Yesterday I was concerned for my girlfriend, trapped in Machu Picchu after heavy rains and mudslides, but optimistic from what she was saying, and news reports, that she would soon be out. Today, I’m a lot more worried and have no idea when she’ll escape from the village, cut off from the rest of the country.
I spoke to S again earlier this evening, and things are both better and worse. Mainly worse.
Yesterday they were told the evacuation, using planes and helicopters, would start today. They have seen and heard nothing about this. A US plane, intended for American citizens arrive, but was commandeered by the locals. The Americans, like S, remain .
S is one of the lucky ones, insofar as she has a hotel room. Most others don’t. There are lots of tourists sleeping wherever they can get a space. But in Machu Picchu at this time, nothing is certain. “I’m going back to my hotel,” she told me earlier. “That is, if somebody hasn’t paid more money for it while I’ve been out.”
Like almost everything else in the village, any form of comfort comes at a premium. Hotel rooms are exchanging hands for ever-increasing sums of money, as is food. Supplies are dwindling and nobody knows how much is left. Anything that remains on the shelf is being marked up to double, sometimes triple the price.
Not everybody can afford the food at the original price. Many tourists arrived with minimal money, expecting only to spend a day or two. Now their cash has run out and the ATMs are not dispensing. A small amount of food and water made it through on the US plane and has been distributed out.
Even if you get your hands on some food, there’s no guarantee it’ll be edible. The gas supply is down in Machu Picchu, so nobody can cook anything.
So, everybody waits. After three days, S finally found six other British tourists, staying in a tent, which has raised her spirits somewhat. The Australians, of which there are many, have headed mainly for the bar and there’s even a slight party atmosphere. As S said, they can either sit around and be miserable or try to make the best out of a bad situation.
But, for all the new friendships made, there is genuine concern about what will happen the longer the village remains cut off and no help arrives. What will happen when supplies get lower and people are fighting over the food? S is concerned that the jovial atmosphere could turn nasty quickly. There already appears to be tension with the locals.
And still people wait for news. Some Australian papers have reported the evacuation is underway in earnest and many people are safely out. Not so, says S. Apart from the US plane, there has been no sign of any airlift and no communication from the Peruvian government. Nobody appears to be in charge. News reports suggest helicopters were launched but only a few dozen were evacuated due to bad weather.
At the station, many elderly Peruvians mill around the platform. They, and everybody else, are continually told the train will soon be running, perhaps even tomorrow, but tomorrow arrives and the tracks are still not fixed. In all honesty, I wouldn’t want S travelling on a makeshift track when there’s more risk of mudslides.
So, that is the situation S finds herself in. She’s reasonably high up, so probably not at risk from further flooding or landslides, and people are coping, but everybody is aware that the situation cannot remain as it is for much longer.
In the meantime, the Guardian have spoken to her, in possible the most accurate report (going by what she’s told me) I’ve seen so far on the topic .
On my end, it’s the frustration and worry of waiting and not knowing that does it for me. It’s been fantastic to hear her voice two days in a row and to reassure each other everything will be ok. And I’m sure it will be, but I’ll only feel that way until she’s safely out of Machu Picchu.
In the meantime, I find myself combing news sites and watching 24 news channels waiting, hoping, for any further news and doing what I can to help from this end, which turns out to be not a lot, although S is grateful for any outside news (I should update her on the latest Corrie storylines, really) and is quick to point out errors in any reports.
I’ve also rung the foreign office, as has her dad. They’ve been very helpful and calming, and know where she is. They’re hoping rescuers will be with her in the next couple of days. Ok, it’s still two days, but it’s helpful to hear that. I certainly feel a bit more at ease after speaking to them.
And then there’s Twitter, where I’ve been relaying news from her and the general situation in Machu Picchu. I figure if I don’t keep the word and the news going, nobody will.
It’s also been a great comfort to receive well wishes from friends, followers and people who’ve just seen the Tweets and passed on their support. Again, it’s helped ease the burden. Particular thanks to Geordie, for translation, Hayley, Sian and Jon who’ve been more help and support than they can possible know.
In the meantime, all S and I can do is wait and see if tomorrow brings helicopters, and know that no matter how uncomfortable and worrying this situation is, it could be a lot worse.
 Weirdly, a scene from the Camino Real pops into my head while writing this, but now is not the time nor the place for Tennessee Williams.
 I wasn’t originally going to pass on her details to the press, partly because yesterday it seemed as if the situation was under control, but also because I wasn’t sure if she’d spoken to her mum. I don’t know her family that well, and I didn’t want them to find out via News At Ten rather than S herself. “Yeah, hi S’s mum. Yep, you know that near heart-attack you had after seeing her on the news? Yeah, that may have been my fault.” Not the best way to introduce yourself to them.