Wednesday, February 26, 2014

El Paro (The Strike)

Part 1- written at 1 PM:
I expected today to be uneventful, as I was returning from Nazca at 11AM, then planned to relax by writing about my experiences and catching up on pictures.  As is becoming all too common here in Peru, this was not so.

I received a call from Tania this morning around 8.  She informed me that the strike on transportation began this morning.  It is getting bigger and broader to get the attention of the government.  The way I understood this was that taxis and buses wouldn’t run, but my bus would still be able to arrive without hindrance.  Nope.  This is a strike on all transportation in and around the city of Cuzco.  It’s not optional since all the streets have been filled with rocks, burning tires, and other debris.  This is a real, legitimate strike; not one of the cute picketing campaigns I’m accustomed to in the US.  Hence, no vehicles are allowed into or out of the city.  Well over an hour drive from the city we hit stop and go traffic.  Several minutes later the stewardess came to the cabin and informed us of the strike.  There were rocks strewn across the road even way out here, since the small towns of the Cuzco region were also participating in the strike.  After combatting phone troubles, I finally was able to contact Sandro.  He informed me that cars should be able to start entering the city around 3 or 4, and until then I should wait patiently.  I’d love to walk, but it would take 5 hours or more and I couldn’t be promised security.  At one point in the bus we had to seal the windows and blinds because of danger.  The danger was actually from rock throwing, which they were continuing to do in the streets. 

I have been enjoying myself a lot throughout this experience.  Some may argue too much, but there haven’t been any significant threats up to this point.  It feels as though I’m a part of something historical and interesting.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of doing interviews and taking pics tomorrow around the city.  Gotta go, we might start walking now.

Part 2-  Evening

What a day.  After some careful deliberation following my first writing, Samir, myself, and about 15 other people from our bus decided to start walking toward Cuzco despite the alleged distance.  It was a big group and we had some big guys, so safety wasn’t as big of a concern.  We walked past all the buses to find the main blockage point, which was a large pile of rocks likely a meter tall that covered all of the road.  It was completely impassable.  See my shared facebook post from Samir, since I didn’t want to have my big camera out.  The local people were preventing anyone from manipulating it, so the time of bus departure was not looking promising at that point.  As we kept going we found the girls laying by the side of the road.  We were surprised to see them, since they’d already been there 6 hours and we assumed that they had pressed on down the road.  Apparently they had walked 2 hours down the road to the first town, but they didn’t find much there so they returned to the buses.  That seemed crazy to us, since we were told Cuzco was only 5-6 hours away.  This was confirmed by a sign that said 52 kilometers.  That is longer than a marathon, and I was wearing 2 backpacks.  But Samir and I sure as heck weren’t going to sit around for the huge rock pile to be removed.  So with our group, we pressed on.  The remainder of the road did have blockage, but it wasn’t as intense as the rocks on the bus side of the barrier.  We were walking at a good pace for about an hour and a half when we came upon a large truck by the side of the road with a kid standing next to it.  We asked for a ride, so he asked his parents who said they couldn’t find the keys.  I have my doubts to the validity of that statement, but we thanked them and pressed on nonetheless.  After a little while we found 2 buses going the other direction, which looked like another chance at salvation.  These buses were full of passengers for Lima.  Boy were they in for an unpleasant surprise ahead.  They also told us we were a 4 hour bus ride from Cuzco, but we were certain that they were wrong because our bus did not have 4 more hours of travel time on schedule when we had to stop.  So, again we continued our journey.  Finally the Spaniards in our group found a cab, but it was small and could only take 4 people.  It was going to take us to the next town where we could find another cab.  We were fully prepared to take whatever we could get, but that cab wasn’t for us.  A short while later we found a large taxi van, and 6 of us piled in.  The driver first offered to take us to the next town, then agreed to take us all the way to Cuzco when we told him that was our final destination.  It was only 17 soles per person, which is approximately $7.  We were so happy to have this guy find us.  There were a few moments on the trip home where I was a bit tense.  There were some people making sure certain parts of the road weren’t being used.  These people seemed to be using their day off work to consume too much alcohol, which never helps situations.  Our driver knew the people so they let us pass without additional charge.  This happened twice throughout the trip home.  Our ride also felt suspiciously like a rally-race because of the constant dodging of obstacles in the road.  After about an hour and a half we were dropped off in Plaza Santiago, where we took cabs to our homes or hotels.  The roads were mostly cleared by our 5:15 arrival to the city, although this 48 hour strike will resume intensity tomorrow.  Samir still has my camera because I put it in his bag to avoid attention throughout the walk, so if I can get that from him tomorrow I plan to get some pictures of this event.  I asked Sandro about it and he told me that I have nothing to worry about with safety, so I’ll take his word for it.  If you are coming to Peru within the week, or if you have a daughter who is coming here soon, I don’t believe there are any safety concerns.  This strike is only for 2 days; public transit will be normal on Thursday.  I don’t know anything about the openness of the clinic since they could be continuing their strike, but as far as the wide-spread civil unrest it will have settled down.  I confirmed this with Sandro who already has lots of experience in this area. 

Sneak peak of tomorrow:  the city is very safe so I was able to get some great pictures of the strikers in the plaza!   

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