Stuck in Peru
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.