Day Two

Trip Start Jan 02, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today most of our tour group met in the plaza for breakfast. There was a lot less panic in the air because the ATM's had been refilled with cash and the weather was really nice. However, we still weren't sure if food and water supplies would be replenished. Restaurants were competing for our business and we were offered a discount at several places. We looked at the menus and finally took a table at a place that offered "Desayuno Especial" which included an omelet, a pancake, bread, juice, and tea. It sounded like a really filling meal, and since we were offered a discount it seemed like a great deal. The omelet, however, was made with just a single egg, and the already small pancakes had been cut into thirds so the meal not filling at all. I asked for more bread, which is typically free with meals but the waiter lied and said they were completely out. After skimping on the food, they tried to charge us the normal price, despite their promise of a discount, and also added a service fee (which I later learned was illegal). I disputed the price and had it lowered but they then just increased the service fee to compensate. At this point, we were sick of arguing and we just paid what they asked for and left. 

It was a complete ripoff and I was worried this was a sign of things to come. Restaurants were running out of ingredients and their menus were already noticeably limited. I was really upset that people were taking advantage of us, but honestly, I would probably do the same thing if I were in their shoes because they knew they would lose all their income once the tourists left and they didn't know how long their food would last or when their supplies would be replenished. 

I wanted to contact the US embassy in Peru so I could get some reliable information and advice. We had already been lied to many times by the Peruvian officials and I wasn't sure who to trust. There were a lot of people that were leaving on foot but others warned that it was far too dangerous. I was highly considering the ten hour hike, but I wanted to consult the US embassy first. When I contacted the embassy I learned that the Americans were having frequent meetings near the stadium so I left my Australian and Dutch friends to join the group of Americans. When I first got there, I was told that it was indeed too dangerous to walk out but there were supposedly a bunch of US choppers that were coming to evacuate all the Americans and there was a good chance we could all leave today, or at the very least, by tomorrow. I was told to come back a little later when a US embassy worker named Phil would arrive to bring more information. 

I was so excited, I immediately started packing my things and told my friends that I probably wouldn't be staying the night. I felt kind of guilty though because it seemed unfair that the Americans had priority over other nationalities. Nonetheless, I wasn't going to wait around in Aguas Calientes any longer than I had to.

When I attended the next meeting, my hopes of leaving were quickly shattered. Phil told us that the US had indeed provided helicopters (they were previously being used by the DEA to control the cocaine operations in Peru) but he told us the Peruvian government was completely in charge and there would be no priority based on nationality (and rightly so). As we were told before, Phil told us that the sick, pregnant, and elderly had the highest priority and they would be evacuating today. We were also told we would have to leave our luggage, which for many of us, would be a nightmare. 

Today people began providing free food for anyone who needed a meal. I don't know who was funding this but I was extremely grateful to avoid getting my ripped off by another restaurant. While I ate, I talked to an Argentinian with my basic Spanish. When I told him I was from the US, he introduced me to a long-haired Alaskan guy named Ben, who was sitting next to us. Ben hadn't heard about the US meetings and I invited him to join me at the next one. Today they were having a meeting every two hours and each one became progressively less helpful because we weren't really getting new information

After going to the next meeting with Ben, we decided to skip the rest of today's meetings because we knew we weren't leaving today and probably not tomorrow either since there were over 2000 tourists and the healthy twenty-somethings were the lowest priority. He showed me a place where we could get a really cheap, filling meal and introduced me to his Peruvian friend, Rambo. Its not his real name but that's what everyone calls him... probably because he's such a bad ass (He left by foot with his girlfriend the next day and I still haven't heard if he made it safely). After dinner I walked with them to their hostel to see the view from the top. They were staying at a place right next to the river, which had great views of the raging river below. 

A truck full of people and equipment drove near the building and we saw lots of people running out, quickly moving sandbags and metal barricades near the river while a man with a megaphone shouted orders at them. Shortly after these workers came in, we heard some loud noises that sounded kind of like gunshots. I ran outside to check it out. I was able to walk to an area near the river that was previously barricaded but the area had been opened up for the workers. From there I saw that large chunks of the street had been broken off by the destructive river, which explained the gunshot noises. People were frantically trying to reinforce the remaining section of the road. I watched in awe until it started to get dark.

Later I met up with my Australian friend Adam to buy him a drink since it was Australia day, which is basically the Australian equivalent to St. Patrick's day. There were loud, drunk Aussies everywhere. I learned that Adam hadn't been drinking at all. Instead he had been collecting names of all the stranded Australians all day because he was the only one that was sober enough to represent his country in this disaster. He respectfully declined my offer to buy him beer and continued to organize information for the Australian embassy. I couldn't believe how seriously Adam was taking this, he's normally a really laid back guy. Its amazing what roles people can fulfill when the need arises.

We heard very few choppers throughout the day, and I later learned that the wealthy were, again, getting the highest priority. I also later heard that someone had taken pictures of a woman bribing an official then stuffing her shirt with a pillow so she appeared pregnant then taking a chopper shortly after.  

Since I couldn't celebrate Australia day with Adam, I went and partied with some random Aussies at a nearby bar. I was having a lot of fun for a while but then the whole group of Aussies got in to a serious argument about Australian rules football (aka "footie") for quite some time and I felt really alienated so I finally went to bed. I persistently tried to say goodbye but they were so involved in this argument that only one person even acknowledged my departure. 
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