22 February 2008

Fighting With Aero Condor and Sleeping to Ward off Hunger

Cusco, Peru :: Hotel Puma

Well, the good news is we didn't have to sleep next to the call center or the currency exchange on the airport floor for 2 days. The bad news is they closed the airport. Erika and I were lucky: we became friends with Jessica and H(e)iang, two 4th year med students from North Carolina who've been in Peru for 3 weeks now, are trying to make a connecting flight to Managua, and who are moving to work at a local clinic in Honduras soon. And fortunately for both of us, they just happened to become friends with a travel agent who scored the four of us two rooms at a really nice hotel that was 1 block from Avenida El Sol, the main drag in Cusco. This proves a theory I came up with in South America that everything depends upon your personal relationships with people. It is the alpha and the omega of everything here.

Once Erika and I watched the news last night we learned that not only were there protests all over Cusco, including walls or rocks and rubble, burning tires, street blockades (talkin' about a revolution), but in addition to that, a group of 200-300 protesters had actually tried to take the airport, probably around the time we were sitting on the floor, eating our lunch, and riot police had to fire teargas at them to get them to disperse. That's some crazy shit.


Today we walked to Plaza de Armas again and watched manifestaciones up and down Avenida El Sol, in front of the Cathedral, going in circles. As turistas, of course we got some dirty looks and I got a few stare-downs, which annoyed me, later we met a couple from LA. I have no idea how they knew we were American--maybe they didn't--but I was dismayed, I didn't realize how obvious it was that we were gringos. But Sebastian and Vanessa--god, she was hot--were super nice and interesting, even giddy about seeing something so powerful as a regional strike, and I appreciated their enthusiasm. I hope they found a place to eat.

The problem with the paro isn't even the flight cancellations, it's that there's no place to eat all day long. All the restaurants, cafes, markets, tiendas, everything was closed, and we were famished. There was nothing for us to eat except some crappy Tampico juice and some King-Kong cookies. Not exactly macrobiotic.

As we walked around, I also noticed a few hotels had been attacked, there were police guarding them, the windows of certain travel agencies and airlines, LAN in particular (big surprise, it's Chileno, and Peruvians have issues with Chilenos), were totally smashed to smithereens.

When we got Aero Condor, they tried to tell us we would have to wait 3 more days because there were no more flights available until then. Erika and I argued with the woman at the desk vehemently.

--You should have come here in the morning, there was a line of passengers who came here to change their tickets, she said.
--The woman at the Aero Condor desk in the airport didn't tell us we could do that, we said, in fact, she said everything would be closed tomorrow.
--Well, we kept the door half-open, she said.
--I want a refund, I said.
--Not possible, she said.
--Then buy us another seat on another airline, I said.
--Can't do that, she said.
--I want to talk to the manager, Erika says.
--He's in a meeting, she said.
--Then I'll wait until he's done, Erika said.
--Fine, she said, disappearing into another room.

Then Erika left to buy another Claro cell phone card, and that's when the manager came out and I had to repeat to him in my less-than-perfect Spanish how his company was screwing us over. And I had to do this all alone.

I said that:

1. The woman at the Aero Condor counter in the airport wouldn't help us at all.
2. She told Erika that she should walk through the riot to the travel agency because it would be much safer, and when I asked her why she couldn't change our tickets the way LAN did with its passengers, to which she replied that their computers wouldn't allow them to.
3. She didn't mention to us that their office would be open during a regional strike when everything was closed, especially airlines, or that we could come and change our tickets
4. Why was his company punishing us? I asked.
5. We didn't have money to stay in Cusco for 3 more days, I shouted.
6. We were angry that Aero Condor was doing absolutely nothing to help us.
7. Why wasn't your company increasing the number of flight to make up for the 2-day strike, like the other companies?

Finally, he offered us a refund and we took it, but now we're really afraid we're stuck in Cusco forever. The ironic thing is, many of these protesters want us to leave Cusco, but we can't because of their goddamn paro. We're being held captive here, and it kinda sucks. I also don't know whether we're gonna get on a flight tomorrow.

We're so hungry now, even the bag of Doritos I bought in a moment of deranged impulsiveness last night is starting to sound good. Erika is so hungry she's decided to sleep for awhile even though she isn't tired.

At least making love to the fierce cries of protesters and drum beats gave us a moment of tranquility and nourishment.

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