Tag Archives: peru

Virtual Office News.  Paddington’s Journey Home from Peru to London.

 

My Marmalade Challenge..

If anyone read my last blog, it was quite the solitary adventure, but I really didn’t know what was in store for me over the next week. I’m happy to report that I am now safe and home with my family back in the UK. The last week abroad was one of the most mentally challenging times I have faced for several reasons, which I will explain.

My last blog explained how I ended up in lock-down in Cusco, Peru.  Now I will expand on the last week there and how I was repatriated home. As for most people in the world, the days were blurring into each other and life was continuing. I was still stuck in the hotel and continuing to try and find sanity through socialising with the other guests in the hotel and doing many laps around the courtyard to get those steps in.

Everything took a major turn when one day I was sitting in the courtyard discussing how bored I was. I thought I would do something about this and print off some cards to play. Whilst doing this a member of staff came up to me and the other guests saying that there was a suspected case of COVID-19. Due to this we would have to immediately go to our rooms and not leave. We would have food delivered and someone would come to update us later on.

By the time I went to collect my stuff everyone was gone. I went up to my room, not really sure what to make of this new situation. I wasn’t freaking out just yet as I didn’t know completely what was going on. I continued talking to some friends online when I looked out of my window, which had a view of the hotel’s courtyard, and saw four to six people in full hazmat suits disinfecting the courtyard. It honestly looked like the scene from Monsters Inc when one of the monsters gets a sock on it and all those disinfector monsters come out. Everything else I had experienced up until now did feel like I was watching some weird sci-fi movie, but this was the first time I really felt like I was living it and not just watching it.

Still unsure what to make of the whole new situation and with some very stressed parents at the end of the phone, some of the people in the hotel had made a WhatsApp group where we discussed what was going on. It wasn’t long from being stuck in my room that I heard the horrible news that the suspected COVID-19 patient from our hotel had passed away.

This is the point where I completely freaked out and didn’t know what to do. I remained calm whilst talking to my friend but completely lost it when speaking to my Dad over the phone, trying to get him to break the news slowly to my Mum, as I knew she wouldn’t be as calm on the phone. The next two days were genuinely some of the worst I experienced. Not in the sense of what I had to do whilst being stuck inside, but mentally, was completely draining.

On one side I was extremely sad about the guy in my hotel and really felt bad for that whole situation that the hotel was in, as everyone, including the staff were now quarantined in here together. On the other side, more selfishly I was extremely concerned for myself and my safety as suddenly the one place I had to be safe was now the most high-risk area in all of Cusco.

Mental exhaustion sets in..

After two days I was mentally exhausted but had calmed down and just focused on talking to family and friends and getting through this ordeal. I was being fed well and I had people come to the door who I gave my rubbish to and who gave me toiletries and clean towels.

I think considering the whole situation I was keeping vague sanity because at the end of the day I was not the only person going through a weird situation, most of the world was, which was weirdly comforting at a time like this. After what felt like many days, there were rumours circulating that there was going to be a plane to come and save us. There had been several tweets from the embassy hinting at potential repatriation and were all just waiting for that special email to come through to our inbox.

The WhatsApp chat with many people in the hotel had everyone discussing when or if they had any potential flights out. People were slowly leaving in drips and drabs but there had been some problems with getting people out due to the high-risk hotel I was in.

We had a group of doctors come to visit us whilst the hotel had a major disinfecting effort with more people in Monsters Inc suits. It was quite a mixed reaction from everyone, but we all listened to what they had to say and then had inspections of our temperatures and oxygen saturation levels. Amusingly one of the hotel guests spoke Spanish and English so became the translator mediator between the hotel guests and doctors, and hence had to sit in on all our individual evaluations, which made for amusing awkward conversations for him to translate. The day the doctors came we were all forced outside our rooms for most of the day whilst the hotel was disinfected.  It was nice to get sunlight and properly chat to everyone even though we were wearing masks.

The biggest hurdle to come at us next was to be able to leave the hotel if we got a repatriation flight home. Due to the hotel being high-risk, the road the building was located in was behind a police line and no one was able to just walk out. We needed the doctors to come and give us documentation to show to the police that we were ok to leave and make our way to the airport. A few guests did initially have issues leaving as the doctors wouldn’t give them permission. The next day they were able to leave with the right paperwork, but it was extremely disheartening to see them go to the door and be turned away from their potential flight.

The hotel told us that the moment we heard about a flight home we would have to tell them so they could ring the doctor and they could come immediately to give us the all clear. The issue was that the doctor would never pick up the call or would take a long time to. Problems arose when you get the email late in the evening telling you to meet at the airport very early the next morning, giving no opportunity for the doctors to come.

After what felt like a VERY LONG TIME I did get my email. I was ecstatic, along with some very relieved parents. I went to the front desk to ask for the doctor as I was leaving at 6am the next morning and it was already around 5:30pm. After quite a few hours of waiting no doctor turned up. I called the front desk who reported to me that the doctor will meet us at the meeting point and that the police should let us through. This had gone against everything they had told us at the time, but I wasn’t going to question it.

A moment of anxiety

I woke up after little sleep with great anxiety about the day ahead. I met the two other Brits who I had become quite friendly with after all this time. We were all feeling quite nervous. A staff member came to meet us and let us out of the building, but only after a good spray of disinfectant all over us. The police by the hotel didn’t bother us and we left the police line behind.

I definitely felt quite emotional leaving and walking outside. It was an odd sensation seeing Brits all walking the street early in the morning, like some kind of exodus. We walked to the meeting point and there must’ve been around 200-300 people all there in masks and most of us in gloves too. After being so long in isolation suddenly being in a big group felt very wrong. There was a big British flag indicating the meeting point and many coaches to take us to the airport to start to make the long journey home.

We reached the airport long before it opened to ensure everything ran smoothly. We queued outside the gates, all trying to keep to one floor-tile per person in a vague attempt at social distancing. As time passed more countries turned up and queued too. We saw other people from our hotel who had also left, which was great to see.

After around two hours it was finally time to pass the gates into the entrance of the airport. Everyone got their temperatures checked by an official in a hazmat suit. The only word I can describe the whole airport experience was rather apocalyptic. The mood wasn’t sad as everyone was pleased to be leaving but everyone was rather quiet on the whole. We formed lines that snaked outside for check-in and eventually reached the front desk where we were handed a ticket for a flight to Lima.

For security the line was again formed from outside and snaked its way in. Once through security it was directly onto the plane. Nothing was open, unsurprisingly, to have a browse. When getting on the flight it was a sit-anywhere situation. We waited a while for everyone to get on the flight and then it was time to leave. I was quite emotional looking at the window during the flight, thinking about the past few days and leaving behind what I thought was going to be a long time travelling. I think I was also experiencing a lot of relief on that first flight and knowing I would at least be home to deal with this unworldly situation.

It was a strange site flying over Lima, you could just see very empty roads, excluding some lorries and trucks. Maybe it was because I was looking for the weirdness, but I really felt like you could tell how quiet it was from up there. When landing I could see two British Airways flights waiting on the tarmac for us. It felt very patriotic seeing the BA planes, kind of amusingly so. We had to wait a while on the smaller plane before being escorted on a bus towards the big plane for the long flight home. We never went inside Lima airport, simply taken from one flight to the next. All of our luggage was laid out on the floor and after getting off the bus we had to indicate to staff which was ours before getting on the larger plane.

It was a sit anywhere situation again, although they tried to get us to fill up from the back. The staff were all very helpful and friendly with the pilot walking through to chat and even the UK ambassador popping in on the speaker to say a few words. As with most of the day we had to wait a few hours before leaving as we had to wait for other groups of people to make it on this larger plane from around the country, and we were one of the first groups to arrive.

Whilst waiting on this plane I did see the other one take-off towards home which was exciting to see. After quite a few hours of being close together people had let down their guards a bit and started to remove masks and gloves as considering you are going to be on a 12-hour flight together it’s not going to make a huge difference. The flight itself was rather normal, maybe with less staff and not the normal hot food. Other than that the entertainment worked and we were given mini-meals, which is all I could ask for.

Up, up and away..

The flight went quick and when we landed, we did give a little cheer. I’m not usually one for clapping when the plane lands, but for this experience I was all for it. We landed in Terminal 5, Heathrow which was a much more normal experience compared to Cusco and Lima Airport. Much less masks and hazmat suits. Heathrow was oddly quiet, with us as the only flight at the baggage hall but it wasn’t the weirdest of experiences compared to the last few days.

I met my dad at the airport which was one of the best sights to see. It felt nice to be home, and not too strange. The roads were quiet, but nothing completely crazy. It was heart-warming to see the NHS signs. The best thing of all though was to see my dog’s amazing reaction to be being home. My dog’s reaction was definitely worth and much better than my family as my mum wasn’t sure whether to touch me or not, which was quite amusing. After a half-hearted hug she immediately sent me to the shower, which I guess was fair enough.

I’ve now been back for 2 weeks. The first week I really felt out of my own body and didn’t feel like I was home. I’ve now started to come into my self this week, actually leaving the house for dog walks and attempting some form of exercise when I can bring myself to. I feel much more myself this week, which is great. Being home is definitely the best thing in this weird time, spending lots of time with family and pets isn’t so bad compared to a confined room in a foreign country.

I completely understand I didn’t have it bad compared to others, I know there are still people stuck abroad who are hopefully on their way out soon. I’m also aware that I’m lucky that I made it home quite simply in the end, even if it did take a while. Just thought it would be interesting to share this completely crazy situation, as I don’t think I will ever experience anything quite like it again.

Hope everyone is keeping safe and doing well.

Peru Exclusive: One of Our Ex-Staffers Reports From Darkest Peru.

Stuck in Peru

paddington bear

 

If Paddington Bear can make it out, then so can I. Well at least that is the mentality I have been attempting to channel in these weird past few days since I have been quarantined in darkest Peru.

For some perspective, I recently completed my master’s degree, and before giving in to the real world and getting a full time job, I decided to backpack, pushing off responsibility for 6 months.

I started my adventure in Chile, landing in Santiago and made my way down to the very south of South America to the city of Ushuaia, known as the end of the world. I have seen and done some insane and amazing things, from climbing up and sliding down volcanoes to seeing Pumas in Patagonia. From there, my route over the next month or so took me through Argentina, back into Chile through the Atacama desert and then onto the insane spectacle of the Bolivian Salt Flats, a real highlight of my time so far.

By the time I reached La Paz in Bolivia, in early March, the news outside my travels was becoming difficult to ignore. I was expecting a friend to join me for a couple of weeks in Cusco, Peru. I was planning on meeting him there on the 17th, so I was making my way across the continent to make it in time. Whilst in La Paz, I suffered a bout of food poisoning, something almost all travellers get at some point. I spent a day in a hotel room recovering and spending much time talking to friends and family on the world situation. At this point we thought that even with what was going on, that my friend would still be able to meet me in a few days, but my other friend coming later in April might face more difficulty getting out.

Well, things were about to change and about to change quickly.

In the morning I received a text from my friend saying there would be a slim chance of him making it, but I couldn’t discuss it with him as I was getting on a bus to Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca. Whilst on this bus the topic of Coronavirus was the main topic of discussion, with no one being really sure what to make of it. When we reached Copacabana the slightly strange discussion continued but the world around us continued as normal.

peru

When I eventually made it to my hostel, I spoke to my friend and during that phone call came the announcement that no flights from Europe would be entering Peru from the 16th, the day he was meant to be landing. This was hugely upsetting, but did not come as a great shock to either of us.

I then got a much more interesting phone call from my parents. They made it quite clear that they wanted me to leave South America as soon as possible. Comments being thrown at me about not wanting to be stuck in Bolivia or Columbia by myself. I was a bit taken aback by this, just as generally my Dad, unlike my Mum, is one of the most chill people on the planet, and if he was demanding that I leave, I really wasn’t going to put up a fight. From where I was on the planet it was difficult to understand the significance from outside my window.

I was planning on travelling to New Zealand later on in my travels but we decided that was a good place to be, as I had great family there, who were happy to house and support me for a bit. We booked flights to Auckland, leaving on the 17th from Cusco, giving me a few days to be able to get there. It was going to be at least a day long coach ride to get to an airport that would allow me to get a local flight to Cusco.  When I went back to my room in the rather empty hostel, I explained what I was doing to my roommate, who looked at me like I was completely and utterly crazy. I went to bed feeling slightly uneasy with my decision, as everything here was still continuing on as normal.

I woke up extremely early to a lot of pinging on my phone. New Zealand was introducing a 15 day quarantine to anyone entering the country, irrespective of where you were coming from. This was not welcome news. This meant my family wouldn’t be able to take me in, understandably, as they have vulnerable people in their house. 15 days isolated in a foreign country didn’t sound like fun, but my parents were still convinced it was the right decision and it’s better than being stuck in a country where I don’t speak the language and have no support system at all.

That afternoon I was crossing the border into Peru and met a few more British travellers who, like me, were also changing their travel plans drastically. This did comfort me, as I now didn’t think I was completely overreacting to this odd situation. On the bus I bumped into several people I had previously met throughout my travels and a few of them were also rushing into Peru as they felt it was a better place to be, oh how wrong we were.

I spent a single night in Puno, on Lake Titicaca and from Puno made my way on a packed bus to Cusco. I had finally made it and could rest easy, or so I thought. I made it to Puno on the 15th and had a full day there before getting a flight out. Due to the last minute travel changes I was in a simple, but nice hotel rather than a hostel for my time here. I had a nice evening to myself walking around the city and had a delicious, although quiet meal out. At dinner I spent all my time finding AirBnbs near Auckland that would take in someone who was self-quarantining. I had quite a bit of success and found this beautiful apartment in a nature reserve, around an hour out of the city near a beach which would’ve been the perfect place.

At 5:30am the next morning I got a call from my parents who had spoken to my family in Auckland to say , yes, book it, so I did. A mere 2 hours later I received word from a friend I had met a few days ago who was still in Puno that Peru was closing its borders by the end of the day.

no flights to lima

I genuinely didn’t know how to react to this information. Every-time I booked a flight or accommodation, a few hours later I was being told that my plan wouldn’t work. The world was spiralling quickly and I and almost every traveller was not able to keep up. The hotel didn’t really know what was going on and the information I had received was through friends, nothing official so it was extremely difficult to know what was really going on.

The article I had seen stated that the borders were closing at 2300hrs, therefore I should’ve had enough time to get out of Peru, to at least Santiago, which was where my flight was connecting to a further flight towards Auckland. The issue was that there were no flights leaving Cusco the whole day and to drive it takes 20hrs, so that was clearly not an option. I stressfully packed everything, even though it was futile and spoke to the family trying to work out what to do.

Late in the afternoon, after a mentally challenging day, and after accepting that I was probably staying in Cusco for a bit, I went for a walk outside. The streets were busy with lots of stressed looking tourists. I was outside during siesta hours, meaning most shops and restaurants are shut whilst everyone has a midafternoon nap. It only occurred to me a few hours after being outside, that this was no siesta closure, this was because of Corona. I went back to the hotel, still slightly in disbelief and woke up the next day to quite a different world.

The next morning I was supposed to checkout of the hotel and move into a nearby hostel which I had booked for 5 nights and then would make a decision on whether to stay or move elsewhere. When sitting at breakfast in the hotel I was speaking to others and I soon realised that we were not allowed out of the hotel. Oh dear. My friend in Arequipa told me he was locked in a day before, but after walking around the night before I didn’t think we would get the same fate as him.

I walked over to the reception and they told me that we could only leave to go to the supermarket. The Government in Peru had removed freedom of movement and wanted everyone to stay indoors. This is obviously a slight issue for me. I told them that I was checking out and they said I could walk to the hostel as it wasn’t far. I then had the dilemma of where to go for the next two weeks, because wherever it was, I would be staying there and not leaving. I was leaning towards the hostel as there would be young people backpacking, like me, and we could bond through this together. When looking at extending my time at the hostel online it was fully booked. This forced my decision to stay at the hotel. I was initially really upset about it but eventually was very happy being in this hotel, as the hostel I was planning on moving to was having problems with the police due to large gatherings of people and most of the occupants were even taken to the police station for a few hours.

At least at the hotel I have had my own private space, with a bathroom and large windows bringing in lots of light from a courtyard that I looked out over. I have really learnt to appreciate this space as it has allowed me to talk most hours of the day to friends and family back home without annoying everyone else staying here. I’m lucky as the hotel is still providing food and there are lots of friendly faces in the hotel too and we are all going through this crazy and uncertain time together. My room definitely feels bigger the more time I spend there, as I recall the first time I saw it thinking that it was rather small, but great for the two nights I was gonna be there.

I have been entertaining myself through the wonders of technology and haven’t spent too much time looking at a blank wall. My friends and family back home have been amazing in keeping me occupied, and I honestly don’t even have much time to myself. Some amazing apps have become great time wasters and FaceTime is becoming part of this routine. The people in the hotel have also been great, chatting about other things then just this madness. The hotel does lack board games and cards, so we had a look at ordering some. It would’ve taken roughly a week to arrive and cost £20 in delivery, so we passed, and who knows whether it would’ve actually arrived.

I have gone to the supermarket a few times to pass the time, and every-time was an odd experience. Firstly, it was queuing half an hour to get in on the day the border closure was announced. The next two time it was experiencing the empty streets of Cusco, excluding a lot of police around who on every corner asked you where you were going. I haven’t been for the last few days as I think you need a mask to get into the store, but apparently there are military soldiers on the streets from videos I’ve seen. I don’t have a window onto the street so I really am quite clueless on what is truly going outside these walls.

In terms of fitness, well that really has gone down the drain, I’m attempting to reach a decent step count by walking around the courtyard probably hundreds of times, but it’s difficult to mentally do it. It is quite funny watching people just walk around the courtyard endlessly, but I do find myself doing it now. I even attempted to do an exercise video in my room, but felt like everyone in the dining room below me eating lunch could hear me jumping up and down, so I might leave that until I get home.

There are quite a mix of nationalities here, with two other young Brits here which is great for me as we can relate to this weird time. We have Canadians, Americans, Mexicans, Brazilian, Polish, Germans, Israeli and I’m sure others who I haven’t spoken to.

I think it’s the fifth or sixth day of shutdown, but I’m not hugely sure. The days have very much blurred into one and when I think of my travels before it genuinely feels like a few years ago.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m in a relatively safe place with food and toilet roll, though don’t be too jealous. I know people stuck in less tourist-centric places who are much more concerned at getting out. Here, unlike home, the shops are fully stocked, in fact my friend brought my back several avocados which I will enjoy for lunch over the next few days.

peru

In terms with how we are getting out, it’s all been relatively confusing and frustrating. Since day one of lock-down there has been this huge group chat on Whatsapp with British tourists stuck in Cusco. This Whatsapp chat has been a huge source of information and hard work from a lot of people, definitely seeing the best and worst of humanity on it. Through this group have been interviews with news outlets around the world trying to tell our story.

I think the Brits stuck here have felt quite abandoned by our home country. We’ve seen other countries, such as Israel and France get out their citizens for free or a reasonable cost and rather quickly. Whereas we have been campaigning noisily, to only be met with completely idoitic responses. We have been offered $3500 flights, which is extortionate, especially when most Brits here are backpackers on limited budgets. We have then been offered $4500 flights to Paris, which is completely futile as how are we meant to get from Paris to London, not even mentioning the cost. We were also advised by the embassy to look at flights to Madrid, even though there is no guaranteed route from Madrid to London, and who wants to be stuck in Madrid at the moment. No one.

Only in the last few hours, after days and days have we heard some real positive news. We have received emails from the government saying there should be some flights over the next week. Still feels a bit early to start celebrating just yet as nothing is confirmed and I don’t know how they intend to get those in more difficult to reach areas as the roads are currently army-blocked. I am hopeful, although going home is really just the start of a continuation of a difficult journey for the whole planet, although I can then quarantine with the joy of all of my pets to keep me relatively sane.

 

Blogger Notes:

Jessica joined the Hold Everything virtual office team, based at 207 Regent Street, London in September 2014, after her A’Levels. Taking a year away from education, she worked with the team for 6 months then went travelling before starting her Degree in Biology.

During her 3 year degree she provided cover for other staff members during their annual breaks and worked remotely when she had time around her studies.

Completing her degree she undertook a masters in Tourism, environment & development, where during this year she worked 2 days a week for Hold Everything attending to many compliance matters.

Jessica went off travelling and naturally in time hopes to obtain regular work in her chosen field. However, the team became aware of Jessica’s situation, to keep her focused she has taken to her computer, enjoy the read.