Calgary

Lethbridge women try to stay upbeat as they await repatriation flights from Peru

Niti Patel is trapped in the historic city of Cusco, Peru, along with friend Charmy Patel. The pals from Lethbridge are trying to keep upbeat as they hope for repatriation flights home.

Hundreds of Canadians trapped in Cusco, hoping to find a way to Lima airport

Charmy Patel, left, and friend Niti Patel are stuck in Cusco, Peru, waiting on a flight out to Lima, where they hope to get on a repatriation flight back to Alberta, along with hundreds of other Canadians trying to get home. (Submitted by Charmy Patel)

Repatriation flights are on their way to Spain, Morocco and Latin America to collect Canadians trapped in the midst of their travels by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three of those planes are headed to Peru, where hundreds of Canadians are anxiously waiting, their plans to hike to iconic Machu Picchu put on hold since the country locked down on March 15.

Niti Patel is one of them, trapped in the historic city of Cusco, along with friend Charmy Patel.

"It's just really difficult right now mentally, to think and plan, because I'm a planner, I love to plan my day, and I feel so powerless right now because there's literally nothing in my control," Patel told the Calgary Eyeopener.

The problem, Patel said, is the two friends from Lethbridge are stuck in the high-altitude town, where tourists often begin acclimatizing for the visit to high-altitude Machu Picchu.

They've been told that there will be flights Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but no details.

Cusco to Lima is a 24-hour drive across a mountain range, or a short 1½-hour flight.

"It looks like they're going to be taking off from Lima, that's where the international airport is. But there are hundreds of us in Cusco and none of us have been given any information about a flight from Cusco to Lima," she said. "We really don't know how we're getting to Lima, let alone how to get to Canada."

The tourists trapped in Cusco have formed a Facebook group and are sharing what little information they have, Patel said.

"I think there are about 400 Canadians in Cusco right now," Patel said. "That's just the numbers from people who have access to Facebook. There probably would be more in Cusco, but it's not just Cusco it's also different towns between Lima and Cusco. There's a lot of remote areas where Canadians are struggling."

Physically, the friends are fine, but mentally, Patel says it's a roller-coaster.

"Most of us have access to food and water and shelter, but just the mental health aspect of this whole situation it's so frustrating, not having any direct answers, not having any idea what their next day looks like," she said. "It's definitely an emotional roller-coaster that we're all going through right now in Cusco."

The majority of shops in the normally bustling tourist city are closed, Patel said.

"There are some food stores, some grocery stores and a couple of pharmacies have been open, and we are allowed to leave if there is an emergency for medication or if you need to buy some groceries," she said.

The quarantine ends this Sunday, but Patel said there are conflicting reports that the government may extend it by 60 or 90 days, or more.

"So, we don't know — if these three new repatriation flights don't help us, then are we on our own? Are we to search up flights on our own? Because we have tried, obviously, but no flights are available at this moment."

Patel said she is doing well physically, and is in touch with family and friends every day.

"They know how badly I want to come home, they know they know that I'm doing OK here physically, but … it's getting tougher and tougher to hold still."

The friends have their bags packed.

"If I got a call from the embassy right now saying 'you're gonna get picked up from your hotel right now,' I'd be ready to go in 10 seconds," she said. "My bags are packed, I know that everybody else in Cusco, and the remote areas, they're physically ready to leave and definitely mentally ready to leave."

About the Author

Pamela Fieber

Associate Producer

Pamela worked for more than 10 years at the Calgary Herald. She also served as managing editor of WestJet Magazine before joining CBC Calgary in 2019.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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