The day had arrived! I was waiting so long for this moment.
Embarking on a new adventure to one of the most exotic destinations in the world, the Amazon, filled me with excitement. The place in question? A little town in the province of San Martin called Tarapoto. Why was I moving there? Well, why not? Besides, I’ve had great reviews of the place: lush nature, stunning views, beautiful , friendly people and a very busy nightlife.
After almost 9 months of artistic living in Trujillo, I quit my apartment and packed all my stuff. Gosh, I can’t believe all that I had to bring with me! Bought my bus ticket and I was ready. The departure date on the ticket read March 13th. After an 18-hour bus ride, I would be in a place I’d never been before.
Everything begins pretty normally for a bus ride. We make a technical stop in Chiclayo for 30 mins. While waiting, I notice the intense rain falling in the city, water accumulating on the streets. When the bus departs Chiclayo, I observed almost every street was transforming into rivers, while pedestrians did their best to step on the few drier spots on the sidewalks.
As the bus continues into the highlands, the attendant serves us a cold dish of rice with some chicken. I fall asleep watching “Mission Impossible” oddly dubbed in Spanish and with English subtitles.
Somewhere in the highway, sometime during the night, I wake up. The bus has stopped, and the air conditioner is off… has the bus run out of fuel? Is it out-of-order?… The loud sound of rain makes me tremble. I do a prayer and go back to sleep…
As the daylight strikes my window, I notice that the bus had started moving forward. Relaxed, I continue sleeping…
All of a sudden, we stop again.
Big rocks falling on the road and a small but scary mudslide have stopped dozens of buses and trucks in the middle of an unpaved highway somewhere between the mountains. The cleft to the right of the road is deep. At the bottom of it, a furious river roars its way to the coast.
I ponder on how insignificant and vulnerable we are to the forces of nature.
People get off their vehicles to stretch out. I take my camera with me and get off the bus. Food sellers offer snacks and water to the hundreds of people spread along the muddy road.
After 4 hours of waiting, the trucks have started to move slowly forward. The bus attendant recommends us to cross the slide area by foot and wait for our bus to pick us up. With the cleft on one side and the mountains on the other, our bus had to do a very dangerous maneuver pass a truck that was bog down in the mud. Thankfully, it did!
However, our relief doesn’t last long. After 10 minutes of driving, we’re stuck again. This time by an even bigger stone slide. I get off the bus and start asking people about the situation. Some of them have been waiting on this part of the highway for days. They tell me that there are at least 15 more slides after this one. The worse part, there is only one excavator machine doing the cleanup job…
I see people nervously walking, taking their luggage off the buses, talking to each other, wondering what to do. I see pebbles sliding from the mountains not far from me. The rain has started to fall, and the unpaved highway is getting muddy. On top of that, there is neither Internet nor mobile connection. We’re cut off the rest of the world, on our own, somewhere deep in the Andes… Suddenly, a medium size rock falls pretty near my bus. I have to get out of here!
Next to me, a driver has decided to return to his town, Olmos. He says that I can take a minivan from there to Chiclayo. “The way back will be a bit dangerous because of the fog, the rain, and the mud” –he says, and adds: “but staying here would be even riskier. Nobody knows how long it would take to clean up all the stone slides, and if they will continue to fall due to the rain”. A guy from my bus and a French couple want to go back too. Without thinking it twice, I take my hand luggage and my guitar and sit in the car with them.
The once idyllic Andean scenery had turned into a dark and humid place. The driver had to be very careful when overtaking the mile-long truck line, so we neither get stuck in the mud nor fall on the deep cleft. It is hard to describe the big relief we felt when we arrived at the little town of Olmos.
Nevertheless, our journey was far from over. The minivan drivers told us the river La Leche had flooded its surrounding areas and that probably we would have to cross it by foot…
The skies get dark, and torrential rain starts to hit the ground, filling the streets quickly with water. After a short discussion, we decide to take the minivan and try to reach Chiclayo as soon as possible. The van drives for about one hour until the police stop us. We can´t continue by car.
However, as weird as it sounds, moto-taxis were allowed to approach the river. They charge us five times the regular price and take us to the bridge. The French couple refuses to cross the river by foot. We stand there looking at the people stepping on the water, carrying their stuff on their shoulders, trying to make it to the other side….
We all know about global warming, and we have seen heart-breaking scenes of floods and destruction in far-away countries while sitting in the comfort of our homes. I have never imagined being in a situation like this, seeing it, feeling it first-hand. Yes, I know the poles are melting, and yes, I’ve done my share of recycling at home. However, being in the middle of a natural disaster makes you understand that global warming is real, that the consequences are already happening and that we humans are in fact, completely dependent on our ecosystem.
A flatbed truck stopped was preparing to cross the river. We jump on it together with other people and cross our fingers. Slowly and steadily we make it to the other side. A big smile appears on everybody’s face as we step down to the highway. We run to the first minivan we find, and off we go to Chiclayo.
The rain continues to fall non-stop. The streets are turned into rivers, and people try to protect the entrance to their houses with plastic. As we approach Chiclayo, the water level on the floor gets high. The city has become a lake.
I put my foot on the ground, and the water reached half my leg. A few more steps and the water reached my knees. Extremely exhausted, I get myself into the bus station and get a ticket to Chepen, a town in between Chiclayo and Trujillo, which is not flooded and where I have a friend who can house me. The buses are delayed. Eventually, I made it to my friend’s house.
The very next day, a flash landslide hit the city of Trujillo, and I get stranded in Chepen. From that point onward, massive landslides and torrential rainfalls hit Peru in an unprecedented way. As the days passed, I watched my country sinking, bridges collapsing, widespread destruction along the northern coast and thousands left homeless.
An aerial view of Trujillo, the city where I spent 9 months of my life. I can’t convey how sad it is to see it like this.
As we travel, we are prone to experience first-hand the consequences of climate change. Maybe the good news is, that once we do, we’ll never forget the fragility of our ecosystem, and the strong impact global warming has on us.