Peru Part Deux: Riots and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

It’s taken me a while to write about the next part of my trip to Peru, mostly because I get winded just from thinking about it. But here goes, I’ll take breaks if necessary.

I intended to leave Huacachina on Sunday afternoon to catch an overnight bus to Arequipa. Unfortunately, when I tried to buy my ticket I was informed that there were no buses available. It was the end of Semana Santa, Peru’s holy week, and the buses were filled with Peruvians returning home from the holiday weekend. The man at the counter suggested I try going to Nazca and booking a ticket there.

“There will be bus available,” he promised. “10 PM.”

Stopping in Nazca was not part of my trip. I’m sure flying in a plane over the desert to see the famous Nazca Lines is fun but I wanted to spend more time out in Colca Canyon where I would see giant condors flying close enough to me to touch. Did you know that Colca Canyon is bigger than the Grand Canyon? And that’s not even the biggest canyon in Peru! Cotahuasi Canyon wins that award at 3535 meters. I have no idea what that means. A meter is 3 feet right? So… let’s see. 3535 multiplied by 3 is…10,605 feet! I think that’s right. Wow.

So yeah, compared to some lines in the desert, Colca Canyon is way cooler.

We arrived at Nazca late in the evening. And by we, I mean this french couple I tagged along with after meeting them at the bus station in Huacachina. Immediately we were informed by several Peruvians that the bus stations were closed because of  a strike and we should just stay the night at one of the many fine hotels in Nazca.

“They’re just trying to get a commission,” I said to Benjamin and Julie. “I read they do that here. Let’s go get our tickets.”

To be fair, I did read that once you step off the bus anywhere in Peru, you would be hit with offers promising deals for “the best hotel in town”. However, as we were turned away from almost every bus company in Nazca, it became apparent that a possible strike (something to do with the miners?) was happening at midnight.

“You should stay here tonight. It may not be safe to go on an overnight bus. The miners, they are upset. They will block the roads.” said Miguel, who worked at the tourist desk in Nazca and was very helpful in trying to get us to Arequipa. He called every bus station in town and his friends to see if anyone would drive us. None of his friends would make the eight hour drive but the gesture was nice. He made a few more calls and finally he said, “I hear, maybe Cruz Del Sur will be leaving to Arequipa at 10 PM.”

“Whoo-hoo!” I shouted in his office. “Let’s go!” I paid no attention to his wariness of traveling overnight. His concern sounded too vague and not real enough for me to take seriously. How would miners block the road anyhow? As I grabbed my bag he told me that I should grab a big jug of water and pack food, I may be stuck on a bus for a long time.

So instead of listening to him, I bought a small water bottle and a pack of peanut M&M’s. I won’t say this ranks as the biggest lapse of judgment I’ve had in my life but it’s pretty high up there.

Before I go on, I have to admit the news of this impending strike was exciting. No one knew if our bus would make it down from Lima (protests were scheduled to happen there too). Anything could happen. We could be stuck in Nazca for days or we could make it to Arequipa, just bypassing the midnight deadline for the strike.  Danger was in the air (in my mind at least).

When our bus finally showed up, people reacted like it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic.

“We’re getting out! Oh, thank god! We’re going to make it to Arequipa after all!”

Cruz Del Sur is a luxury bus company that prides itself on the safety of its passengers. The bus has a GPS system and they photograph and videotape every person that comes on board. Ain’t no hijacking happening on this bus! All you gotta do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

We rolled out of the station and down the dirt roads of Nazca. I brushed my teeth, took out my contacts and settled in for a comfortable night. I had two bus seats all to myself!  Ahhh, I knew everything was going to be alright. See you in the morning Arequipa!

A little after midnight the bus jerked to a stop. The bus attendant’s voice came on overhead through the speakers.

“Uh, we are stopped here, un momentarily. A miners have blocked the road. The police are coming. We should be moving in 30 minutes. Thank you.”

Damn it. We didn’t make it out.

I went back to sleep fully aware we would be in the same spot in the morning. I didn’t wake up until I heard something that sounded bizarrely like Hell No, We Won’t Go! in Spanish.  I looked out my window and saw quite a spectacle. The Pan-American highway was blocked with boulders and burning tires and a group of about thirty miners and Peruvian police were facing each other down. Ay, dios mios!

Peruvian Riot

Peruvian Riot

It’s hard to see in this photo but this is before things turned crazy. Our bus is about the fifth bus back from the blockade, you can see we just missed making it through.

I asked the attendant when he thought we would be moving again. “First they fight, then we go through.”

Wait a minute. First they fight? What does that mean?!  Pleaaaase tell me it’s a West Side Story kind of fight and I’m about to see some very impressive jazz choreography. And let me guess, the miners are the Jets and the police are the Sharks.

Nope. By fight he meant fight with the intent to kill.  By now, the police were over the protest so they decided to pull out the big guns. Literally. The snap crackle pop of machine gun fire echoed off the desert hills.  Tear gas grenades were being thrown and the miners were running up the hills and retaliating by throwing boulders down at the police. Three people died.

But like he said, first they fight, then we go through. And after ten minutes of intense fighting, the blockade was cleared and we moved on.

I wish I could say that was it, that the rest my trip was smooth sailing and I only lost half a day in Arequipa. But it gets crazier. Believe it or not.

And with that said, I’m taking a break.  I’ll be back with more.

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2 Comments

Filed under Travel

2 responses to “Peru Part Deux: Riots and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

  1. Umm, that’s insanely crazy. You were spectator for a Peruvian riot – crazy! What could be more crazy? Oh, I can’t wait to hear the answer to that. 🙂

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