The first year Cynthia and I lived in Charleston, SC we rode out Hurricane Floyd. Our decision to remain in town was based neither on bravado nor stupidity. In truth the evacuation of the city was so poorly planned that the freeways were hopelessly backed up and leaving really wasn’t a choice.
It was a scary night but we obviously survived. The next morning I walked around to assess the damage and retrieve our car which I had parked in a garage in case the streets flooded. It was an amazingly eerie feeling to stroll through what in one day had become a ghost town. All the doors and windows were boarded up and the vast majority of the population had fled. There were no cars, no pedestrians. And the silence was remarkable.
I haven’t thought about that day in a long time, but today walking to the Supermaxi the memory came rushing back. Because today Cuenca is also a virtual ghost town.
It is Carnaval here, and today is the final day of a four day celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday. Everyone who can has left the city to celebrate at the coast or family places in the country. Almost every shop and restaurant is closed.
As I write this I am looking out the window onto Avenida Paucarbamba, our main thoroughfare. There is not one moving vehicle or pedestrian in sight on what is normally a bustling Tuesday afternoon. As I walked to the store earlier I was struck with the recognition of that same weird silence I experienced in Charleston in 1999. I heard no car alarms because there were no cars in use. No dogs were barking since there were no people walking by to provoke them (I’ve taken this route enough to know which houses to avoid).
There is a taxi stand outside the grocery store. Waiting with shopping bags was a woman and her child. No taxis. It suddenly struck me that I hadn’t seen a single cab on my walk, which is highly unusual. Uh-oh. I had a long list in my pocket that included frozen items. What to do?
I sat outside a few minutes to assess my situation. A lot of times we all “go with the flow” here, but today there was no more than a “drip” to go with(which was what my ice cream and bag of ice purchases were going to be doing if I didn’t be proactive and come up with a plan). Although the lady was having no luck at the taxi station I observed a couple of cabs go by a half block away on a perpendicular street. Armed with this nugget of reconnaissance I decided to take my chances and go for it.
Inside the Supermaxi I met some blog fans who have just arrived in town. They’re staying in a hotel nearby and were checking out the store since everything else was closed. I offered to have them accompany me up and down the aisles so I could show them some of the things we’ve learned the hard way through trial and error over this past year. Longtime readers know I’ve experienced many misadventures within those walls.
After we parted and I paid the bill I had the bag boy stay with the groceries at the stand while I jogged up to the corner. Sure enough I immediately flagged a taxi and signaled him to drive around the block and pick me and my bags up. When my new friends emerged and saw us loading the trunk they said, “Wow, you were lucky!” No, sometimes you have to create your luck.
It is 3 PM now and I’m starting to see a slow trickle of cars on the street. Our citizens are returning and Cuenca is coming back to life. Tomorrow morning the buses, car alarms, honking horns, and barking dogs will all be back on duty. The peace and quiet has been a delightful holiday of its own for those few of us who remained in town.