We had heard rumors of potentially worse protests after New Year’s, but everything seemed to be more or less in peace. There was a slight worry that protests could make it difficult to collect Caleb and Belinda from the airport, but thankfully, there was no trouble.
I asked Rafael if he would be willing to collect Caleb’s because I did not want to be gone from Steph just yet, and I did not want to deal with the strain of Cusco on my nerves if it were avoidable. Rafael was more than glad to help out. Caleb’s arrrived a day late after missing a connecting flight in Toronto (they had flown Canada Air). Rafael’s picked them up Saturday afternoon, and they made it to our house shortly before 10:00 pm after some errands they ran in town.
Sunday was Caleb’s birthday. We enjoyed a normal service with them again, and I was very thankful to share the workload with Caleb. In the evening, China made a fajita supper to celebrate Caleb’s birthday, and we had fun playing some board games late into the night.
Monday was a day of meetings for me, trying to get everyone on the same page with regards to the farm work, or at least to hear from everyone. Caleb wanted to get a few more things in Cusco, so he and China made an afternoon trip. They got home close to 8:00 pm, and everything was still normal and open, as far as the roads were concerned.
I talked with my father-in-law that evening. He was slightly worried about the protests, but I honestly told him that there were none, and that it looked clear for them to come: “There should be no trouble.” Famous last words.
As Tuesday progressed, things worsened locally. Protests started springing up again, with folks starting to block roads with stones and trash. I decided that I would go to Cusco in the middle of the night to avoid any protesters because my in-laws were to arrive at 8:30 Wednesday morning. At the last minute, China decided to go with me, and I’m so glad she did.
We left the house at 11:30 pm, and were shocked to find a line of semis from not far after Inquilpata all the way into town. We went slowly, passing the trucks, until we got into town. There, I got out and talked with a few men who were ambling around the municipio. They told me the road was blocked by angry protesters in Pucyura who were demanding S/50 from every driver. One fellow offered to guide me over the mountains to a place that would go around Pucyura. I decided to follow him.
We did end up where he said we would, but a huge tree stump completely blocked the final bridge before the PanAm. We turned around. China and I decided to use the map and try to cross the mountains ourselves. That was rather frightening at moments. At one point, the road simply ended in an open field at the crest of a mountain. Another place, we had to cross a washout that was almost not wide enough for the van to fit—only to come back half an hour later and precariously cross again, praying the washout wouldn’t collapse into the ravine while we did.
Eventually, we ended up by Pucyura in the early morning after passing dozens and dozens of tractor trailers. Sadly, the road was completely blocked by a several-foot-high wall of dirt. We had passed three different burned cars on the way. At least some of them were burned because they tried to push through a roadblock by force. We also saw a box truck turned over on its side. How do you flip a box truck?
I called my Dear Friend Who Happens to Live Close to Lima, and told him I did not see how we could make it to Cusco and would he please go to Lima to collect my in-laws. He agreed because he is a willing servant who enjoys sacrificing his time for others. I decided to call my in-laws shortly after they were to land in Lima and explain the situation.
In the meantime, I retraced my tracks and went yet another way. And astonishingly, we got through! China stayed in touch with our Dear Friend Who Happens to Live Close to Lima, updating him on our progress. We made it to Cusco, only to find angrier crowds than in Izcuchaca. I tried to convince them to let us through, but they would not hear of it.
While I was talking with the lady in charge of one roadblock, a police SUV rolled up and wanted to go through the blockade. Everyone began shouting and trying to stop the vehicle. They had a long plastic sign with protests written on it, which they tried wrapping around the police vehicle, but they officers simply did not stop, slowly but firmly plowing through the crowd. Thankfully, the people were smart enough to jump out of the way.
Another man pulled up in his van, got out and began tossing tires and rocks out of the way. The crowd attacked him, violently punching and kicking him, screaming that the protests must go on! I decided it was time for us to leave. We spent the next nearly two hours making our way to the airport. We were blocked at every major intersection.
I crawled all over Cusco, taking backroads. Eventually, we made it to the airport at 8:00 am. I had called my in-laws along the way and explained the situation. I was still expecting the protests to fizzle out after a few hours, which is what they have normally done. We collected Steph’s folks without trouble, though the police surrounding the airport would not let us onto the property. Dane, Martha, and Liz came for this trip and plan to stay two weeks.
Unfortuanately, things were worsening rapidly in the city. We found out that the airport was attacked by protesters who wanted to burn it down. Other protesters had taken control of an airport in southern Peru the night before, I believe. We made it out just in time. Police opened fire on the crowd, we heard. One man was killed, I believe in that attack. He happened to be the president of Anta, which is a local community where we live.
There was no way out of Cusco by normal methods. So, we took the non-normal methods. I sensed that our opportunity to escape was closing in. We crossed muddy river beds, went on dirt roads for animals, crossed logging trails, drove down the railroad track [Insert silent scream of terror], and many things that are not recommended. Everywhere I wasn’t sure what to do, God provided someone to give us directions to an obscure location to get over the mountains.
At last, we made it to Izcuchaca, but all the roads entering the town were blocked. Burning tires, tree stumps, trash, broken glass, and all sorts of things covered the streets. So, we took dirt roads and paths and even unfinished road construction (I think I was the first car to ever cross that new bridge!) until we made it to Elisabet’s mom Ester’s house. They opened the house to us.
Rafael and Elisabet biked across town to meet us. We arrived twelve hours after leaving our house. Twelve hours for a normally 45-minute trip! We were all exhausted, so Señora Ester sent us all to bed. Around 3:30 pm, Rafael woke me up and told me to wake the others for lunch. They had prepared a delicious stir fry for us.
Our friends made calls to their aquaintances along the road home to see if we could try going out again, but everyone said the same: the protests are worsening. I was beginning to feel desperate. For a dozen hours, we were in threatening situations, and I kept thinking, “I just got my wife back! I have to get home!” But we prayed and prayed, and I sent updates to the church here and in the States to pray.
Around 7:30, we decided to try crossing across the fields along the back of the valley to make it to Zurite where we could hopefully get back to Marquesbamba. Rafael and Elisabet’s brother Henry said they would come with us and open the way. We had been on the road two minutes when we met our first roadblock, guarded by drunken men who screamed at us that the protest must go on!
Rafael got out to talk with them. The offered him a drink, but he just kept talking, convincing them to let us through to our family. They sent him into a building to talk with a protest organizer. After a few minutes, he was back out, and some men began moving the roadblock! We made it through!
A few minutes later, we met with another block. Rafael and Henry got out and with the help of several other men, they moved rocks and trees to let us pass. We traveled slowly across the back of the valley. At one point, we were directly behind our house, only several hundred meters away. How hard it was not to try to put our mini-van in four-wheel-drive and plow through the fields to home! We could see our precious lights, shining and welcoming, but we could not get there.
After crossing numerous unmanned blocks, we made it to Zurite and encountered a huge wall of dirt. They had brought out backhoes to block the road. But someone had been cleaning away an area just wide enough for us to fit through. We scraped significantly as we crossed the hump, but we made it! In Compone, we found the same thing, but we were able to do the same thing there.
At last, at around 8:10 pm, we made it to our lane. Rafael and Henry had put bikes on top of the van, which they took down and drove into Izcuchaca. May God bless them for their great kindness!
Around 8:30, we made it home—21 hours later—and we all burst into tears. I held Steph, and we both just sobbed. I have discovered that I am not cut out for adventuring. I feel like a piece of porcelain, I told some friends, a piece of porcelain that is already compromised and ready to shatter. I’m not sure I can handle another crisis right now, but I do know God can.
After regrouping, we spent time praying and crying together as we held hands in a circle. We recognized how kind our loving Father had been to us in opening a way through the fire, in many cases literally.
Dane and Martha plan to be with us for two weeks, but we really don’t know what to expect with the protests. I feel so bad for them that they are stuck here with us in this sort of a situation, but it is good to have family around at the same time. Our times are in God’s hands.
Steph is doing really well health-wise. She is strong and getting stronger each day. It is hard for her to make herself rest as much as she maybe should, but I think her small acitivities help her gain strength, too.
Caleb is trying to push ahead with residency. His goal is to call the attorney every day until the residency is finished. But we cannot do the steps necessary in Cusco with the country locked down in violence. I say the country, but really the violence is only in a few places in the south of Peru, and we just happen to find ourselves here.
China bought a ticket to the States for next Wednesday. She planned to be with her boyfriend Konrad for a week or so before they both return to collect her things to leave. (There was a wedding they wanted to attend…) But currently, we cannot leave our house due to the violence.
Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand.
Pray for peace.