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The preceding article from the Carlisle Mosquito gives a pretty good overview of what we were doing. Here are some more photos and some details.
The earthquake happened in mid-August. Hands On Disaster Response sent Marc and Stefanie down there to find out if we could be of assistance. They surveyed much of the damaged region, mostly south of Lima and along the coast. The city of Pisco (pop. 130,000) was one of the most heavily damaged locales, although the epicenter was a bit to the north in the coastal city of Chincha (see map here).
The west coast of Peru is pretty much desert and badlands, a lot like Baja California. We were surprised by all the sand dunes and deserted badlands. Most of the towns and cities are situated where rivers flow down from the Andes mountains to the coast. All the agriculture appears to be done using irrigation from the rivers.
They managed to locate a disused former restaurant one block from the beach in Pisco Playa that the owner agreed to rent to us for use as a volunteer base. The idea behind Hands On is to set up a safe base where volunteers can be housed and fed and to provide them with the tools and the direction to help make a difference in the disaster area. Then they spread the word using the web to find volunteers in their home countries and among those who are already traveling in the region.
In Pisco, about 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. One hundred forty-eight people were killed in the church located at the central square (Plaza de Armas). The twin towers of the church remain but the rest has been bulldozed and a big green tent erected in the nave to hold services. The green inscription on the tower wall commemorates the 148 victims at the church. (The blue and white striped building is the city hall.)
A Wikipedia article on Pisco contains a photo of what the church used to look like before the quake. We can add Pisco to the list of places for which we will always wonder what they looked like "before": Biloxi, Yogyakarta, Santo Domingo.
Our base was located in the seaside neighborhood of Pisco Playa just one block from the Pacific ocean. Here is a sunset over the Pacific and a picture of our neighborhood viewed from the beach.
The front of the Hands On headquarters was a frequent gathering place for volunteers and also for the Peruvian Sailors and Marines who were detailed to patrol the city and who lived right next door to us.
The former restaurant contained a couple large rooms that we equipped with bunks, a covered outdoor area with more bunks, a kitchen, and a walled back yard that we used as a living room, tool storage, and for campfires. Clothslines were put up to dry the ever present pile of washed clothes and three showers were constructed to wash dirty volunteers.
We hired two Peruvian ladies to cook lunch and dinner for us. Many consider Peruvian food to be quite a treat, especially those who like chopped up raw fish parts marinated in lime juice. Also, it was not unheard of to have the following all together in one meal: rice, spaghetti, potatoes, possibly with a side of corn, yucca, and a roll. Mostly the food was ok though.
A favorite local drink was Inca Kola, established in 1935 and now sadly owned by Coca Cola. It is yellow, full of sugar, and has the taste of bubble gum. When you've been digging rubble on a hot day it doesn't taste too bad. Kinda grows on you. Helped a lot of volunteers get through a long afternoon.
One story has it that a volunteer took some Inca Kola home and submitted it to their urologist as a specimen. The resulting lab report stated, "Your llama has diabetes."
Here, volunteers relax around the fire out back. And Kiwi Alan conducts the Saturday Night Pub Quiz.
Here is our kitchen and a picture of Jo-Ann doing the laundry.
Daily tasks included scrounging firewood from among the ruins and returning beer bottles to one of the local shops. Hands On volunteers were instrumental in restoring the local economy-- one beer at a time. (The local brew, Cristal, wasn't bad at all.)
Here is a view of our street in Pisco Playa before the rubble was cleared away. Most streets now look more like the one on the right.
Many used cars from the US find their way south and are well cared for. One of our neighbors had a 1950 pickup truck in perfect running order. Street vendors were common and very convenient. There were also many people pushing carts and collecting scrap metal in order to try and make a living. In the quest for scrap, manhole covers, people's electric meters, and even doorbells often go missing.
Roast chicken appears to be the national dish, and chicken places abound on every corner. One of our local shops, know to us as Sal Monella's, offers chicken nightly. For $1.50 you can get a quarter chicken, large salad, a heap of french fries, and some Inca Kola. Of course, that's not all you may get. Most of us preferred to eat at "Finger Lickin" chicken, one block further away from the house, just around the corner from the brothel.
The closest shop that offered beer was known by the volunteers as The "Dog and Duck" and had a small table out front where you could relax.
Check out this video to see how the volunteers arrive at base:
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