By Justin Flynn
When Gaye and Bob Fraser left Ocean Grove for a holiday in South America, they didn’t realise the horror that was about to unfold.
The seasoned travellers left for a 23-day trip when there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 in South America and DFAT had issued no warnings.
They went to Lima, Peru, and then the Sacred Valley and were looking forward to Machu Picchu, but that is where the joy ended.
The following morning the tour guide told them to pack for a bus trip to Cusco two hours away in an attempt to flee the country. The tour company had received word from Peruvian government that border closures were imminent.
The airport at Cusco was closed and sure enough Peru announced that it was closing its borders. There would be no flights and a curfew between 8pm and 5am was declared.
“Even during the day, police were patrolling the streets, the hotel door was locked and you could only go to the local convenience store or chemist and only one at a time,” Gaye said.
“This was when we realised how serious it all was. We even had a rushed trip to the airport in the bus as it was thought there was a suitable flight but the airport was locked down with police carrying riot shields.”
The 19 people on the tour were told they would have to pay for accommodation and meals, Gaye said.
The couple wrote an email to their travel agent, Lynette Armstrong from Ocean Grove Travel.
“Within a couple of hours Lynne got back to say she had talked with the tour company and it was all going to be paid by them,” Gaye said.
“There was talk of charter flights but they were with a travel company we didn’t know and you had to pay $5000 each in advance but they had no guaranteed flights.
“The government kept saying to make our own way home but there were no flights at all.”
Several days later, Lynette, who Gaye said worked tirelessly trying to find a solution, there was finally some hope.
“Lynette sent an email saying there was a flight possible the next day going from Cusco to Santiago (Chile), which would connect with a flight to Melbourne,” Gaye said.
“She (Lynette) must have been up at all hours and working, what we feel, were miracles to get us on this flight.”
A taxi was arranged to get Gaye and Bob to the airport but it was a “nerve wracking trip”, Gaye said.
“The streets were eerily quiet, the only traffic being police cars and we were constantly worried we would be stopped and turned back,” she said.
“At the airport, which was still closed and guarded by police, we had to stand in the street for three hours, not knowing whether there was a plane or not.”
Eventually they were let in and were finally able to board the flight to Santiago and then Melbourne.
“We have had emails from the other people from the trip and they are all still in Cusco with possible flights for some of them on March 31,” Gaye said.
“Our escape, and that is not too strong a word for it, happened so suddenly and went so smoothly in the end that we were in almost disbelief.
“We are sure that without Lynette we would still be in Peru.”