We've been staying about 1 hour east of Lima, Peru in a little community called Chaclacayo since our evacuation from Bolivia on September 15. We started the COS (close of service) process on Tuesday with the distribution of film canister sized containers that we have to poop in to make sure we don't have any parasites. For those of you less desensitized to talking about digestion, I'll spare you the details. We have to go through a whole medical clearance like we did before we started. On Thursday a team of people from Washington, D.C. arrived to assist with paperwork and to tell us about our options. Some people will be signing up for a year or two in another PC country. Some people are going straight home to the states, and others will stay and travel for a while. We are still trying to figure out exactly what we're doing, but we're definitely going to travel around South and Central America before coming home. We may even go back to our site briefly to finish the mural, shift around some of our belongings, and say goodbye more thoroughly. Roque is safe in Cochabamba with a PC staff member's family and he will most likely be brought to the US by said staff in October. All 110 volunteers are staying in the same place, so we've been able to hang out and do a bit of much-needed processing.
Leading up to our evacuation, tension had been building in Bolivia for a couple of weeks. We had been cut off from our regional city by multiple bloqueos. There was even a roadblock in El Puente that had lasted three days. We saw a rock fight break out between those maintaining the bloqueos and those trying to pass through and we heard dynamite go off at night in an effort to scare people from trying to pass. We were put on alert by the Peace Corps on Sept 10th and then moved up to "standfast" on the 11th. That evening we got a call from our project director, who wanted us to pack right away to get to another town that night so we could catch a morning bus to Cochabamba. Normally we would go to Tarija, which is about 4 hours by bus compared to the 18 or so it would take us to get to Cochabamba. The reason they wanted us to go to Cochabamba by land is that the roads were blocked between us and Tarija and the airport in Tarija had been taken over by protesters. Since we weren't comfortable trying to cross the dynamite infused bloqueo at night, we decide to pack and depart the next morning. We were able to say goodbye to most of our friends and co-workers that morning and miraculously flagged down a taxi to take us north almost immediately. We took that taxi to Villa Abecia, about 30 minutes up the road, then transferred to a small van to travel another hour to Camargo where we spent the night. The next day, we took a bus from there to Potosi (about 4 hours) where a PC employee drove us the remaining 9 hours to Cochabamba.
Somewhere in between Potosí and Cochabamba we pulled over by the side of the road to go to the bathroom. Roque had been stirring in his crate and meowing a lot so we thought he might need to go as well. So we put his crate on the ground and opened the door. He timidly came out, but once he realized he was outside he took off! Luckily it was a full moon that night so we could see him. We tried to sneak up on him, but everytime we got close he´d walk further into the desolate wasteland. Finally I made a wide path around in front of him and was able to corner him between some scrub brush. We put him immediately back into his crate without him getting a chance to use the bathroom. We were relieved that he´d be coming with us instead of living a short life in the altiplano as condor fodder.
Upon arrival in Cochabamba, we got to sleep around 3am and had to get up for an 8am meeting where we were informed that we were, in fact, being evacuated. A group of about 70 volunteers left for Peru that morning, and the rest of us were consolidated at a hotel until the next day when our flight would depart. The really amazing part of the evacuation process is that we were flown to Peru on a military plane. Here we are waiting at the Cochabamba airport to be picked up.
The arrival of our plane in Cochabamba was delayed because they were having trouble receiving clearance for our Bolivian military plane to enter Peruvian airspace. We were at the airport for about 6 hours before it finally arrived. We were fed pizza and American candy while we waited.
From left: Kilo, Miguel, Marcos, Rachel
It was a special treat that the back of the C130 was aligned with a view of Tunari, the peak in Cochabamba that Mark climbed on two occasions.
This is what the hatch of the back of the plane looked like from the inside once it was closed.
Apparently the C130 is often included in military chants, such as:
"C130 flyin' down the strip
Cuerpo de Paz gonna take a little trip..."
Click on the arrow to see a video tour of the inside of the C130- yes it was that loud.
There were 44 of us on this flight. The flight that left the day before involved over 70 evacuees.
We were invited to visit the cockpit 2-by-2. I was impressed that there were 5 military personnel in there. This plane was built in 1959, but it had been updated with GPS navigation technology as well. We learned that it was actually an American-built plane that had been sold to the Bolivian military under the condition that it was available for use by the US military when necessary.
The view out the back of the plane when we arrived in Lima about 3 hours later.
Lima Air Force Base.
Upon arrival we were debriefed by officials from the US Embassy, US Air Force, and Peace Corps Peru. After getting our passports stamped with a 6-month Peruvian visa, we were whisked away to the "vacation center." It must have been a small university at some point, but had been converted into a hotel/event center. Each day buses of Peruvian kids would arrive to ride horses and play in the pool. We were staying in a dorm room and others were in small cabins with shared baths. Our meals were served in a dining commons and the wait staff were pretty tired of us by the time we left. We are now staying at a smaller hostel in the heart of Miraflores- a pretty touristy area of Lima.
It was nice to be in the same place as all the other volunteers while we wrapped up our service. We had several opportunities to meet with the volunteers we went through training with to share our experiences and feelings about moving on from Bolivia. I was really impressed that the majority of people are either going back to Bolivia for some reason or are pursuing Peace Corps service in other countries. Towards the end of our time together, we were a bit bogged down with administrative tasks and paperwork, but we still found time to get together to play the blues, wax nostalgic about our interrupted service, and compare future plans.
The team from Peace Corps Washington, D.C. facilitated the purchase of shirts for all the volunteers and Bolivian staff. Here's a picture we took before people started leaving on Sunday.
Tonight, reality began to set in as we accompanied Stephanie and Christian to the Lima airport to put them on their flights back to the states. They were both Tarija volunteers that we'd come to know and love. From left to right: Ellen, Marcos, Emelia, Stephanie, Alana, Christian.
It was sad to see them leave South America and we again recognized how lucky we are to be able to travel for a little longer before heading back to full-time American life. During a short souvenir shopping spree with Stephanie, I realized how we're quickly blending in with the backpacker population. Vendors refused to speak Spanish with us, insisting on using English to negotiate prices. We found ourselves yelling across plazas to pass on messages to our fellow travelers. And most shockingly, everything is SO expensive here compared to Bolivia. We've started making plans for the next few weeks- head to the US Embassy tomorrow to renew our personal passports (our PC-issued passports are only valid for 89 more days), get ourselves to La Paz so that Mark and some friends can climb Huayna Potosi at over 6000m, and then to our site before October 10th so that we can have Peace Corps ship our non-travel belongings home for us. The other reason for getting back to El Puente is so that we can put the finishing touches on the world map mural. Only about half of the countries were labelled and we had run out of yellow paint for the flag border. I expect we'll be able to finish it up in two weeks or less. We've been watching Bolivia on the news and it seems that most of the turmoil continues to be concentrated in Santa Cruz and Pando. Our Peace Corps contacts within Bolivia have also given us confidence that we will be fine getting there and out again without worrying about our safety more than usual.
We're flip-flopping about what to do with Roque. He's apparently adjusting well to his host family in Cochabamba, so we're considering the possibility of letting him go to save him from a long series of flights and moving around the states while we get settled. But as soon as we see a picture or video of him on our camera we can't imagine leaving him behind. He's only been a part of our family for a few months, but he was a great source of comfort and fun.
Here's something totally ridiculous I trained him to do back in El Puente... or did he train me?
(basket elevator video-coming soon)