory; plus a disappearance at a restaurant bathroom that was actually the storage room; a baby lion he had the suspicious urge to pet; and being left behind, momentarily, at a Maasai village, while taking pictures inside a dark corner of a local hut. And his talents and tendencies weren’t to be left behind in his next South American mission.
Harry’s passport was not to be seen for two days after he arrived in Quito. He kept quiet until he succumbed for help for a romp back to the airport, checking the hotel room and going through all of his luggage. And It was luckily found, in the back pocket of one of his blue jeans he had sent to be dry cleaned. In addition, he almost got arrested for taking pictures of what appeared to be secret police near the Presidential Palace (Ecuadorian White House); confused red hot sauce for ketchup and got his camera bag trapped in a revolving door. Finally, the last Ecuadorian episode was at a museum where ancient artifacts were spread out over large, rectangular display tables and the local curator was the only one allowed to pick-up the pieces to show to everyone – but no pictures, which put Harry in a fit. Some 15 minutes passed when I was made aware by someone in the group that he had in his hands a large ocarina, and he was apparently sweating a lot. When I requested, most serenely, he return the piece to the respective desk, that it was not for sale, he informed me he couldn’t, since he had a pinky stuck inside one of the instrument’s holes. This turned into mission impossible, forming a human curtain to keep the curator from seeing what was going on, secretly escorting Harry to the bathroom to, with some soap, pop his finger out, drying the piece and returning it as if nothing had happened. And we did it, so the amputation was called off!
Lima, Peru, was our next square to land on. We at times wondered if it would be best to have Harry shipped there and with no declared value. But don’t get me wrong – he was, nonetheless, fun and entertaining – a kind of mascot everyone enjoyed keeping out of trouble. But the next “trouble” was in store for us, when climbing the iconic Huayna Picchu mountain at the base of Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. Back in those days there were no handrails or ropes to hold onto during the ascent, or descent for that matter. Harry was the first one up, clicking incessantly away. Next was the official group picture and immediately downhill to catch the last bus back to our hotel at the bottom of the archaeological complex. But Harry was not around for that photo shoot – strange, we thought. Once on board the bus to take us downhill to the village of Aguas Calientes for overnight, we advised the personnel of our “temporary” loss (we hoped only temporary). And we then saw Harry, with the aid of binoculars, immobile, sitting on top of some stones halfway down the mountain. He had frozen on his tracks due to the sheer fright of looking down, since he had not realized that what goes up must come down, preferably in one piece! After bribing the bus driver to wait and seeking the assistance of one of the local park rangers, Harry was back with us.
Next was overland from Cusco to Puno. Once in Puno, we arrived at an extraordinary hotel overlooking Lake Titicaca. Everyone was eager to check in and have some fresh trout along with other local delicacies. The lobby briefing included the do’s and dont’s, and one of the suggestions was to keep away from an old adult llama running lose on the hotel grounds that took a fancy to chasing and tracking down guests that would get too close, plus the traditional split like its “cousin”, the camel. Once seated with a panoramic window facing a large garden, we realized our companion was again missing. We proceeded to eat anyway, since we figured he was hard at work photographing the premises and would join us shortly. But low and behold, much to our initial shock, we saw Harry being chased back and forth over the lawn by Mr. Llama. He desperately flashed by us some three times before we realized what was going on and sent an emissary to rescue him. Once at the table, it smelled “funny”, only to realize it was the llama’s saliva on Harry’s chest, and he had peed in his pants in the midst of his fear and excitement!
The next day was the “Floating Islands” of the Uros on Lake Titicaca, made of old reeds or “totora” rafts that would be continually tied to the edge of each little island complex. It was a funny sensation to bob up and down as one cautiously walked around these floating platforms, making sure not to get too close to the edges, for fear of sinking into the soggy vegetation and ice-cold waters. But we soon heard a soft splash, to later see Harry disappear beyond his waste into all that gooey material. Fortunately, he had his camera equipment inside his carrying on, so no harm done, except having to exile him to the back of our bus upon our return to the hotel.
Yes, indeed, there is always “one” or more guests that, depending on our attitude, can actually add fun to our travel experiences. And Harry was not the exception – a rare traveler and magnet for attracting unusual situations while vanishing in the process. He had at times bad luck on the trip, but also a knack for imitating David Copperfield, for which we decided to give him a nickname which he also laughed over: the missing jinx. I wonder where he has disappeared to now!?
*Oswaldo is the founder and CEO of Nuevo Mundo Expeditions. This is the fifth post in the Anniversary series.