The Search

I was awake at around four in the morning but fought the urge to get up and slept a bit more until Santiago, who is the ranger who was in our room, got up at six. I thought he was beginning work, but actually he was only going to breakfast. He came back to the room around seven and then went back to sleep. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was.

Once we were up, Silvio and I went for breakfast and we were all on the way by eight. We first went to the train station and tried to get a ticket on the local train, which they never allow tourists to take, since it is ten Soles, or three dollars, versus eighty dollars that the tourists have to pay. Silvio tried to explaiun to them that we were not toursist but were rather in the employ of the police, but they didn’t really care. Finally, we were running late, and gave up and bought at Inca rail like the tourists.

The rangers were supposed to meet us along the trail, but actually they were killing time in the shops when they were supposed to be at work. That proved to be the way they would be the entire day, unprofessional and silly.

Silvio and I set off, setting a quick pace and then they rapidly outpaced us, some kind of macho urge kicking in that wouldn’t let them relax. We let them go ahead until we got to the spot where the guy had crossed the river, and then Silvio called Santiago to see if he wanted us to employ the drone there, but instead, he demanded that we go to kilometre one hundred and eighteen and fly the drone beside the bridge. On the basis of no evidence, Santiago had decided the body must be near the bridge. In the conversation, Silvio told me a little bit later, Santiago had referred to what we were doing as Operation Drone. It was  a moment before we got over laughing at the hubris and silliness, and Silvio confessed that he was reluctant to tell me, he was so embarrassed for his fellow countryman.

We walked for the two hours that it took for us to get to the bridge, just over eight kilometres, until we met with Santiago and the other rangers again. They claimed to be searching the river, but they obviously were not, since they were still ahead of us. When we saw them along the shore they claimed there were birds hanging around, and they suggested that they were birds that might be hanging around a body. I doubted it personally, for the calls were the same bird calls we’d been hearing all along. I think they were taking a break and prepared the story for our arrival.

When we finally arrived at the bridge, Silvio flew his drone. Sadly, Silvio and I were the only ones who seemed to be interested in finding the body. Santiago was mostly concerned with taking photos of himself with the drone, as if it was his accomplishment, although he showed a lot of interest while Silvio flew the river. During the flight, an older man came by with a machete and stood near so he could see what was going on. I talked to him a bit, about how he had worked in the park for over thirty years, and about how the trails the Incans had built wound around in the hills. Mostly he watched, standing off to one side so he could see what Silvio was doing with the drone. He seemed to be shy, as if someone were about to yell at him for being there.

Once one of the batteries was drained, we moved on toward the town. We stopped at another spot and Silvio flew both up and downstream. At one point, they thought they had something, but it proved to be trash that had likely washed down from the town. We had a bit of time left on one of the batteries, so we walked toward town. Silvio asked me, on the basis of Santiago’s excitement about the drone, if I wanted to stay another day, and I said if it were needed. Half an hour later, Silvio had chsnged his mind and wanted to catch our train. He told me later that the stupidity was getting to him, as well as what Santiago wanted the drone for. The ranger was mostly interested in self promotion, and that became evebn more apparent later when he asked Silvio to fly above the rocks where we had treid the drone in the rain the night before. There were local police below with dogs searching the bank, so it was not necessary, and it was more than obvius that santaigo merely wanted to show up the local Peruvian forces.

I said it was ridiculous to go below, since we could fly down, and Silvio told him there was little battery left. We also reminded him that we had a train to catch. Silvio set the drone up, tried to fly, but it wasn’t happy with the electrical wire and the railway tracks. Santiago was frustrated and wanted us to go down the bank, but Silvio told him we didn’t have time and we were running out of battery.

We left Santiago there, theoretically helping the searchers, while we went to town with Palle, a Neuquino that tagged along with us once he found out what we were doing. Silvio and he truned out to have friends in common in Zapala, where he was from, so they chatted on the way to town. Before long, as we walked fast in order to get to town to catch our train, we met up with the Argentian Consul and the forensics experts, Marcela. Silvio showed them the footage, and was trying to copy the files, when I left to get to the hotel and pack and shower before we left. Palle joined me, and strangely wanted to talk. Typically Argentians ignore me, and especially don’t want to talk in English, but I guess my terrible Spanish inspired him, for we had talked earlier. He said he wanted to practice, and learn English, so I spoke mostly English and kept it basic, and we managed a fun conversation into town and I was happy to have met him.

Silvio had to run part of the way, since the authorities had kept him late, although he still had time to shower and copy files before we left. They told him they didn’t have a computer. Who travels without a computer or a tablet? They were debating how to view the videos when Silvio left them dripping in the rain forest.

The entire experience was estranging and illogical. I found it difficult to imagine how more poorly planned the entire enterprise could have been. The authorties from the two different countries woulhnd;t work together. The police had offered a drive out along the river and Santiago refused, since it was too early. Santaigo rather arbitrarily decided where the body was, and searched in a piecemeal fashion, the local dam decided to release water when we were searching for the body, and there was hope on the behalf of the confused searchers that it would wash the body into the open.

The drone could have been used effectively if they allowed Silvio to search where the body was most likely to be, and then to sweep the entire stream, but rather Santiago wanted to grandstand and spent most of his time strutting around like a game cock.

We made it to the train a bit early, and talked to a retired Californian couple who were visting with their children. I talked about children with the mother and the father talked with Silvio about drones and motorhomes.

Once we were on the train, we talked with the New York public defenders sitting across from us, and we traded traveling stories. The man’s version of India was similar to what I’ve heard from others, a difficult country to travel in, but the most memorable and intersteing. Raul was waiting for us with his car, so we were soon on our way back to the truck in Cuzco. It was relief to get to the truck. Raul told Silvio about how he had slept in the car, since he had had to leave the city at five in the morning due to the general strike and had killed time all day, washing his car, for instance, local style, by parking it in the river and using the river water.

Silvio and I were both sore and exhausted, but we bought some bread and vegetables on the way through the city, and assured Raul we would discuss pricing the next morning about the taxi ride. We ate a bit and then crashed, glad to be back in the truck and assured that Jorge would be there the next morning at nine so we could sleep in.

About Barry Pomeroy

I had an English teacher in high school many years ago who talked about writing as something that people do, rather than something that died with Shakespeare. I began writing soon after, maudlin poetry followed by short prose pieces, but finally, after years of academic training, I learned something about the magic of the manipulated word.
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