An e-mail sent out Friday by the school sounded ominous: There is a strike scheduled and confirmed for Monday by the local transportation unions. It is expected to be strong. Avoid crowds and protests. Especially avoid any type of transportation that may be trying to operate as these vehicles can become targets and tend to be attacked.
It was advised that, due to the general lack of any sort of transportation on the roads and the danger posed by any available transportation, anyone unable to walk to the school should plan to skip classes. My walk to school is barely 10 minutes so I wasn’t too concerned, though I did have a substitute for class as Esther, my regular teacher, lived too far away to walk and couldn’t make it in.
The entrance to the house where I’m living is set back in an alleyway enclosed by a strong metal door. It was a little after 9 as I opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk, taking in the day. It was a beautiful fall morning with puffy cumulus clouds ringing the horizon and clear blue sky overhead. The sun was warm on my skin but the air was cool and crisp, carrying the scent of vegetation just beginning to dry out.
These observations seemed strange and foreign to me until I realized that I hadn’t actually felt or smelled the air in Cusco, just the air, before right then. I’ve been here now for about two weeks, and as far as I can remember there has been a permanent permeation of exhaust. It ebbs and flows for sure, I’ve been running in the mornings because it’s generally at the lowest levels, but it’s always there. This morning, though, was amazing; I couldn’t detect the smog at all.
Walking through the streets, the city was a ghost town full of people. There were no cars on the street save an occasional renegade, few and far between. The employees at the Goodyear auto-shop were idle, leaning against the walls surrounding the empty bay. Food vendors were out in force and several streets were fully commandeered by pick-up soccer games, complete with makeshift goals. Traffic lights were ignored and the normally dangerous thoroughfares were crossed with impunity.
I never actually saw any protesters today, though my roommate mentioned she saw a group of men setting tires on fire and throwing rocks at renegade taxis. In the afternoon as the protests, wherever they were, wound down, traffic began flowing again. By 5 o’clock there was no trace left of the mornings air.