Tag Archives: Crazy

Escape from Chala, Peru: Peru Part Four

I decided if I was going to get out of riot plagued Chala, I was going to need to form an alliance. After the previous night’s faux hijacking, which turned out to be a passenger in first class sleep fighting, there was no way I was spending another night in this sun baked dust town. But with the Pan American Highway blocked in both directions, an Axl/Slash reunion* seemed more likely to happen than me getting out to enjoy the rest of my time in Peru.

I noticed that groups were beginning to form based on how long one was traveling through Peru. If you were in the group that hung out with the locals and drank whiskey, time was not an issue for you. The people in this group were often overheard saying things like, “Welcome to South America!” or “How’s this for an authentic travel experience?” If you were sitting with the people who were crying and freaking out, you were probably on a tighter travel schedule that centered around a series of non refundable flights or a spot on the Inca Trail. As for me, I only had a week and a half left and was re-structuring my trip every hour we were stationary.

“If we get to Arequipa tonight, maybe I could do one day in Colca Canyon, half day in Arequipa and go to Lake Titicaca on Friday.”

“Okay, not getting there tonight. Sooo, no Colca Canyon, and 2 days at Lake Titicaca.”

“Maybe I should just go to Cusco for a couple of days.”

“I know. I’ll go to Bolivia instead. That’ll be fun.”

“I’m never getting out of here.”

As one of the few solo travelers on the bus, I had my choice of which group to align myself with. I started to evaluate my options.

There was the French Brigade, made of two couples from France. They came up with the plan to walk through the desert to the next town over, about 10 kilometers away and catch a ride to Arequipa from there. From who? They didn’t know but they were confident someone would give them a ride. This seemed exceptionally crazy to me and destined to end with vultures nibbling on their sun cooked remains. As they slapped wet towels over their heads, we all wished them luck and they left, the first defectors from the Cruz Del Sur bus.

Then there was the group of people I met in Huacachina. I knew I could have fun with them as my time in Peru dwindled but they lacked any sort of urgency about the situation. We could stay here till the end of time and they’d be okay with it, content to shoot the shit with the locals forever. I needed to get out today if I were to have any hope in salvaging my trip. Perhaps if I also had 3 months in South America, I would have stayed with them and done the same. Instead, since they were so chummy with the locals, they were the first people I went to when I needed to get insider information.

The first person I selected for my alliance was Keren, a 23 year old solo traveler from Israel. I liked that she was young and traveling by herself, embarking on her own five month trip through South America. Another reason I picked her was because her Spanish was much better than mine and being from Israel, I knew she could hang. Also, she was one of the only people that expressed the appropriate reaction to last night’s faux hijacking. Which was, admitting that she was terrified (like me) and was not staying another night (also like me).

After the French Brigade made their exit, the bored frustration felt amongst the remaining passengers quickly turned into heated blame toward Cruz Del Sur’s inability to give us any information about our situation. Why did they get to leave and we were still here? Angry phone calls to tour companies were being made and ridiculous rumors surfaced claiming that a military jet was on its way and would be airlifting us out of Chala.

Passengers from the adjacent buses came over to share their theories on when we might be getting out of here. A trio of Americans teaching in Arequipa optimistically predicted we would be moving within the day. One of the Americans, Chad, a SoCal expat and the voluntary pied piper of Chala, played games with the kids that lived in the village. He spoke perfect Spanish to them and offered food instead when they asked him for money. He also displayed a solid knowledge of the area, sharing geographical details about the desert mountains and coastal highway. All of that combined with a wicked sense of humor made him the obvious choice for leader of my alliance.

I looked over to Neil, who had traveled to Peru from Australia and was on his honeymoon. “He should be the leader of our alliance.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

I approached Neil and Laura about forming an alliance when I discovered their desire to get out was on par with mine. I asked them, if they were to join my alliance, what skills they had to offer. Neil said I would benefit from his conversion abilities since I was from America and didn’t know how use the metric system. Laura confessed she didn’t have much to contribute to the alliance expect being someone I could talk to. Like a sister, she said. Laura very much underestimated her worth to the alliance. Her long shiny blond hair was the perfect bartering tool if we happened to get caught in a sticky situation. A couple from Holland was sort of in the alliance but only because they said their tour company might be sending a car over to pick them up and take them back to Nazca. While this seemed somewhat promising, it could not be counted on, since very few cars were allowed through the roadblocks and only if they were hanging a white flag from their back window.

As Neil and I prepared to offer Chad the position of alliance leader, a black helicopter flying low to the ground approached. Initially we thought this was the beginning of the end, a signal that the government was now getting involved and we would soon be on our way.


As the helicopter flew over us, we could see a man hanging out of an open door, a giant machine gun resting in the crook of his arm. He opened fire on the rioters who were a stationed a few kilometers away. The children continued to sing and dance around us, oblivious to the gunfire. Unfortunately, not only did this spark another round of intense fighting it caused Chad and his group to have to go back to their bus. Our leader was gone and the alliance deteriorated.

It was getting to be late in the afternoon and spending another night in Chala seemed inevitable. I mulled over this depressing thought as I sat on the steps of the bus. I had already decided since I wouldn’t be able to properly do Peru, I would go Bolivia for the rest of my trip and take it easy. I’d heard good things about Bolivia. It’s supposed to be nice this time of year. But by the way things were going, I’d never get there either! I kicked a patch of dirt to release some pent up frustration. And then I kicked it again. It was so satisfying, kicking this patch of dirt, I almost missed the vehicular unicorn passing through the crowd of tourists.

A white station wagon with a white flag hanging in its back window, packed with a family of four and their belongings heading to Nazca had materialized seemingly out of nowhere. I almost pinched myself. This was the first time in 3 days I saw anything that looked like it could be a legitimate way out of town.

Must. Do. Something. Now.

Keren was already on it. She chased the station wagon down and negotiated a price of 30 soles for a ride back to Nazca. I grabbed my stuff, hastily signed away any responsibility to Cruz Del Sur on an unused coffee filter, hopped into the station wagon with Keren and rode with a small Chilean boy on my lap the whole way back to Nazca.

After checking into a 3 dollar a night hostel and having best shower of my life, I went to eat dinner in a three walled pizzeria with Keren and two other travelers. We talked long into the night about traveling in Peru and whether or not we would visit Nazca’s desert cemeteries tomorrow. And wouldn’t you know it, I was really enjoying myself!

So the plan for the rest of my trip would be to take an overnight bus to Cusco the following day, hang out in Cusco for two days then take another overnight bus to Copacabana, Bolivia and stay there through the weekend, visiting the ruins located on the Isla del Sol. Then I would return to Cusco to catch my flight back to Lima/NYC. Okay, so this was drastically different from my original trip itinerary but hey, sometimes that happens when you travel.

Of course, sometimes you have to make a new itinerary from your first new itinerary, which is what I had to do once I arrived in Cusco.


* Guns ‘N Roses were touring in South America at the time so I thought this was a suitable comparison.


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Doing the Cha-cha in Chala: Peru part 3

It’s Peru story time again! Don’t be shy, pull up some carpet and gather round the fireplace. Mr. Pattinson will be out with the apple cider and “biscuits” soon (I quotation marked biscuits because right before you got here Robbie and I were disputing the proper word for cookies. He loves to rename things. I don’t know why, it must some vampire cultural thing. Anyway, I let him win because he finally promised to sit for an oil pastel painting I’ve been begging to do of him.) Now, where were we when we last spoke about my Peruvian adventure?

Oh yes, my first Peruvian riot had ended and we were back on our way Arequipa. Yay!

Our bus continued traveling down the coast of Peru.  It was easy to forget about the earlier delay when the ride featured great views of the Pacific ocean.

Pacific Ocean

That is until we arrived in Chala.  Chala, Peru is a small cluster of concrete shops and homes that sit along the beach.

Chala Skyline

As you can tell, I’m not on a bus taking this photo. You may be wondering why I’m on a beach seemingly far away from any vehicle that caters to international tourists. That’s because we hit another roadblock stranding us right in the epicenter of the rioting (that apparently was not over)  where 6,000 miners were fighting with 200 policemen.

The highway was clogged with hundreds of stalled buses. We weren’t going anywhere for a while so I decided to take a walk and look for some ice cream. As I walked along the single dirt road looking for anything that resembled a food store, I recognized an Australian couple from my bus coming toward me.

“Hey there, you might want to turn around. The miners are placing dead bodies in the street up ahead. It’s starting to get heated.”

And so I turned around.

Time moves pretty slow when you’re stuck in the middle of the desert waiting for a riot to end. We had no access to any of our belongings because our attendant didn’t want to risk our bus being mobbed. Luckily, I packed my toothbrush and anti bacterial wipes in my purse. Smart move on my part.  However,  I was still wearing my bathing suit from when I was poolside in Huacachina so I couldn’t be too proud of myself. Guess I thought I’d keep the party going in Arequipa?

Food options were minimal. There was ice cream, water, inka cola (a Peruvian soda that tastes like bubble gum) and a small selection of stale bread and cookies at the bodega. The only meal I had was when someone from the bus found a woman from Chala who offered to cook a chicken for us. Six smelly but extremely grateful backpackers crammed into her kitchen as she prepared chicken and rice for us.

Later on, I sat on the curb by our bus and started to eat the best ice cream sandwich of my life.  It was so good I barely noticed the mob of miners heading toward our bus. Our bus attendant started flagging people down. He looked legitimately concerned.

“Everyone! Now, please. Get on bus, pull the curtains shut and don’t look out. Hurry up.”

No one said much and did as instructed. I peeked through the gaps of the curtains and saw an endless pack of miners in blue safety hats marching through the street. They knocked on our bus a couple times but nothing serious happened. Later on, word floated down that other buses were not so lucky had their windows smashed out by rocks.

Downtown Chala

“Attention, Ladies and Gentle Men. We are moving for the night. We do not stay here because it is not safe. We will, uh be going to place, 10-15 minutes away.”

“Why don’t we turn this bus all the way around and go back to Nazca?” someone asked.

“Uh, not safe. We don’t know how long this we will be going on. Days maybe. Sorry I do not know. Please enjoy your afternoon movie, Aliens in the Attic.”

Have you seen Aliens in the Attic with Ashley Tisdale? It’s surprisingly good.

Anyway, we moved to an even more isolated area with only one dry foods store, a football field and a couple of shacks lining the beach.  I was not a fan of this locale.  It just felt creepy. As soon as it turned dark the streets emptied and the music shut off. There wasn’t anything to do so I went to sleep.

Around midnight I was abruptly woken with violent yells from outside the bus. It sounded like there were about 5 to 6 men surrounding the bus. They pounded their fists along the luggage panel as they laughed hysterically.

We were about to be hijacked.

Or so I thought. During these 3 minutes or so, I scrambled desperately to try and grab whatever I could out of my purse…my passport, my bank cards… and throw them somewhere else.  However, my hands were shaking too much to even open my bag so I curled up in the fetal position and placed a blanket over my head. That’s right, when faced with an impending hijacking, I pretended to have an invisibility cloak.

A few tense moments passed and nothing happened. Even though I was paralyzed with fear, I could hear the other passengers shuffling around and talking to each other. After a few more minutes passed, I decided to take off my cloak and see what was happening.

Except for a lone dog barking, there was nothing. The streets were still empty and no one was around. What WAS that?! Where did the men go?!

Needless to say, it was impossible for me to sleep that night. After that happened my mind could not calm down.  I had to get out of here.  We were sitting ducks  in this desert. Anyone, not just the miners, could come by and have their pick of buses to hijack. No thank you. I’m not staying here another day.

How I managed to get out is another story. TBC.

Get me out of here!!!!!

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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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