Long read: How Romford two backpackers became stranded in Peru in a Covid-nightmare
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 19:23 24 April 2020
After a strict lockdown struck in Peru, two Romford backpackers were left stranded in a seaside town and under arrest by the Peruvian military, leaving 28-year-old Kerry Higgins to celebrate her birthday in a police station.
Kerry, a health sciences worker, and Adam Davison, a real estate analyst, had one month left of their six-month backpacking trip around South America when the world went into high-alert for coronavirus.
On March 14, they were in central Ecuador, with the country’s government announcing it was going into lockdown and closing the borders, with a day’s notice.
Making a mad dash to escape before they were trapped, the couple managed to catch the last bus to Peru, arriving in Máncora.
On arrival, they found that Peru was now also going into lockdown and closing its borders for two weeks, also with a day’s notice. Unable to secure a flight to the capital Lima in time they decided to wait out the two weeks.
Kerry and Adam found a hostel, hoping that the country might start to let people moving as the week went on. But it soon become clear the lockdown was going to be extended and they reached out to the Irish and British embassies. Kerry also contacted MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell.
“They were really great, Andrew and his team were contacting the Foreign Office every day, trying to a find a way to get us to Lima and back to the UK,” explained Kerry.
“We then found WhatsApp and Facebook groups with other stranded people. We realised the government had identified 400 people as being stranded, but actually there were around 700,”
The stranded Brits worked together, creating press releases, getting BBC News involved and even having their case brought up in Parliament.
Around the same time, Peru introduced stricter lockdown measures.
There had been reports that in more remote areas, the lockdown had not been taken seriously and the authorities in Lima were concerned.
The military were deployed to the north to enforce the lockdown. This is when it got serious for Kerry and Adam.
On the night of March 26, the 14 guests at the Beach Point hostel were just pouring a drink to celebrate to Kerry’s 28th birthday, which was the next day, when the military came bursting in.
“Suddenly the back of the hostel was kicked in and there was about 40 military and police with massive machine guns, rifles, cameras in our faces and torches,” Kerry said. “We were really confused. They were shouting at us and we had no idea what was going on, none of us spoke Spanish.”
Told to take just their passports, the 14 guests and six staff were frogmarched to the police station.
“They wouldn’t tell anyone what was going on and we didn’t know how long for or whether to bring money,” said Kerry.
Adam, however, was not among them as he was on the phone outside the hostel. “Adam was freaking out, I was leaving voice messages to my dad, who was asleep in the UK, saying: ‘If I’m not back in 12 hours, you need to get the embassy to do something’. It was quite a sad message, I was crying!” explained Kerry.
They were made to stand against the wall, a metre apart, and Kerry said once the military left, the atmosphere changed with the police becoming very relaxed and joking.
“They took photos of us, trying to pose with us. We went from being incredibly frightened to being like, ‘these guys think it’s hilarious’. It was horrible!
“I think they found it funny to pose in their uniforms with the arrested tourists who were up against the wall.”
As midnight struck everyone began to sing for Kerry’s birthday, including the police. They were still standing a metre apart against the wall of the police station yard.
“It was the most surreal birthday ever!” she said.
After the brief show of happiness for the birthday celebration, worry set in about what could happen next.
“We were panicking just not because we’d been arrested but because we’d been put at risk. We had not been leaving the hostel at all since arriving in the country.”
“We had been made to leave the hostel and go to a police station with officers who weren’t wearing gloves or face masks.”
They had also been made to sign four different documents with the same pen and fingerprint ink.
To add to their fear, they had heard reports that a hostel in Cusco, a popular tourist town by Machu Picchu, had been shut down with more than 100 people inside, for more than three months, with no one allowed to enter or leave.
On returning to the hostel after four hours in the police station, they found that police had posted the photos of them on the local station Facebook Page.
Identifiable with their names and hostel, the post had been shared more than 230 time with comments accusing them of being the reason for stricter lockdown measures.
“Locals were already angry that tourists had brought coronavirus to Peru. They labelled it as if we’d been having a disco and invited other people into our hostel, because we didn’t care.
“We’d already had issues with people throwing fruit at us in the street.”
In the meantime, Adam had been calling the British embassy, and a case worker told the couple they were now “in danger” and not to leave the hostel.
On Kerry’s birthday, “the most miserable one ever,” as they were still getting over the shock of the night before, the case worker told them the embassy was trying to find ways to get people from remote areas to Lima, and on government chartered flights home,
That night, they received a phone call saying they were on the list for the bus out of Máncora early the next day.
They packed their bags and made it onto the next flight back to London.
Many of the fellow stranded Brits who either missed the phone call or were in very remote areas in Peru are reported to have had to wait nearly a month to get home, with the Guardian reporting last week that 10 Britons were still stranded there.
Kerry thanks MP Andrew Rosindell and his team for helping to get them safely back to Romford.
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