Everything was going just as planned.
In retrospect, I should have known. I should have known that something was going to go wrong. But I was too excited by my Dad’s arrival in Peru to be skeptical. And even if I had been skeptical, I never could have anticipated what was about to happen…
Before I go on, I just need to say – I want all of you to come visit. So please do not hold this story against Peru, it really is a beautiful wonderful place full of beautiful wonderful people. This is just too good of a story not to share.
Back to the story. We got on our bus at 11pm and settled in for a short seven hour ride. We’d fall asleep in Lima and wake up in the beautiful land of Ancash.
Around hour five of our seven hour bus trip (4am) I woke up and realized the bus had stopped. “Weird,” I thought, “This is a direct bus, it shouldn’t be making any stops.” I mentally shrugged and went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up again and realized that we were still stopped. “Maybe it’s a flat tire.”
Around hour eight of our seven hour bus trip (8am), I woke up and we were in the exact same place, and we knew that something was wrong. Dad pointed out that you all you could see on the road were other stopped buses. Passengers from all of the buses were gathered in small groups and sitting on the guard rails along the side of the highway. We went outside to join the group and see if we could figure out what was going on. What we found out was this – some people were unhappy with something so they had blocked the major highway and weren’t letting anyone through. In short, we were stuck.
Around hour eleven of our seven hour bus ride (11:00am), Movil Tours (our bus company) tried to gather all of the passengers from its various buses stuck along the highway. They stated that they wanted to turn around and head back to Lima. This was probably a very good idea. But some of the people in the group got angry and demanded that Movil had a responsibility to get us where we wanted to go. Movil gave in and the stand off continued. A lot of people gave up on the buses and started walking back towards Lima, hoping to find a taxi to bring them back to the city.
Around hour thirteen of our seven hour bus ride (12:00pm), the police finally showed up along with some government representatives. The people who were protesting had a small, peaceful parade past all of the buses and we were on our way. Unfortunately, some of the people we met along the side of the road were not as friendly, and one person threw a rock at the bus, cracking the window of someone sitting further back.
Clearing the road
We were on our way until hour fourteen of our seven hour bus ride (1:00pm), when the bus slowed and then ground to a halt behind twenty or thirty other tour buses. Another road block had been put up and we were once again stalled for an indeterminate amount of time.
Around hour seventeen of our seven hour bus ride (4:00pm), I started growing bitter. I only had seven short days with my Dad and we were wasting one on a bus. Almost as important, I only had four nights with hot showers and I was wasting one on a bus. Didn’t these people know what they were doing to me? (Yes, I do realize how selfish that sounds.) I turned on my iPod and moped for a while.
What do you do when your bus is stuck on the road for over sixteen hours? Not a whole lot. We walked around a bit, played Scrabble on Dad’s Kindle, listened to a dozen RadioLab podcasts, watched season six of The Office until my computer battery died, and slept.
It wasn’t very fun.
Around hour nineteen of our seven hour bus ride (6:00pm), I became very happy for three things. One, that Dad and I had splurged (ie, spent $35) on the best seats on the best bus that runs from Lima to Huaraz. Two, that my Dad – the most chill, laid-back person I know – was with me. And, three, that my little sister, Monica, was not along. Now, I love Monica dearly. But one of us would not have survived this bus trip.
Around hour twenty of our seven hour bus ride (7:00pm), the other buses started moving. “We’re on our way!” I thought. People guessed we were probably one or two hours from Huaraz and I still had hope that we would arrive in time to check into our hotel and get a hot shower. But our bus didn’t move. All of the other buses moved but our bus stayed put. You could hear the driver trying to get it started but it just wouldn’t go. My hope of hot showers started to fade.
At this point, we were hungry and it was getting cold. The bus didn’t have more food and we only had a few granola bars, half a roll of Ritz crackers, peppermint LifeSavers, and two Nalgenes of water. Inexplicably, the stewardess had gone through the bus and taken all of the blankets provided from the night before and with the bus not working no heat was running. We were entering a cold, sierra night with nothing but jeans and long sleeve t-shirts.
Around hour twenty-two of our seven hour bus ride (9:00pm), our bus finally started moving. It didn’t take long for us to catch up with the other buses that were moving at a crawl as they picked their way around rocks in the road and dangerous mountain curves.
Around hour twenty-seven of our seven hour bus ride (2:00am), the stewardess came around and returned our blankets. This was a high point of the evening because until now I had been curled in the fetal position, shaking, and using the head rest covers to try to stay warm. It was miserable. Now, it was slightly less miserable. We were still moving at a crawl.
Around hour twenty-nine of our seven hour bus ride (4:00am), I gained some (very) false hope that we were in Huaraz. People outside were yelling directions to the bus and I could see bright street lights. “We’re there!” I thought, joyfully.
Nope. Another road block. We weren’t moving.
When we woke up again around hour thirty-two of our seven hour bus ride (7am), a lot of people had decided to give up on their buses and walk the rest of the way to Huaraz. We asked around and most people said the walk would take an hour or an hour and a half, so after calling the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer to make sure it would be safe, Dad and I headed out on foot, each carrying a backpack and wheeling a fifty pound piece of luggage.
Around hour thirty-four of our seven hour bus ride (9am), the sun was blazing and we were still walking. Everyone “knew” that the last roadblock would be “just around the bend” but after each bend another roadblock would be ready and no taxis would be coming.
We soldiered on.
As we walked, we talked to some other walking refugees. All of the Peruvians we talked to profusely apologized for their country and what had happened. Most helpful, one woman chatted to us about her views on the current political situation in Peru and told us the reason for the strike. To the best of my knowledge, this is what is happening:
In both Arequipa (a southern department) and Ancash (my department) there is a lot of mining activity. In Ancash, the main resource being mined is gold, which means that the mining companies are currently making bank while slowly destroying Peru’s natural resources – scarring the mountains, polluting the rivers, and killing the animals and crops that depend on both. Ancashinos want to reclaim their land from the foreign companies (mainly owned by Chile, Spain, and Canada) and manage it more responsibly. They were planning on continuing the strike for at least 72 hours, but would stay longer if they didn’t receive the attention they wanted (which they really haven’t since it the news hasn’t made the front page of either of the national papers).
Okay, so that all makes sense. It really does and I understand their point. But road blocks? Throwing stones at buses? Really? How is that going to accomplish anything? Imagine if a group of people were mad about something and put up blockades on I-43 and I-94 and blocked all traffic going to and from Milwaukee. The police and/or National Guard would move in before you could blink an eye and the whole thing would be over. In many ways, Peru is still a fledgling democracy and is like a toddler. To me, it felt like a whole state was throwing one big, political temper tantrum.
Anyway, we continued to walk, fueled by promises that taxis would be available just around the next corner. But they weren’t. We met up with a nice gentleman who encouraged us with similar mistruths but looked out for us and tried to get us a taxi when he could.
At one point, we were approaching a road block that was being guarded by a group of men. As walkers, we hadn’t had any trouble crossing the blockades and we weren’t too concerned about this one. We were eying it up and trying to figure out how to get our luggage across when twenty police officers in full swat gear came walking up the road. The men guarding the road block started throwing rocks at the police officers. They all, understandably, scattered when one of the officers started shooting his rifle into the air. The officers took off on foot to pursue the road block guards. We stood and watched for a minute and then continued to walk.
At some point, I called my Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, Sophie, and she arranged for a taxi to meet us at the last road block. Where was the last road block? We didn’t know.
At around hour thirty-six of our seven hour bus ride, some random dude came up to Dad and started talking in Spanish. Dad, of course, answered in English. I hadn’t heard what he said, so we laughed it off and kept walking. Fifteen more minutes we were promised. We were jaded at this point. We believed no one.
Soon, the guy caught up to us again, but this time he approached me and asked if my name was Beth. It was the guy Sophie had called. He said he had parked behind the last road block (could it really be true?) and that we would be at his car in a few minutes.
At around hour thirty-seven of our seven hour bus ride, we finally arrived at our hotel. 32 hours on the bus, 4.5 hours walking, and .5 hours in a taxi.
I promise, this stuff doesn’t happen too often in Peru. And if it does, you’ll have a great story.
(Lots of picture updates on Facebook thanks to fast internet and free time. Check them out: Random Assortment, Thanksgiving, Early In-Service Training (more interesting then it sounds), and Dad's Trip.)