Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.
I think striking is Peru’s national past time. It seemed as though there was always a strike, or the threat of a strike, the whole time we were there.
We had booked our Inca Trail trek months in advance and, finally, the day was approaching for us to set out. We’d been in Cusco for 4 or 5 days acclimatizing to the altitude and listening to various rumors about an impending transit strike.
The taxi drivers in the city were seemingly upset because the local police had increased the fines for drinking and driving beyond the price that the taxi drivers were wiling to pay. I know.
There, as it is here in Canada, union members stick together and so the taxi drivers had the support of drivers from outside the city, bus drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers etc. There was to be no movement of motorized vehicles during the predicted one day strike (sometimes they can go on for days as one did later on in our stay in Peru).
We were worried about how this would affect our scheduled trek when we received an email explaining that, due to the strike, we would be leaving at 10PM that night to sneak out of the city before the strike began.
We quickly packed our packs, made arrangements for our return, and met up with our trekking group at the assigned spot. We weren’t the only group leaving early that night as there were three buses lined up waiting to hit the road early. We all piled in and the little convoy got on its’ way.
All was well until we were about a half hour outside of town. We could see groups of men walking along the darkened roadway. They were making sure the transit strike was being observed and were going to walk through the night to make it to Cusco by morning for the protest.
Along the way they had set fire to tires and brush and were starting to block the roadway with rocks of all sizes (this is a technique we saw elsewhere in the country too – a crude, but effective way of stopping traffic).
It was eerie to catch sight of random figures in the bus headlights furtively running about. It reminded me of Halloween night a bit.
Suddenly there was a loud BANG on one of the windows of the bus. And then another. And another. And another. We were being pelted with rocks. The striking men were upset that the buses were trying to leave and they were going to let us know about it.
The guide yelled at us all to get down, for fear of a window being shattered, so we all hunched down and wondered what was going to happen next.
I was terrified and started to shake uncontrollably.
You see, I had been reading a novel called Death In The Andes that takes place during Peru’s Shining Path Rebellion, a time of great turmoil, political upheaval, and violence.
In one part of the story a French couple are on a bus traversing the Andes when it is pulled over by Shining Path members. The end for them is neither kind, nor swift, as they are killed by their captors. It is actually a great novel and, being based on true events, gave me a lot of insight into modern Peruvian culture…I recommend it.
This is what was going through my head as the rocks continued to pelt the outside of the bus. I had visions of the bus stopping, strange men boarding and marching us all outside to some unknown fate.
I’m serious. This is what I was thinking.
I, of course, didn’t think about the 15 porters and 2 guides sitting in the back of the bus who would have defended us and I didn’t think about the possibility of the bus not stopping.
Which is exactly what happened. That bus convoy was not stopping for anything, no matter what got in the way, and we just kept right on going at top speed until we were past the danger.
But, for a few brief minutes (that seemed like forever), I was sure that just three weeks into our trip that it was all going to be over.