Sarnia man still stranded in Peru by Covid-19 pandemic

Kurtis Lush at Machu Picchu in Peru. Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

A trip of a lifetime has turned into a nightmare for one Sarnia man stuck in Peru for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kurtis Lush is one of about 1,300 Canadians trying to get out of Peru. Three Canadian government chartered planes ferried about 1,200 citizens back home over the past week, but for those still stranded it’s unclear when the next flights are coming.

“I was hoping it would be a lot smoother of a process but (the federal government) really screwed it up,” said Lush, 26. “We have no idea what the next step of the process is.”

Lush and three friends arrived in Peru on March 7 with the goal of hiking Machu Picchu. But as they navigated small towns and bus rides to reach the trail, the coronavirus was beginning to spread.

By the time their five-day hike was over Peru had more than 200 confirmed cases.

“We were in the mountains trekking,” said Lush, a warehouse coordinator at the Inn of the Good Shepherd. “Once we arrived back to some sort of civilization that’s when we realized the world had been turned upside down.”

On March 15 the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency and implemented a full lockdown. Departing flights were quickly booked, fetching prices as high as $5,000.

The four had made their way to the city of Arequipa, where they rented an apartment for the month. By then, civilians and travellers in the city of one million couldn’t go outside for anything other than food or medicine, he said. Military patrolled the streets and checkpoints were set-up.

At any given time, three million Canadians are abroad, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said recently.

Lush got word Ottawa had arranged three flights out for Canadians. Travellers were emailed a special code in order to secure their seat on the Air Canada flights.

Flights were departing from Lima, with the first for vulnerable and elderly travellers, he said.

By midweek, Canadian officials organized four buses for a 16-hour drive from Arequipa to Lima, for the second plane out. But the booking code was issued during the drive, and poor cellphone reception made booking impossible, Lush explained.

The last flight code never materialized after the government decided to rescue travellers in Cusco, hundreds of kilometres away.

“We realized that we weren’t going home tomorrow.”

Lush and his fellow travellers, friends from the Toronto area, are still in Lima, with accommodations secured for the next three days only. Family has been supportive and communication with the government is frequent, he said, noting the government has made a $5,000 loan available to Canadian travellers stranded abroad due to COVID-19.

The Canadian embassy in Peru says more flights are coming, but only after negotiations between the two governments, Lush said. Airports in Peru are closed, and any special flights must use a nearby military base, he said.

“We keep hearing, ‘It should be coming, it’s going to be ok,’ but we all just have no idea.”