We arrived in Arequipa in the middle of the night and arranged for a guesthouse to send a car to the bus station. Climbing into bed that night we agreed the guesthouse was perfectly suitable, but we were eager to stay someplace closer to the town center. The next morning we set off with our bags in search of lodging closer to the Plaza de Armas.
It was a typical day in Arequipa: the sun was brilliant and there was barely a cloud in sight. Our bags felt light as feathers as we began our journey into town. Walking single file along the crooked and quite narrow sidewalks, we tried to get a feel for this new place we were in.
Up ahead a group of school children were hanging outside a little shop. Munching on some sort of Peruvian goodies, they looked pretty dashing in their matching school uniforms. Eying as us as we approached, a few of them broke into smiles when we greeted them hello in Spanish.
And then the oinking began.
"Oink oink!," several of the kids said at once.
"Oink oink oink!," giggled the shop keeper.
Looking back at Tim as we passed the group by, I asked if he had heard the oinking. He had, but was as clueless as I was about why it had happened. And so we continued like that for several more blocks: me in front, Tim in back, and always a bit of oinking following right behind.
At some point Tim realized he needed to adjust the strap on his backpack. Nestling ourselves into an alcove so that other pedestrians could still get by, he swung his pack off his back and put it at his feet.
And starting up at us was the reminder why everyone was oinking: Señor Pig.
For travelers who pride themselves on packing light, it may come as a surprise to folks that we traveled all around the world with a giant pink pig. Señor Pig, you see, is a travel pillow in the shape of a pig. Tim had presented him to me the Christmas prior to our trip.
I remember very clearly the moment Tim gave me Señor Pig. He was absolutely adorable, bright pink, and clearly ready for adventures. Something in his eyes just said "world traveler." But I was completely puzzled how we could ever bring something as large as Señor Pig on our trip. Where in the world could he fit?
Tim, ever the clever one, demonstrated that Señor Pig could quite happily ride on top of Tim's backpack (strapped on, of course, with pig-friendly backpack straps) and therefore not use up any valuable space inside.
Pointing out how uncomfortable I could sometimes become on car rides, he made the pitch that Señor Pig would serve as an excellent pillow or arm rest on long bus rides. Having already been snuggling Señor Pig for the past few minutes, I agreed he would be an asset in the battle against uncomfiness. "One pig" was written on the packing list later that day. And so began our journey a few months later with a giant pink pig.
Señor Pig would serve as more than just my pillow or arm rest during our round-the-world trip. When we were delayed in airports, he lightened the mood of the passengers around us. At bus stops he was often found entertaining mothers and their children. In our hostels and hotels, we'd discover the cleaning staff had arranged him quite dashingly with a book open in front of him or snuggled up on a pillow. He made border guards laugh, flight attendants giggle, and bus drivers smile. Nearly everywhere we went, Señor Pig was a way for someone to start a conversation with us.
We had no idea how much Señor Pig would open the world to us. And, of course, we had no idea how much Señor Pig would mean to us on those days the world felt overwhelming to us.
When I was sick for two weeks in Peru, Señor Pig didn't mind I wasn't at my best. When we were homesick and culture shocked in Bangkok, Señor Pig was a comforting reminder of home. On the night we found out my childhood dog Ed had died back home, Señor Pig was there to catch my tears.
Throughout the 18 months we traveled around the world, Señor Pig was a constant. No matter how bad a day we had, he was always cheerful and available for a cuddle. He never minded long travel days, cramped leg space, or frustrating delays. And he never once complained about the drool spots he'd gather at night or the increasing amount of dirt from wherever we'd been gathering on his paws. He didn't even mind being placed on a German man's head.
Since we've returned home and continued traveling on shorter trips, Señor Pig has moved into retirement. Though we knew it was always a risk he might go on walkabout without us during our round-the-world trip, the fact that he made it all the way home with us makes him too dear to risk losing on a future trip. Not to mention, travel was a bit rough on the guy. He's lost a good number of his beans (the stuffing that made him so very cuddly) and conserving them has become his main interest. But even with a bit less beans and an expired passport, he'll never lose his place in our hearts as our one and only traveling pig.
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