Sometimes during a journey we encounter unforeseen situations involving local communities. On the alpine, very picturesque route from La Union to Huanuco in Peru, we came across a roadblock made by striking farmers. Although initially we did not understand the intentions of the people and had a bit of stress, the whole situation and the next course of events were a valuable lesson for us. Most of our experience was recorded because I had a camera attached to my helmet. We decided to share it with you.
Video from January 10, 2018, when farmers’ strikes take place in many regions of Peru:
What has this experience taught us?
Our subjective tips on what to do when we encounter a strike or blockade organized by the local people during the trip:
- Don’t panic
Of course, you never know, people are sometimes unpredictable, but you can feel it after some time. If the crowd is aggressive, it is best to simply retreat. Usually striking people are just desperate, tired and indignant with a given state of affairs, manifesting to improve the situation, solve some problem. We would always notice at first the loudest characters, shouting, waving sticks hold in their hands. However, looking more closely at the crowd, we can see if there are women, children and elders. This was the case in the strike we encountered and then it occurred to us that it is a local, poor community that unites in solidarity and disturbs daily order to pay attention to the problem of all of them.
- Don’t be aggressive
As you can see in the video, at the beginning I gather up courage and go ahead to handle things. I push forward fully armed, with this enormous, cosmic head of mine in the helmet, with camera attached and one hanging on my neck. And I ask with a bit demanding tone where we can cross. Obviously I had intended to ask in a nicer way, but Joki’s comments behind brought in front of my eyes a vision of someone jumping on me from the crowd to at best scenario take my camera away. As soon as I came up, I turned back even sooner not solving anything.
- No bribing and flaunting money
During the whole trip, we stick to the rule: no bribes. Even if it means several hours of waiting on the border or by the blocked road, we do not solve the problem with money. First of all because we do not have a lot of it. Secondly, because once we show that we are ready to pay for something under the table, extortion can go on at every next step. And in the case of the striking crowd, it’s stupid – there is no leader to pay one and so that the rest of people would follow him or her. We would have to make the whole group happy. It’s better not to take out your wallet at all. And the third, most important reason – we do not teach these people that this is the way. Usually, the right attitude and conversation are really enough.
- Show understanding
Often the key to agreement is empathy and putting yourself for a moment in the situation of people encountered. At the beginning we see red eyes, silver teeth, sticks in hands and furrowed eyebrows. After the first reaction of fear and dislike, we ask ourselves why they look like this and have gone out onto the streets. It is because they cannot afford a dentist, their hands are rubbed off from physical work, with soil in nails, skin burnt in the sun, eyes are red, tired of stimulants used to ease the pain of everyday life. My second approach to the crowd has not been filmed. I took off my helmet, all the expensive equipment and went with a smile to the most dangerously looking fellows. I showed interest in their problem, said that I would gladly write about their situation on our modest channels of communication. They liked it because that is why they went out to the street. They want attention and their government to introduce necessary changes (so for more info about the strike and its results check out my next post).
- Tell your story
For many Latin Americans, a white tourist is definitely an American, and if from Europe, it must be a German. Anyway, someone richer than them, who has a lot of money that can be drawn from him. The moment they find out that we are from Polonia, we are Polacos, just like John Paul II (everyone associates this figure in these highly Christianized lands), and that in our country there is no euro or dollars and we speak Polish, not English, eyes of the listeners are expanding. In addition, when we show them our route on the world map displayed on our side case, they grab their heads. And usually they are authentically fascinated and warmly welcoming. We explained to them that, on contrary to people in the cars, we cannot just leave our Dakar on the street over night and need to get to some safe place to crash and park the motorbike. All of them showed understanding in this matter. They calmed us down that, said they would let us in, we must be patient. Some of the hearts softened so much that they wanted to immediately pave the way for us, but this in turn met with the protest of drivers who were still forced to wait in their cars: “How is that, gringos better than us?!”. After a short conversation, however, even they changed their attitude, appealing to let us go as soon as possible.
- Stay alert
Of course, all of this should be kept at a distance and with common sense. We should keep an eye at our luggage, which during the conversation may become a target of thieves. For instance, we had a situation in Peru, when a group of angelic smiling children run towards us, shouting “Hello, hello!”. Before we noticed one little boy, maybe 6-yea old, was hugging Joki from behind and both his little hands wandered into Joki’s pockets with a wallet and a phone. Or it happened to us to encounter a guy pretending to be road service worker. He stopped us with a STOP sign. After a moment we were surrounded by a bunch of adults blocking the road until we pay. Since they were not threatening us with any weapon, we were just responding in pure Polish, using the most sophisticated and funny sounding sentences. We have in Poland some popular, difficult expressions about a beetle making sounds in the reed (“W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie“) and a table with broken legs (“Stół z powyłamywanymi nogami“). And that was combined with innocent smiles, shrugging and gestures of disorientation, showing that we do not understand the word they say and what they want from us. And imagine that it worked! They looked at us like at some aliens talking in the snakes’ language, gave each other a confused look and quickly gave up, letting us go.
- Travel only in daylight
This is one of the basic principles in countries considered dangerous. Most unpleasant situations happen at dusk, in suspected lanes, places of smuggling or drug trafficking. And speaking of blockages, bumps and obstacles on the road – often they are not marked and lit at all, so at night they become doubly dangerous.
After almost a year and a half of our travel, we can say that such less positive situations involving people have been very sporadic and never causing insecurity our of life. Usually, you can get along with another human being. In the general balance, we experience much more help, cordiality and fascination than someone’s aggression and dislike. The media usually broadcast tragic situations, but these happen everywhere, also in our countries and cities. South America so far has been keeping us quite alert, bit it is in the background, somewhere in the shadow of the enormity of the delight and desired thrill of adventure.
What happened the next day is a continuation of surprises and challenges. Those interested are invited to the next episode, which is on the way, we just need a decent internet to upload the movie!
How about you? Have you encountered any stressful situations during your journey with locals involved and have you learned any lessons from them? Would you have any other tips and comments to add?