When Peru announced its national coronavirus lockdown on March 16th Galway native Gearóid McKendrick (28) was up Machu Picchu without a phone signal and so oblivious to the sudden end of his holiday.
"It was not until we woke up in the hostel the next morning that we heard the lockdown had been announced and we had until midnight to get out of the country," says the IT worker who has been backpacking around South America since December.
Immediately he attempted to contact Air Canada which whom he was due to fly home from Colombia next month: "I called and sent them emails but still haven't been able to get through."
Efforts to contact his travel insurance company to see if it would cover the extra expense of a new flight home also proved fruitless. "I've had no response from them either so I am kind of at a loss at what to do," he says, speaking from the Cusco hostel where he been holed up all week.
He then tried to get a flight out with Colombian carrier Avianca but that proved impossible as its Cusco office was overwhelmed by people with the same idea. There was not enough time to get a bus out of Peru before borders closed or even as far as the capital Lima, 24 hours away by road.
It was a remarkable development in a country that seemed little concerned with the Covid-19 pandemic when McKendrick entered Peru on March 10th. He is one of an estimated 100 or so Irish travellers stuck in the Andean nation that the Tánaiste Simon Coveney says the Government is working on bringing home. "The Irish people here are not expecting to get a free flight home or anything like that," he is keen to emphasise. "We are more than willing to pay a reasonable amount. The issue is that there is literally no way out and there is no flight for us to get."
At one stage it looked like an Avianca charter flight would be organised to fly the stranded Irish out at more than US$3,500 (€3,250) a ticket, a fare McKendrick would have struggled to pay. But that plan has so far not materialised.
He has been in touch with the Irish consulate in Peru and the embassy in neighbouring Chile and despite getting a daily email from the Department of Foreign Affairs, McKendrick says the situation is frustrating: "I understand they are doing everything they can to help us. But it is just the lack of information in terms of what is the solution for getting us home."
He is also worried that any eventual flight will require him to get to Lima when the lockdown means “making it to Cusco airport no mind Lima is a challenge”. McKendrick is the only Irish citizen in his hostel where he is one of 15 foreign tourists, including two Welsh friends he has been travelling with for the last few weeks. Police are patrolling the streets outside to ensure people are only going outdoors to buy food and medicine and they are even reportedly entering other hostels in the city to enforce social distancing.
The group in the hostel, which also includes Australians and Dutch travellers, are being well looked after with the owners serving up breakfast every day and are sharing information and organising movie nights to help pass the time.
McKendrick is also in regular contact with his family back home. But as time passes he is increasingly concerned about the delay in resolving his situation: “I have an underlying medical condition which I take prescription medication for and I have a three week supply left. Stuff like that is on your mind the whole time.”