Need help locating missing persons traveling in South America.
February 21, 2013 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I just found out that some friends of mine from Oakland, CA have gone missing while traveling through South America and I was hoping that there might be someone here that can help, either with resources or connections in South America.

They were last seen in Chile on January 25th when they purchased bus tickets with plans to end up in Lima on January 26th. No one has heard from them since. If you have any resources or helpful connections please let me know. I put a flyer with some information regarding their travel plans and their photos on my profile page. Thank you for your help.
posted by anoirmarie to Human Relations (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What a nightmare. I will pass this along through all of my social networks and through my work connections.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:05 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

what have their family/friends done so far? have they contacted local authorities, embassies and consulates?
posted by changeling at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2013

I have no resources, sorry, but I'd suggest firstly contacting the consular sections US Embassies in both countries and asking their advice. If they've come into contact with the police or a hospital then the consular section is a standard point for contact from authorities. They will also be able to suggest next steps.

I would also get a copy of the Lonely Planet/Rough guide for their starting point and Lima, and where the bus stops in between and fax/email all the hostels listed for those places. E.g. this list (for Lima). Doing this gives you three bites at finding them - the hostel owner, your friends themselves, and, if the notice is displayed: anyone travelling through who has seen them.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Do you have any idea what bus company they used?

Not that many companies do Chile to Lima service -- most likely only the bigger, safer, more expensive buses. This bodes well because A) those buses are safer, B) they're unlikely to make a lot of stops*, and C) these bus companies run their buses like airlines. You buy a ticket with your name on it, which is checked against your ID when you board. It's likely that a company like this would be able to double check that your friends really got on the bus, and it should be easy to narrow down stops along the way, if any.

It should also be easy enough to google for bus accidents and hijackings in Peru and Chile -- again, there are not all that many companies that run this particular service, and a fatal accident or hijacking that ended in kidnappings would have been in the Peruvian and/or Chilean news at least.

I'm not familiar with Chile, but the parts of Peru they'd be traveling through are not particularly dangerous or overrun with terrorists/criminal elements. It is very, very unlikely that harm came to them on the bus even if they took a circuitous route using several small local bus companies (which they likely didn't if they expected to be in Lima the following day -- Lima's halfway across the country from the Chilean border).
posted by Sara C. at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, contact the US Embassies in both Chile and Peru.


posted by dfriedman at 8:36 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

MuffinMan's advice is really good. A friend got separated from his brother on a backpacking trip through South America (ironically in Lima), and were finally able to reconnect a couple of weeks later through messages left at hostels.
posted by goggie at 8:37 AM on February 21, 2013

Muffin Man brings up an interesting point -- I'm not sure about Chile, but Peru has a few big hostel chains. People doing the Peruvian backpacker circuit tend to hop from outpost to outpost along the same chain. The community is actually quite small within those circles, and you tend to run into the same people over and over. Do you have any clue at all where they were planning to stay in Lima, or know anything about further travel plans in Peru?

I wouldn't start with emailing every hostel in a particular guidebook unless you have some inkling of which guidebook they used, what their taste in lodgings is like, etc. There are a LOT of accommodation options in Lima, far more than could ever appear in any guidebook. (Not to mention that "stay in the hostel listed in your guidebook" is pretty much obsolete as a way to find a place to stay as a backpacker. Which isn't to say that they didn't, or that it's a bad idea to call hostels -- just that there are easier ways to figure out the hostel they may have stayed in.)

Are they members of CouchSurfing or any other online backpacker community? That might be another way to find them. Do you know if they used hostelworld or hostelbookers to make reservations? The people who run those sites might be able to give you access to their accounts, or at least tell you where they had upcoming reservations, or something like "they reviewed a B&B in Nazca on 2/13".
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just read your flyer, which has no mention of Chile (?), and saw that they were traveling on Cruz Del Sur and making a ton of different stops in Peru (about which more in a sec).

Have you spoken to anyone at Cruz Del Sur? They are one of the big expensive bus companies that basically work like an airline -- you buy a ticket in your name, assigned to a particular seat, they check your ticket against your ID at boarding, etc. Cruz Del Sur should be able confirm that they boarded all these buses and did in fact end up in Lima. All the routes in your flyer are express routes and wouldn't have made a ton of stops in poky little villages where passengers could be easily lost.

OK, more about the route you mention in your flyer.

There is no WAY someone could do that itinerary in one day. If your friends told you that they were leaving Cuzco on the 25th, stopping in all those cities, and then arriving in Lima on the 26th, I don't know if there was a misunderstanding somewhere or if they were deliberately trying to mislead you or what. But the stops listed on your flyer are, like, a grand tour of Peru. It's as if I said I was going to visit New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, and Atlanta all in the same day.

The itinerary you list on the flier is much more likely to be several bus tickets purchased for use over the course of a few weeks touring the country. Are you super duper 100% sure that this wasn't their plan, and that someone, somewhere didn't misunderstand where they were going to be?

The fact that they were intending to visit Abancay implies that they planned to do some long treks -- it's a popular place for multi-day hikes to archaeological sites. They would be completely off the grid and incommunicado for several days on one of these treks.
posted by Sara C. at 8:58 AM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

The only idea I have aside from the good advice above is the Peace Corps. When I was backpacking through Peru 6 or 7 years ago, I ran into Peace Corps volunteers a lot. They knew about all the best hostels, laundry facilities, internet cafes, anyplace a traveler might need. You might try contacting some of the Peru Peace Corps volunteers to see if they can send out a message to their volunteers. A friend I made from that time suggests these groups/sites:

Amigos de Bolivia y Peru (for returned volunteers, but they also send out news to current volunteers)
Peru Peace Corps Journals (friend suggests emailing one of the bloggers to see if they can email your flyer to the other volunteers)

Were your friends supposed to check in with people back home every few days? Is that why you suspect they are missing as opposed to just going on a long hike as Sara C mentions?

The Cuzco-Abancay-Nazca-Ica-Lima route could maybe take one full day (18-24 hours) of bus riding, and long bus rides with were pretty common for travelers when I was there (the bus stops at various towns, and to refuel, but never for very long). It could have included changing buses part of the way as well. Were they supposed to stop along the way or were they going straight through (also common -- lots of travelers go to Macchu Picchu at Cuzco, and then straight on to Lima)? By the way, all those locations on the bus route are in Peru. Any idea how they were going to go from Chile to Peru?
posted by bluefly at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bluefly raises a good point. Are the cities mentioned on the flyer destination points that your friends planned to stop at along the way, or just cities where the bus makes stops? Or cities the bus passes through on the route without actually stopping?

There are several daily non-stop buses from Cuzco to Lima on Cruz Del Sur. Having traveled that exact route using that same bus company, myself, it seems odd to me that they would arrange to take multiple buses from city to city rather than just getting a non-stop if they wanted to go directly from Cuzco to Lima. (none of the routes on Cruz Del Sur are cheap, so it's probably not a matter of economics, either.)

While the non-stop buses make a few refueling/shift change stops on an overnight trip, these buses don't work like Greyhound in the US where they stop every couple hours and let everyone off to stretch their legs. They are really a lot more like flying. Meals are served, there's a bathroom, and you're not expected to disembark along the way. Cruz Del Sur's market is wealthy people who want to get from Point A to Point B.

That's why I assumed that the different cities listed are specific destinations they wanted to stop at rather than stops the bus would make or transfer points between buses.

Obviously it's very possible that they booked this trip the hard way rather than the easy way, or that they thought the bus would stop in these cities and misunderstood, or that they got off the bus at a refueling stop and got left behind not realizing that it was a five minute thing rather than the longer stops American buses make, or any number of bad decisions and mishaps.

The fact that they were in Cusco and planned to arrive in Lima (possibly via other cities popular with backpackers) strongly suggests that they are doing the Peruvian backpacker circuit and may have been hopping from hostel to hostel within the same chain. Do you have any way of finding out where they stayed in Cusco? At the very least someone there might remember them and be able to clarify their travel plans.
posted by Sara C. at 9:45 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check your memail.
posted by Vaike at 9:55 AM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: I posted this in a hurry this morning, read the flyer incorrectly. Disregard what I wrote about Chile. Sorry. Thank you for your answers so far. I've sent a link of this post to the family members, so hopefully this will help.
posted by anoirmarie at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: I switched the flyer on my profile page. I should add that they were bike touring through the Cusco region of Peru. I don't know if that's at all helpful. I'm not sure if the cities listed were cities that they planned on biking through, or if that was the bus route. All that's known at this point is that the last place they were seen was at the bus company listed on the flyer purchasing tickets on January 25th.
posted by anoirmarie at 1:04 PM on February 21, 2013

The good news is that the Cusco area is pretty safe for foreigners. Tourists do sometimes get mugged/assaulted in the city proper but usually they're out alone, very late, and very drunk.

Also good news is that there's a network in place that could probably help with increasing your friends' visibility -- there are tons of NGOs in Cusco/the Sacred Valley run by Americans, most of which have a constant revolving door for volunteers from the U.S. (who themselves travel, stay in hostels, may have met your friends, etc.). Many have Facebook pages and websites. Might you contact some of these organizations to ask them if they'd be willing to post flyers? Also, the Cross Keys Pub and Norton's Rat are hotspots for foreigners, and would be a good place to post such info.

(First of all, of course, contact the embassy in Lima!)
posted by artemisia at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The U.S. embassy just posted a travel warning about kidnappings in Cusco a week ago. You should call the embassy immediately if they are missing.
posted by Capri at 2:03 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think bluefly is right, based on the limited info you have, that your friends likely were planning to ride directly to Lima on a bus that passes through those other places. If you look on the cruzdelsur site, there is a Cusco / Abancay / Nasca / Lima route that corresponds to their planned arrival time in Lima. They might have bought this indirect route if the more direct buses were full. Loki is a giant backpacker hostel in cusco; I'd recommend contacting them to see if they'll put up your flyer. I would also echo the above suggestions that your best bet is skyping the cruzdelsur bus company to see what information they have. If you don't speak spanish or want someone closer to the scene, there are several expat-owned guesthouses and hostels in cusco, I would call or email some hostels to see if someone is willing to call or go to the bus station on your behalf.
posted by btkuhn at 9:40 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's also a loki in lima that you might want to contact.
posted by btkuhn at 9:46 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to talk to the South American Explorers group. They have a clubhouse in Cusco and would probably post a flyer. They may be able to give you other leads as well.
posted by valeries at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2013

Glad to see the feds are trying to help. I hope you can update us with good news.
posted by availablelight at 10:27 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Apparently they've been located.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:50 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh god I hope so, I just came back to post this CNN article, which hasn't been updated if they've truly been located
posted by changeling at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2013

I just saw this from Reuters.
posted by capricorn at 7:33 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so relieved that Sara C was right, and they were just on a long trek! Yay for happy endings!!!!!
posted by bluefly at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry I never updated this. Thank you for your responses. Thank goodness for happy endings.
posted by anoirmarie at 7:47 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

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