“I’m relieved to get out of there”: tourists stranded in Machu Picchu by protests testify

Tourists, stranded in the Machu Picchu region due to protests in Peru for several days, were evacuated on Saturday. Others walked several tens of kilometers.

“Machu Picchu was great but we will remember more the days of stress that followed. Unforgettable”, laughs, half fig-half grape, the Canadian Alex Lim who was one of the first 200 tourists evacuated on Saturday from the famous Inca site, according to an AFP tally on Saturday.

Since December 7, Peru has been agitated by demonstrations that have left at least 19 dead and 569 injured, triggered by the dismissal and arrest of President Pedro Castillo, as well as the coming to power of Dina Boluarte.

Americans, French, Australians, Germans, Peruvians … They were at least 500 to have found themselves stuck Tuesday at the foot of the world heritage site of humanity, in the small town of Aguas Calientes, according to AFP. CNN is counting on 300 stranded tourists. In question: a train line cut by demonstrators.

Blocked for 5 days

The railway is indeed the only means of transport to get to Aguas Calientes but also to get out. The tourists therefore found themselves waiting in uncertainty for 5 days in hotel rooms in the village without their belongings, most of them staying in Cuzco, the Inca imperial city, located 110 km away.

“It was special to have clothes for one day. And therefore to do the laundry and wait for it to dry while remaining naked,” laughs Kate Lim, Alex’s wife, interviewed by AFP . 

Despite the jokes, the couple stressed a lot. Alex, 41, who has high blood pressure and needs to take one pill a day, hadn’t taken enough medication. He was finally able to obtain some after a visit from a doctor sent by the authorities.

“We were better informed by other travelers than by local authorities,” he said.

The couple, who had begun a “great post-Covid journey”, are reluctant to continue the adventure or return home to Toronto. “We are going to rest, de-stress and we will decide”, summarizes Alex, who specifies that, despite the demonstrations, the Peruvians have been “welcoming”.

Evacuation after track repair

The authorities started by wanting to set up an airlift on Saturday with helicopters but the rain prevented them. Later in the day, “with the support of the police and the armed forces”, they “were able to send a monorail with equipment and men to repair” and clear the 29 km of track between Piscacucho and Aguas Calientes , explained the Minister of Tourism Luis Fernando Helguero, present on the spot.

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

 “It’s very cute Aguas Calientes, but an hour later, you have nothing more to do! So 5 days… I had to cancel a lot of plans and I have to work again next week”, he says. “But I’m relieved to get out of there.”  

Two kilometer walk on the rails

Another unpleasant surprise awaited travelers. If the railway workers did their best to repair the track, they could not remove a huge stone enthroned between the rails, thrown from the cliffs by the demonstrators.

As a result, tourists had to walk some two kilometers after dark on the cobbles of the railway line by the light of mobile phones to join the mini vans waiting to take them back to Cuzco.

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

American Avis Berney, 77, from Whidbey Island near Seattle, rests on a rock and keeps her spirits up with a pun: “My cane saves me! I’m retired and tired (retired and tired) “. 

 40 kilometer hike for others

According to the daily El Mundo, other tourists did not wait to be evacuated to complete the first 40 kilometers on foot before reaching Cuzco by car.

“At 6 a.m. on Wednesday we started walking towards Ollantaytambo. We were told it would take 6 to 8 a.m. but in the end we did 40 km and about 10 a.m. walking”, testify to the Spanish media Vicente and Ana Isabel.

“The first 25 kilometers from Aguas Calientes, we followed the train tracks, with few people. We were a group of 20 people, it was very hot, there was no water to buy, a disaster”, continues the couple.

They were then able to eat Cuban rice at the locals’. But advancing on the road to Cuzco, these Spanish tourists say that tensions with demonstrators have been increasingly acute.

“We took a motorcycle, then we walked again, with pickets in the middle, with cut trees, stones, demonstrators, even peasants on the road”, relate Vicente and Ana Isabel. “When we passed the town of Anta (…) there were already cars that came to pick us up and without paying anything they took us to Cuzco”. But they missed their flight to Spain, and were forced to buy a new ticket.

After the headache of the evacuation, the Minister of Tourism crosses his fingers so that the demonstrations stop and that “tourism can resume”. “We have calculated a loss of 200 million soles (50 million euros)” due to the events, said Luis Fernando Helguero. And to remember that tourism represents between 3 and 4% of GDP and provides employment “to all strata of the economy”.

He worried about the damage to the image and perception of the country that tour operators and tourists could have.