Twenty-one-year-old Stephanie Boticki is stuck in Peru and has no idea when she can fly back to Australia.
“I just want to go home,” the Sydney woman told news.com.au, her voice breaking.
What should have been the holiday of a lifetime has turned into the stuff of nightmares for the newly graduated university student.
Peru went into lockdown four days ago amid coronavirus fears, and Miss Boticki can’t get a flight home.
“(I’m currently) outside Lima international airport, where many others are camped out,” she said.
She spent $5000 on a plane ticket to fly to Santiago, the Chilean capital.
She booked through Letam, South America’s largest airline, and it’s a price that’s unheard of for such a short distance.
Miss Boticki and her friend found themselves waiting at the airport with thousands of others at 4am.
“There was a Chilean woman crying … Officials with guns, some serious stuff,” she said.
“The officials were calling out a list of names (for who was allowed on the plane). They spent two hours calling out the names. Letam told us we were on that list — and we weren’t.”
She’s dubious as to whether she’ll get a refund, but that’s the least of her worries.
“Now we have no idea if or when we’ll make it home,” she said. “It’s surreal.
“Not a lot of people can understand being left in a country. Being told ‘no’ is sometimes really hard to understand.”
Miss Boticki isn’t the only Australian stuck in South America. She’s with a friend who is also from Sydney, and they were put in touch with other Australians via a Facebook messenger chat.
“There’s heaps of us,” she said, estimating the number was in the hundreds.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged that many Australians were stuck overseas in South America, particularly Peru.
“Our wonderful DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) team will continue to assist Australians wherever they practically can,” he said.
“But there are limitations to what can be done.”
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Ms Boticki is not impressed by the Prime Minister’s response.
“We feel very let down by the government,” she said.
“There is no Australian embassy in Peru because it’s closed.
“We called the 24-hour emergency helpline in Canberra, but they just told us to go find some accommodation and wait until the quarantine is over.
“I’m sorry but that’s not good enough.
“I don’t really have enough money to stay here that long … We have exhausted our resources.”
Ms Boticki is calling on the Australian government to do something.
“Nothing we can do here is enough for the Peruvian government to change and get us out of here,” she said.
“The only thing we can do is make the Australian government work with Peru to get us out.”
Chile sent out a chartered flight for their stranded citizens, and now she wants Australia to do the same.
“For me this is my first trip overseas, I don’t really have good luck.”
Ms Boticki was planning to travel to South America in January, but pushed it back as it clashed with her graduation ceremony from the Whitehouse Institute of Design, where she studied fashion.
She left on March 5.
“Peru at the time only had one case (of coronavirus) showing,” she explained.
“It didn’t seem too bad. I didn’t think it was going to escalate.”
Soon after arriving, Miss Boticki and her friend embarked on a trek up a mountain near Cusco, in southeastern Peru.
“We walked for about four days. We didn’t have any access to any reception during that time,” she said.
“Then we came back and we came back to reality.
“People told us, ‘You can’t fly out of Peru, you’re not leaving.’
“I just thought, you’ve got to be sh**ting me.”
After realising she was going to be stuck in Peru for a while due to the lockdown, Miss Boticki went to the local grocery store.
“Everything is on shutdown, nothing except bodegas — little mini super markets — are open.
“It was a queue to get into the shopping centre. We had to wait outside.
“Everyone was wearing masks.
“There was only one bag left of rice, when we went at 2pm.
“Every time we got into an Uber or taxi there’d be cops and military, various different uniforms, asking the drivers what they were doing there.
“It wasn’t until much more recently they then went and asked us for our identity and why we were out and about.”
Ms Boticki said she was scared and angry but holding out hope.
“We don’t care (that) our holiday is cut short,” she said.
“We just want to get home, but we need help.”