That evening there were uneasy whispers circulating around the hotel and rumours of an emergency meeting. The G adventures tour had run smoothly thus far and everything seemed just fine. Henry called one of his many meetings. We all met in the lobby that evening and were told that if we wanted to make it to our Inca Trail trek (to which we had applied for licenses 3 months previous) we needed to find a way out of Puno and make it to Cusco either that night or the early next morning as there was an impending miner’s strike.
Civil unrest and strikes happen worldwide, and they have somewhat of a bad reputation in South America. I was surprised to find myself in the middle of one. Thenational strike included over 20,000 unlicensed Peruvian gold miners who were protesting against President Ollanta Humala’s crackdown on illegal mining. This was due to a regulation passed in 2012 which required miners to register their mining activities by April 19, 2014 or face possible imprisonment. The government goal was to reduce the use of mercury used in processing gold which being environmentally toxic has already destroyed 18,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest. The miners were protesting the inevitable loss of jobs and the livelihood of many Peruvian families.
Henry, our G adventures CEO had told us the miners were blocking the roads to Cusco but they (G Adventures) had made the decision that we would be able to leave at our regular time in the morning. Just kidding! We were hurried up in the morning in preparation for a renegade ride on a small bus. Our guide had to ‘make a call’ to a friend of his who was a bus driver because none of the other Peruvian buses or bus companies would run due to potential danger. Needless to say Henry’s friend was a risk taker and talented bus driver. We piled onto our bus and headed out. The main roads were already being blocked by mining protesters so our bus driving friend took us on the back roads. I’m talking about smart car-sized dirt roads in the Peruvian countryside. There were a couple times when our bus driver actually had to stop the bus and think about the best way to drive over bumps and potholes in our path.
All was going well until up ahead, we could see it, lines and lines of cars stopped, stuck, with protesters walking about them. As we approached the highway (which we needed to be on) from the other side of railway tracks we could see protesters throwing rocks at cars and rolling boulders into the highway to prevent passage.
I thought we would be fine rolling along the edge of someone’s farm land on the other side of the rail when suddenly our bus stopped. There was a huge mountain of dirt piled so high the bus would most definitely get stuck on it, and it was covered in boulders. Henry got out of the car and went to speak to a Cholita sitting on the mound of dirt and asked her if we paid her, she would let us remove the rocks and attempt to drive over the hill. She accepted the offer on the condition that we moved the rocks back. So our group got out of the bus to pick up the rocks, and made a two wheeled rock ramp on the back part of the hill in hopes this would prevent the back end of the bus getting stuck on the hill. We watched with fingers crossed as our bus driver slowly piloted the bus up and over the mound, just barely making the back end miss. We moved the rocks back on the mound, and returned to our seats waiting for our next stop.
Our driver found a place he felt he could cross onto the highway safely. Due to the danger of the path and the high possibility of the bus rolling, we got out of the bus and watched our skilled and gutsy driver manoeuvre his beast of a vehicle across the path and safely onto the highway; we followed the bus on our foot. Here our driver informed us, that he had successfully passed the hazardous area and the balance of the ride to Cusco would be uneventful and peaceful.
The protest was overall, pretty peaceful and despite our inconvenience, and thanks to our G adventures CEO we eventually made it to Cusco on time with an experience not to be forgotten. We did however have to leave Cusco, the main hub for the strike within 24 hours eliminating one of our days in Cusco which meant we had to spend one less day in the ancient capital. The extra time was spent in the sacred valley of the Inca’s and Ollantaytambo, one of my favourite Peruvian cities.