August 16, Chachapoyas, Peru
Last night, some time just after 7:00pm, I was sitting on the least flattering seat in my hotel room taking care of business when I started feeling a circular vertigo type of sensation and I wondered for a moment if it could be a lower back spasm that was causing this gentle rocking. The next assumption was an earthquake, which it was. It lasted for 20-30 seconds and was very mild in this part of Peru but many towns south of Lima weren't so lucky, namely Pisco, Chincha and Ica, where a bulk of the damage has taken place.
I turned on the news in the morning and immediately recognized the cathedral in the town center of Pisco, where I was 12 days ago. It was obviously damaged and there were cracks across the front but the bell tower but it still stood and it looked like it might have been in tact, but then I noticed the daylight coming through the large front doors and it was clear that everything beyond the front wall had collapsed. Pisco seems to be the worst hit. I recognized most other buildings in the center, many of which were just piles of rubble. One reporter said there was 80% destruction in Pisco. The $8.00 hotel I stayed in had been 5 stories tall but the whole thing was reduced to a 5 foot tall pile of rubble. They had let me park my motorcycle in the lobby, right next to the front desk when I was there.
The top two floors of that hotel where I stayed in Pisco 12 days ago weren't finished and I went up to check it out to see if there was anything to photograph from up there. I was joined by the maintenance guy who explained that the owners had big plans because there was only one other hotel in town that was five floors high, he pointed to it, but it was 3 blocks off the center and since this hotel is right on the center it would be the most important hotel in town. He was obviously very proud of being part of something important, I hope he's okay and that he finds something as important to him as that hotel was.
The building next to the hotel was about the same size and I was glad to see on the news that it was still standing. There's a novelty store on the ground floor of that building and I went in to buy some Pisco, a Peruvian liquor, because I thought it would be kind of a novelty to get a bottle of Pisco from Pisco. The woman running the store was there with her very shy little three year old grand daughter in a pink, slightly dirty dress, and some other family and friends. She explained that they don't actually make Pisco in Pisco and that Piscean Pisco is actually made in Ica. We all had a fun conversation about telling the world that Pisco is a lie and it should be actually be called Ica, because that's where it's made, and how we could make tons of money if we decided to make Pisco in Pisco because it would be the only true Pisco and as we laughed about that stuff the little three year old girl was laughing with us and wasn't afraid of the big blonde gringo anymore. I hope they're all okay.
The reporter from the Seattle PI asked if this trip had changed my perspective on Central or South America; I said it hadn't really changed my perspective much but it really has "personalized", or put a face on the countries through which I've traveled. My Pisco memories are the best possible example of this so far and as I look at the many different news channels and watch people in Pisco crying about losing their loved ones when the cathedral collapsed, or their house, or any of the other tragic losses resulting from this catastrophe, I remember the faces and laughs and that makes it bigger and more real, or personalized to me.