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‘Unforgettable’ Peru holiday for tourists evacuated from Machu Picchu

#Unforgettable #Peru #holiday #tourists #evacuated #Machu #Picchu

“Machu Picchu was great, but we will remember longer the days of stress that followed. Unforgettable,” laughs Alex Lim, a 41-year-old Canadian among 200 tourists evacuated on Saturday from the Inca citadel due to unrest in Peru.

Lim and his wife Kate were among 500 mostly foreign but also Peruvian tourists stranded on Tuesday at the foot of the World Heritage Site in the small town of Aguas Calientes after the train line was blocked by demonstrators protesting the ouster and imprisonment of former president Pedro Castillo.

As the railway is the only way in or out of Aguas Calientes, the tourists found themselves stuck for five days in the village’s hotel rooms without their belongings, as most had been staying in the Inca imperial city of Cusco, located 110 kilometers (70 miles) away.

“I feel better now,” said Lim “We were kind of worried. I didn’t have my medication for hypertension at the beginning. We only had clothes for one day.”

He was finally able to obtain some medicine after a visit from a doctor sent by the authorities.

The couple who had started a “great post-Covid trip” have not yet decided whether to continue with their adventure or return home to Toronto.

“We are going to rest, de-stress and then we will decide,” said Alex, who stressed that, despite the protests, the Peruvians have been “welcoming”.

– ‘Relieved to get out’ –

On Saturday “with the support of the police and the armed forces”, authorities were able to send equipment and men to repair and clear the 29-kilometer track between Piscacucho and Aguas Calientes, said tourism minister Luis Fernando Helguero, who was at the site to monitor operations.

Piscacucho, one of the starting points of the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, is the nearest hamlet reachable by road from Aguas Calientes.

“We found out by chance that there was this train that was leaving Machu Picchu and I and another friend managed to board 10 minutes before the train left,” said Brazilian Guilherme Bucco, a professor at the University of Porto Alegre.

“Aguas Calientes is very pretty, but after an hour you have nothing more to do! So five days… I had to cancel a lot of plans and I have to work again next week,” he said.

“But I’m relieved to get out of there.”

Another unpleasant surprise awaited the travelers.

While the railway workers did their best to repair the track, they could not remove a huge boulder that was thrown from the cliffs by demonstrators.

As a result, the tourists had to walk some two kilometers after dark along the railway line by the light of mobile phones to join the minivans waiting to transport them back to Cusco.

While police and railway workers helped to carry their bags, the steep journey was not easy, especially for the older tourists.

“They were hoping to get us out by helicopter but because of the weather they could not do that,” said American Avis Berney, 77, from Whidbey Island, near Seattle.

“The rock was as big as a car, a small Renault!” she said.

“My stick saved me! I’m retired and tired,” she joked.

After the headache of the evacuation, the tourism minister was hoping that the protests which have left at least 19 dead would subside so that “tourism can resume.”

Tourism represents three to four percent of Peru’s GDP and provides employment “to all strata of the economy,” Helguero said.

“We have calculated a loss of 200 million soles ($52 million),” in the sector due to the protests, he said.

The minister was worried about the damage to Peru’s image in the eyes of tour operators and tourists.

The country’s tourism industry has struggled to recover after Covid, attracting two million visitors in 2022, far short of the 4.4 million arrivals in 2019.

“The problem is not the damage of a week, the problem is to regain the level of tourism that we had in 2019 and to exceed it to reach five million,” Helguero said.

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