Vidal would be our guide, our mother and our angel, day and night, for the next week as we walked, drove and toured our way through Cusco, Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexy woman, a pronunciation that did not go unnoticed by the males in my group) and Sacred Valley, on the way to Machu Picchu. 

Vidal watched over us like Mother Teresa and when one student exhibited signs of altitude sickness, Vidal launched into mother mode to care for the student.  There was no task or duty outside the scope of his jurisdiction.  We were protected, nurtured and educated by this man. (While riding the backpackers train to Aguas Calientes, I caught glimpses of backpackers through the undergrowth of the jungle.  When I asked Vidal who they were, he told me they were hikers on their way to Machu Picchu.  What?  You can hike to Machu Picchu?  I made a mental note.)

Vidal was in charge of everything.  I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.  I could have thrown out all the mountains of paper itineraries, health records, passports, etc and it would not have made any difference.  Vidal was able to maneuver around any obstacle that we could think of.  I was barely able to yell at the kids anymore because Vidal took care of everything!  He was always one step ahead of us.   If he needed the kids to get up early, he somehow got them to do it.  (if we could bottle that, we could sell it!) 

My life was positively luxurious. When the students wanted to taste the locally-brewed chicha beer, Vidal came up with a plan that would allow them to have the experience without any of the risks.  We stopped in the middle of the afternoon at a family-owned brewery and sampled beer scooped out of a big, copper cauldron.  (I'm afraid I enjoyed this experience much more than the students,  who did not know that the fermentation is started with human spit.  Oh well!)  No one else was around, so it was really about tasting the spit (I mean brew) and not hanging out in a bar with inebriated adults.  (I hope parents will appreciate this as much as I did)

Vidal seemed to understand the needs of the students and they liked him.  I observed boys who are typically guarded with their emotions, open up a little.  When their goofiness crossed a line, Vidal was able to reel them in.  He did it respectfully and they adored him.  Vidal was clear and honest and it was refreshing to be around him.  I was grateful that the students got a chance to meet someone so truthful and genuine.  He was the perfect role model.

The week went by quickly and soon it was time to say goodby.  Our last evening in Cusco we went to a restaurant and as is customary, we collected a group tip for Vidal.  The students were generous and we put together a hefty chunk of cash.  The boys  wanted to present it to him and fussed over who would be "the presenter."  I caught a glimpse of their "love" as they jostled and guffawed their way through the we're-so-grateful-for-everything-you-did speech.  It was touching. Then one of the boys got sick.  My son.