Military airport, taking an infrared laser gun temperature, masks and safety distances: I never thought that the end of my trip to Peru would be like an end of the world movie scene. However, this is how my trip ends: with two weeks of confinement in Cusco in Peru and a repatriation.
Many testimonies of people stranded abroad or repatriated seem very anxiety-provoking and it was while reading them that I realised how lucky I was to experience this confinement in a fairly serene way. Solidarity, yoga classes, sports tournaments and positive thoughts in the midst of a global pandemic: I have to say it has been quite an extraordinary sociological experience.
A few hours before the announcement of the containment in Peru, I was in Rainbow Mountain, a walk over 5000 meters above sea level. My return flight scheduled for more than a week had already been canceled that morning and I had been unable to contact either the airline or the embassy. I only knew that Latin America had so far been fairly spared in number of cases and I was naively confident about the rest of the trip. Suffice to say that the return to reality was brutal. I decided it was best to go back to the closest biggest city on the same day and headed back to my previous hostel in Cusco. When I got back to the hostel, the music suddenly stopped and faces started to look tense, I understood that something important was happening. The TV turns on the speech of Martin Vizcarra, Peruvian president. The first measure dictated was very strict: total confinement imposed for all, closing of shops, prohibition from going to work (except for essential goods or services).
Firm action to combat Covid-19
After the announcement of containment, some strict measures got released straight away:
- Tourists are prohibited from leaving the hotel in certain cases (even for shopping).
- Prohibition from selling or drinking alcohol.
- Curfew, first from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., then from 6 p.m. (even 4 p.m. in certain regions).
- Exemption from criminal responsibility for soldiers and police officers responsible for enforcing quarantine if they injure or kill in self-defense.
- Alternate outings for men and women (men are only allowed to go out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for women. No one goes out on Sunday!).
Suffice to say that the gap seemed immense to me when, at the same time (mid-March), we saw our compatriots rushing without mask in the parks to take advantage of the sun.
These measures may seem extreme, but I cannot help thinking that Peru’s health system is far from being as efficient as that of European countries and that the consequences of Covid-19 can be much more disastrous for a population less favored and more fragile.
Confinement at the end of the world: a sociological experience
According to studies on the impact of confinement on psychology, the negative consequences are recurrent: depression, stress, boredom …! For my part, I have rarely seen so much solidarity, mutual aid, positive attitude and imagination to share the tasks and occupy our days: an autonomous and happy mini-society.
The key to success: stay active to avoid moping. We did not lack imagination: initiation to yoga, board games, sports sessions, films on the big screen… This string of activities was possible thanks to the diversity of nationalities and personalities as creative as enthusiastic of the hostel without forgetting the team of the hostel very caring for us despite the very delicate situation (no help is planned for companies in Peru).
Hazardous official communication
Registered since the beginning of the trip on Ariane (platform of the French government to keep in touch with its nationals in case of problems), I was surprised to have been very rarely contacted by email. Embassy releases were posted only on social media and were not always clear. If I managed to get a return ticket it was by bypassing the sometimes contradictory instructions that we received. I would still be stuck if I had tried online shopping on the internet or waited for Air France to contact me (as the embassy advised). Several people are still in Cusco today. They may have been less fortunate or perhaps less comfortable with the web or social media.
A repatriation worthy of a science fiction film
First bus attempt
The first attempt to move French nationals from Cusco to Lima was, to say the least, lunar. Announced on Facebook at 3:30 p.m., for a bus departure at 5 p.m.: we rush to reach an unlikely address far enough from the tourist area without any idea of the rest of the program. By setting foot outside (for the first time in several days), we discover a deserted city. We realise that, without a mask, we are persona non grata on the buses. Pedestrians walk away when we approach. Once we use our scarves to cover our faces, passersby help us with a smile and show us the way.
When we arrive at our destination, we pay in cash the equivalent of an air ticket from Cusco to Lima. Once well-seated on the bus, a dramatic change: the transfer is canceled. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru finally refused the trip. We return to our hostel which, luckily, accepts us. This is not the case for other travelers who are denied entry to avoid contagion…
Second attempt by plane
The second, better organised attempt is just as mind-blowing. We have in hand our precious sesame: a flight from Cusco to reach Lima and then an Air France flight! At the first airport we are asked to line-up, mask on the face, and to keep more than a meter away from each other. A person in a full coat takes the temperature with an infrared laser gun. Our luggage is then deposited on the ground to be inspected by sniffer dogs before finally boarding the “humanitarian” plane (to use the pilot’s words). An hour later we land in Lima, greeted by the Marseillaise and by French gendarmes. A bus picks us up right off the plane to drop us off at the entrance to an improvised boarding area on the airport tarmac. We are not going to move from our seat: it is immigration and then Air France staff who comes to us.
Whilst in the plane, I find it difficult to sleep and after 30 hours of traveling I finally arrive, very tired. Once outside, the contrast is striking: the streets are full and there are few masks on the faces of passers-by!
An unforgettable experience
The confinement in Cusco and the repatriation are such unique experiences that I am not ready to forget them. I definitely have lifelong memories of the people with whom I lived this confinement: they were able to make this stressful experience a pleasant one in so many ways that I feel forever grateful.