P is for Peru (A-Z Blogging Challenge)

A Peruvian Strike is Nothing to Shake a Stick At!
It's "P" Day for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Almost everyone who is going to Peru will end up in Cusco at some point in their trip. It is, after all, the number one tourist destination in the country. And for good reasons: Incan temples, Spanish architecture, archaeological treasures, beautiful art, music, and dance, culture, it’s all there. This city truly deserves its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

But this is a story of another Cusco, an experience that most tourists will not have.

On the day of our arrival, our second in Peru, we went immediately to the train station to book tickets for the trip to Macchu Pichu. We were all struggling with the altitude, sipping coca de mate like our lives depended on it, and dealing with jet lag grogginess on top of everything else. At the station, the ticket counter lady said, “No, No trains on that day. There is a strike.” We didn’t think much about it, and just shifted our plans one day to go and return on the same day instead of making it an overnight trip. Besides, there is so much to do in Cusco that the extra day there would let us explore more of the city and its surrounds.

The next two days were filled with horseback rides through Incan ruins, tucking into some tasty guinea pig dinners, and enjoying a tangy Pisco Sour in the evening on the Plaza Mayor. The so called “train strike,” as we had dubbed it, was not on our minds at all.

Until the third morning, when I awoke to what I was sure were gun shots fired very near to our hostel. This assumption seemed to be confirmed by the landlady when she poked her head into the dining room that morning and told us to, “Mantenga las puertas y ventanas cerradas, por favor.”

“Por que?” We asked. It was cool outside, but no reason to bolt the windows and doors.

She answered with a nonchalant tipping of her head towards the street, “La Huelga. Strike.” And out she went to refill the coca de mate pot.

Now at this point we should have put two and two together. But with our US frame of reference, a strike was simply a walkout, or a group of people carrying signs and marching in front of some evil-doing business. We still clung to the idea of a transportation strike, as this was the day we had originally tried to get rail tickets for the Macchu Pichu outing.

By the time breakfast was over we had mostly forgotten the landlady’s warning and ventured out for another day of visiting the sights and enjoying the crisp winter air on that sunny, July morning.

The city was a little quiet as we walked downtown towards the Plaza, but a few people were out and about. Some shops were open, one or two old men sat in a cafe, a solitary mother pushed her baby in a stroller, a few children ran in the square. Just a quiet, peaceful morning. Until it wasn’t.

We had made it to the Plaza Mayor and were walking along the store front across from the cathedral when the store keeper rushed out the front door and motioned for us to come into her store. We looked through the doorway at the typical tourist souvenirs, smiled and said no thank you and kept walking.

She threw herself in our path, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me in. Corinne and the girls followed somewhat bewildered. Still in the doorway, I couldn’t help notice now the chanting, drum beating, and general ruckus that sounded like it was just around the corner. And, in fact, here it came, around the corner just as the the shop owner was pulling the heavy wooden doors closed tight. She dropped a barricade bar in place, turned from the door, let out a heavy sigh, and nearly yelled at us, “La Huelga. Strike!” As if to say, crazy Americans, why are you even out there today?

Well, the next hour and half went by peacefully, enough. We enjoyed a light snack and some lemonade the shop owner shared with us, and tried not to cringe too noticeably as rocks and sticks beat on her fortress-like doors.

She just smiled and chuckled to herself, “La huelga, la huelga.”

It's "P" Day for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge

 

The strike was a quick one, and we were even able to book an afternoon tour to Saksaywaman which are pretty much right outside of town.  Other than a little scare and uncertainty, we had a fabulous strike day, and the next day was even better as we chug-chugged in the train up the mountain to Macchu Pichu.

Have you been to Peru?  Been caught in a strike?  Tell us about it in the comments!

28 Comments

  1. Macchu Pichu has been on my list for years, so yes we’ll end up in Cusco eventually. I hope my experience is a little less “interesting” than yours though!

    1. Hi Anabel, I’m sure you’ll love Cusco. The strike was really not that bad (except for the rocks and the beating on the door part). The shop owner was very friendly and told us the strikes were mostly just people letting off steam and letting the government hear their voices. They weren’t really targeting anyone or trying to do any serious damage. Still, we were glad for that safe haven.

  2. Wow, what an experience! I never would have imagined this from the word “strike”. When we were in Southern Italy two years ago job action was common by train conductors and ticket takers – they hadn’t been paid in months. However we didn’t really realize the impact of trains arriving and departing whenever someone decided to work – it was sporadic and really difficult to plan anything. Of course we supported the workers and tried to be patient, but when “strike” in North America means one thing it’s eye opening to see how it’s applied around the world 🙂

    1. Hi Calli, You’re Italy experience sounds like exactly what we were expecting, too. But this turned out to be general strike with people from all walks of life. The craziest part of this story was the next day everything was back to normal like it had never happened.

    1. You’re right about that, Julia. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we had just completely ignored her. And, yes, Peru is amazing. You should try and get there!

  3. Wow! Incredible experience. Aren’t you always overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers when you travel? I am and am always so grateful. I was in Lima during a strike but it was a peaceful march in the city. I loved Peru especially the train ride to Machu Pichhu.

    1. Lila, You have been everywhere. I love it. I’m so happy we met through the A-Z challenge. Yes, we loved Peru as well and can’t wait to do more of South America.

    1. Jenny, It was not a bad experience at all. It was a bit surreal. People kept taking care of us when we had no idea that something was happening yet. They knew the signs, the timing, something, but they were right and we were safe. It was very interesting. Then the next day, you would have never known something had happened. Again, surreal!

  4. Incredible! I’ve certainly never encountered anything like that in my travels. I can understand the feeling though. There are certain ideas you take with you as a traveler that, even when prepared for certain situations, are always in the forefront of your brain, influencing your decisions. I’m glad you were OK.

    1. Nicky, I’m glad it all worked out as well. Like I said, I’m not even sure we were aware what was really happening most of the time, but the Cusco people were so kind and definitely took care of us.

  5. Oh my…can’t decide if your brave or nuts! If I thought I heard gunshots, the land lady would not have needed to tell me to close things up…and no way would I have gone out for a walk about without knowing what was going on. We Americans are so used to our internet and CNN and other news, that would have been my first impulse was to flip on the tube, go to my computer etc and see what was being reported. Thank goodness you had people watching out for you…suppose they’re still talking about the crazy Americans who didn’t know any better, lol? That actually though brings me to a question, since you’ve traveled out and about far more then I have, do you typically have internet?

    1. Sandy, We have had internet pretty much everywhere we’ve been, but sometimes it is spotty. The Malaysian jungle – no. Mongolia outside the city – no. But, really pretty much everywhere else is connected. I love, love, love the adventure…

  6. Glad to have finally found your blog! Thank you for reading and commenting on mine 🙂 Peru and Macchu Pichu is our dream trip, which hasn’t materialised yet. But since I’ve lived in India most of my life, I have a lot of hair raising horror stories about strikes and curfews 🙂

  7. I, too, tend to think of strikes as being rather quiet, without the potential for much uproar. I’ve never been to Peru, but I’ve experienced strikes in Belgium and Italy, and they were pretty mellow events both times.

    ~Tui Snider~
    @TuiSnider on Twitter
    My blog: Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

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