A National Pastime


Demonstrations, strikes and protests have been an integral part of the backdrop to this trip.  Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and now Peru – I have come across people on the streets in each country.  When they disagree with something, Latin Americans don’t hold back – they know how to get noticed and aren’t afraid to do so. And they were at it again yesterday here in Arequipa.

Back in December last year, I got stuck in Ushuaia (Argentina) when the border staff and truck drivers went on strike.  There were massive student demonstrations in Santiago when I was there, which got ugly when the police intervened. When I stayed in Sucre (Bolivia) in March this year, the city centre came to a stand still when protesters took to the streets over the recent budget. And my attempts to reach Copacabana (and subsequently get out) on the shores of Lake Titicaca were nearly thwarted by a military style operation by the local farmers, which saw about 30 barricades of rock, soil and felled trees constructed along a 20km stretch of road.   I only got through by riding the bike over and around the barricades, sometimes using the storm drains which has prudently been left clear – and sweet-talking the locals who were a bit miffed by a random gringo trying to run the blockade on a heavily-laden moto.

Drums are big in South America, and are an essential part of the protesters tool box.  So too are fireworks.  If you wake in the morning and here fireworks exploding somewhere in the city, you know what’s coming.  The reports I read about the Bolivian miners blockading the road suggested that some of them felt fireworks weren’t emphatic enough – apparently they chose to ‘let off’ a few sticks of dynamite.

Yesterday’s protest around the old town of Arequipa was, however, the most measured I have seen.  No drums, no whistles, no fireworks – just some well-mannered chanting.  What really struck me, though, was the enormous papier-mâché rat carried solemnly at the front of the march.  I think I was representing an official who, I can only assume, was behaving in what the protesters felt was a rat-like way.

Tomorrow I’m due to pick up my bike from the garage where it is being serviced. However, I am not making any plans yet to depart Arequipa, as I half expect the mechanics to go on strike.

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