Desperate and stranded Aussies are being turned away from shops and made to carry around white flags in public in Peru, where cities are running out of food amid a coronavirus lockdown.
Many of them stuck in the nation’s capital Lima say they are eating bread for dinner every night as the city’s supplies run low.
The South American nation closed its borders this week, leaving hundreds of Australians with no way to get home.
One of them is James Despo, 28, who is locked down in an Airbnb with two other Aussies.
He said they are not allowed to leave their accommodation between 8pm and 5am. And, if one person really must go out to do something, they are told to carry a white flag around.
One person is allowed out at a time to buy food, but Mr Despo says many shop owners are specifically turning tourists away over fears they are infected with the coronavirus.
He has now desperately forked out $5500 for a seat on a private charter flight to Australia, but there’s no guarantee it will happen at this moment in time.
The nightmare for Mr Despo began with what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime on February 22 when he flew to Mexico from Melbourne with his girlfriend.
He said that when he left, there wasn’t anything too serious on the news about the coronavirus and assumed it was all sweet to go.
After a week in Mexico he headed south to explore the grand mountains of Peru with a friend from his school days.
Taking long treks through the mountains and around the Amazon forest areas, he told news.com.au many of the travellers have been cut off from the outside world.
When they switched their phones back on and saw what was happening, it came as a deeply unpleasant surprise.
Mr Despo was having dinner at a restaurant on Sunday around 9pm when the nation’s president announced Peru’s borders would be closing.
“We only had 24 hours to book and get a flight out of the country along with thousands of other tourists,” he said. “We rushed to the airport and camped out until it opened at 3am in Cusco (in the nation’s south-east).”
He said it was “very intimidating” as the army and riot police came down to surround the airport while masses of weary travellers camped outside, trying to find a way home.
“I managed to get to the desk at 12pm, but no flights were available with many being cancelled,” he said. “The airport was full of people unable to get out.”
Now he’s paid $5500 to get a spot on a chartered flight to Sydney. He says the flight company is gathering numbers and working with government officials to see if it’s going to work.
As a back-up he’s bought new flights home for April 1 when the nation’s borders are supposed to reopen. However, he’s doubtful the borders will open, as the government seems to be clamping down on movement more and more each day.
Now he’s in lockdown in Cusco the country’s south-east with nine other backpackers. Three of them are Aussies, including Sarah Eifermann, 37, and Trung Le, 28.
Mr Despo says the hostels are no longer safe to stay, so they’ve all clubbed together for an Airbnb while they plan their next steps.
However, life is becoming increasingly strange in the South American nation for the Aussies trapped there.
“Honestly it’s a little scary over here and not worth the risk staying any longer with no guarantees when we will be allowed out,” he said. “Especially, the longer I stay, the more my rent back home is wasted and I risk losing my job.”
However, he said the situation was much worse for his mates in Lima, where there is a real concern that food is running out.
To add insult to injury, he said the Australian embassy has closed and stranded Aussie travellers were getting no help.
“I’m getting the feeling that no one really wants to help us,” he said. “There’s something like 4000 Germans stuck here and a few counties have had success getting flights out yesterday and today so it’s not impossible. It’s just the government doesn’t seem to care.”
It was a further slap in the face, when the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) this week recommended Australians abroad who wish to return home amid the COVID-19 pandemic should do so as soon as possible via commercial flights.
“Imagine how frustrating it is to hear them tell us to come home when it’s impossible to leave the country,” he said.