Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Interview by Jamie Lee
Story told by Michelle Friesen
Photos by Travis Friesen
Shākāt interviewed Michelle Friesen about her trip to Peru & Bolivia. Her message to the Youth of Today ALWAYS BE PREPARED, anything could happen.
I'm Michelle Friesen, I'm a citizen of the town of Ta'an Kwach'an council, and I belong to the Wolf clan. Recently my husband and I traveled to South America for our honeymoon. We started in Peru and we were there for eight days and we had so much fun and we got to see rainbow mountain and Machu Picchu even though I got a really bad sunburn, it was really fun. We got some great photos and then we spent our last two days in Peru mountain biking, which was so amazing. We went with Haku expeditions and they were so great, and they took us on some amazing trails and we got to ride through the city and it was really fun. That was probably the highlight of our trip.
We had the second half of our trip booked in Bolivia. We were planning on doing some more mountain biking while we were there. We also booked the three day tour to the salt flats in Uni. So we flew to La Paz on a Sunday and checked into our Airbnb and then we went out for a walk to just figure out where everything was and kind of catch our bearings and see where our tour company was. Where we were supposed to catch our bus in the morning. So we found the first tour company, and when we got there, the lady told us that our tour had been canceled, because the citizens of La Paz were planning to put up some roadblocks, and that we wouldn't be able to get out of the city.
We didn't really think too much of it. Some other people had told us about the roadblocks, but that it wouldn't really be anything for us to worry about.
We took the rest of that day and just hung out at our Airbnb and just watch movies and relaxed. The next day was Monday, so all the shops and everything had opened again and we went out for some breakfast, and that's when we really noticed that things were a lot different than the day before.
There were roadblocks everywhere. People had pushed dumpsters into the streets, they put furniture in the streets, they made roadblocks out of rocks and pillars and like whatever they could find basically. There were police on all the streets and they were all decked out in full riot gear, and they had big shields and the plastic face masks, and they all had tear gas attached to them. It was really eerie. It was very strange to see, and while we were at breakfast, we did see a fight break out at one of the roadblocks.
When were speaking with some other tourists that were in the restaurant with us, they'd been there for a few days already, and they expressed to us that they hadn't really felt unsafe there and that we'd probably be fine to just explore the town and just continue on as planned. We were going to take the trams and explore a bit and try and get to some of the markets, but while we were walking to the tram, we saw this huge protest of thousands of miners walking down the street. You couldn't see the end of the line up, down either end of the street. There were so many of them and they started setting off explosions in the streets. It was very loud and very scary they just kept setting them off. So we were still at this point hoping to be able to leave La Paz the following evening.
We had a night bus booked that was going to take us to the next city for the tour. When we got to the bus terminal, we were told that the tour was absolutely not leaving that it wasn't safe for the bus to travel and that they wouldn't be able to get out of the city.
So at this point everything that we've traveled to Bolivia for had been canceled and things were starting to escalate really quickly and start to get very dangerous. So we decided to go back to our room and just go back to Peru and just spend the rest of the time there.
We had to go through a Plaza that was the direction that we knew how to get from where we were at for breakfast, back to our Airbnb. When we came up to the Plaza, it was full of protesters, like the whole Plaza was full of people. We asked a man up the street if they thought it would be safe for us to pass through the Plaza and we were told no, don't do that it's not safe. The man actually went and found us a map and showed us a new route to get to back to where we were staying and bypass the Plaza. So it was just a like two streets up.
We were also isolated because we were totally alone. Like we didn't have a front desk staff like at a hotel or anything to help us. We went back to our Airbnb and you could hear the people coming closer. So we were getting really scared in our room. We couldn't go out for anything we needed. We didn't have any bottled water or food or anything and we couldn't go out and get it. We started phoning our travel agency that we booked all our flights with and started trying to change our plans. Our original flight was leaving on November 4th. We had three flights to get us all the way back home to Canada the first portion was just a two hour flight to Lima, which is in Peru. So we were just hoping that maybe we could move that first connection to that day but we were told that it was not possible. We had explained the situation that we were in and we told them that we were in danger. The police were on the street and in full riot gear.
There was an election for the presidency. The president that won has been the president for the last 12 years and he wanted to stay in power. It looked like the current president was not going to win and then there was an unexplained freeze in the vote counting for 24 hours, and they never told anybody why they were doing it.
When the voting count resumed, he had the 10 point lead. That he needed, so he was going to win. So basically the people in Bolivia thought that the election was fraudulent, and that's why they were protesting.
Somehow the roadblocks opened up for an hour and we went straight to the airport. Like we actually got one of the last taxis out of town we got so lucky. I was just so thankful when our flight finally took off.
Honestly, I just like don't want anybody else ever to go through that. I guess I just like want people to be aware that anything could happen.