Diary of a coronavirus castaway: 'I've been abandoned by my country and extorted by my airline'

Sarah Baxter is one of hundreds of Britons stranded in Peru after the sudden cancellation of flights, but the Government is offering little in the way of support
Sarah Baxter is one of hundreds of Britons stranded in Peru after the sudden cancellation of flights, but the Government is offering little in the way of support
Peru has cancelled all flights from the country, leaving Sarah Baxter – and hundreds of other Britons – stranded 

Day 1: March 17

As of midnight last night, I’m stuck in Peru三级成人视频. I was spark out at the moment of my new semi-imprisoned status, having gotten precisely no sleep the night before, when the news broke that I had a little over 24 hours to get out of the country.

三级成人视频Yesterday – a frantic day of messaging, calls, stress, food buying and disbelief – ended with me still in Peru but floored by the power of community – within hours a ‘Little Britain SOS’ Whatsapp group formed for Brits stuck in Cusco – and with the kindness of strangers: a friend of a friend has taken me in, is offering me food, letting me use his washing machine and internet, and his sons have just made me the best banana split. In crazy times, humans can be quite brilliant.

Cusco, Peru

So I’m stranded. While it’s popular to bemoan social media and smartphones, they are my best friends right now. I call my boyfriend via Wi-Fi, a comfort to us both (I think he may be more worried than me); he puts my cat on the line – hearing Gizmo purr while I’m thousands of miles away, in the heights of the Andes, is when I really start to well up. I’m so far from home, from partner, animals, friends, gym, work, normal routine. Though according to all reports, the home I left two weeks ago is a very different place.

Actually, in any other circumstances, today would have been a nice day. A breakfast of fresh-baked bread, hummingbirds buzzing around the trees in the garden, views to the Andean hills, the company of new, lovely, generous people who have welcomed me into their home despite not knowing me from Adam. Only it soon becomes hours of screen time – researching and tweeting and trying to stay abreast of the local advice and #stuckinperu chat, which changes all the time. Bursts of optimism vie with tales of misery and concern – one British traveller stuck here relies on a weekly infusion of medication and has a limited amount left. There is also much needed camaraderie – Brianna, one solo traveller holed up in a hostel, types about how the Whatsapp group has made her feel less alone in this crappy situation. I whole-heartedly agree.

At lunchtime, a cause for mini-celebration? The Peruvian president has given permission for humanitarian rescue flights to land! Could this be a ticket out? Now we need to UK Government to respond, but it's amazing how quickly circumstance change - I've gone from being certain I'll be here a month to allowing myself to believe that maybe, just maybe, it might be days...

The view from Sarah's temporary home

三级成人视频It’s nighttime now and the streets are eerily quiet, traffic non-existent, though the dogs – eternally barking – fill the silence. The airport, not far from where I’m staying, lays dormant. We sneak out for a little walk, taking the back-street scenic route, free from patrolling police, to buy provisions, and I see the empty runway down below. Behind it are green foothills dotted with Inca ruins – I might want to get out of this place but it’s still spectacular. Two police do stop us briefly. We brandish the bread and (definitely essential) ice cream we’ve bought, to explain our presence out of doors. They’re wearing face masks and tell us we need to do the same, but thankfully let us pass without fuss.

Back inside, I check my phone again. Positive rumblings about salvation. We’ve been mentioned on the BBC, in parliament, on local radio, in print. A few hundred voices virtually banded together might be making a real difference. 

Passengers hoping to catch a flight out of Peru on Monday Credit: getty

Day 2: March 18

Woken this morning around 6am with a start. Loudspeakers yelling through the streets of Cusco. I bolt upright – is it the army? A riot? A new presidential decree? No, it’s the bin men, who turn up the volume of their steroes to move people out of the way. Only there aren’t any people to move. No snarled traffic or folks on their way to work. Empty.

三级成人视频I roll over and try to get back to sleep but it’s useless. The neighbourhood dogs, of which there are many, are barking and my phone – to which I am becoming increasingly addicted – is beckoning. What if there’s good news?

There isn’t. Yet. But plenty of action, from MPs responses to rumours of rescue flights for other nationalities. While the British Government has issued little but platitudes for the past three days, I learn that Israel is rescuing its 1,000-odd Peru-stuck citizens on Thursday, the French on Saturday; looks like the Mexicans, Poles and Americans are being repatriated by their governments too.

I speak to my parents, who seem remarkably chipper. Dad – who has heart and lung issues – is still playing golf (I demand he avoids the 19th hole); Mum has enough wine. She has always been funny about touching anyone else’s door handles – a foible I’ve always eye-rolled and mocked. But now she’s having the last laugh. I think they think they’re protected by geography – they live in Norfolk, and seem to believe the virus won’t find them there.

Mid-morning I chat to the BBC via Skype. I shudder at the state of me – I was in Peru on a trekking trip and didn’t think to pack the hair-and-make-up kit required for media appearances. But publicising the plight of the near-400 – yes, 400 – Brits abandoned here seems rather more important than worrying about my travel spots and cold sore. I say my piece. The story we’re trying to push out to everyone: we had 24 hours notice to get out; our dear leaders have done virtually bugger all.

Lunch is lovely. I’m staying in the home of Paul Cripps, owner of tour operator , and despite his own major concerns about the state of his business, he has welcomed me, a stranger, with open arms. We eat pasta in his sunny garden with his two sons, who defy all moody-teenager stereotypes. With their school closed, they’re studying at home, and are chatty and cheerful. One has just made me a delicious chocolate pudding, to follow yesterday’s banana split. With any form of outdoor exercise strictly forbidden, this foreign isolation might be deleterious to my waistline.

Pudding provides a little pick-me-up

三级成人视频Messages from home keep asking how I am, which is lovely. And I say I’m fine, because I am. It could be so much worse. But ask me again this time next week, if nothing has changed and I’m still here, with no news or prospect of imminent return, and I might not feel quite the same.

Day 3: March 19

A bad morning. First thing I do on waking is read an article in which the Foreign Secretary says Brits stranded overseas should expect to be stuck for some time... Just how long exactly? Feeling the farthest I’ve ever felt from home, I blub into a pillow that isn’t mine for a bit. Then give myself a virtual slap. Get up. Get dressed. And speak to a journo on the phone about our #ukstuckinperu campaign while stroking Neo, my host’s dog. Venting, publicising and patting an animal, I feel instantly better.

The big news is that airline Avianca has said it's considering running UK repatriation flights – but for a cool $3,000-$3,500 (£2,540-£2,970). Meanwhile the Israelis trapped here are being taken home for free. The French for around €700 (£635). The Germans around €1,000 (£910). It’s not nice to feel abandoned by your country and extorted by the airline that was supposed to take you home anyway. 

The local shop is out of bread. And venturing out seems to be becoming more restricted. But we try to make the most of things, and set up a circuit class in the garden. For a moment at least, the biggest challenges are burpees and not planking in Neo’s poo.

Day 4: March 20

Brushing my teeth, I wonder how long my tube of toothpaste will last... I packed for two weeks. Whch has already turned to three... Didn’t bring nail clippers. Maybe this is the time to grown long fashion talons? Hardly the most pressing issue when you’re umpteen miles from home but I have plenty of thinking time on my hands.

三级成人视频Once ablutions are done, it’s back to the rather more serious business of helping pen a press release about this whole crapshoot. It’s nice to have a purpose. It’s also nice to be so well looked after by my hosts. Lunch is paltas a la reina, a creamy concoction of avocado (they are amazing here), chicken (I was veggie, but, hey, I’m not going to be picky) and apple. Delicious.

Phone is going crazy with messages again, and I spend time pinging out pleas for people to . Dear reader, would you please...?

Day 5: March 21

Sitting on the sofa with a nip of pisco, ah, what a day. 

三级成人视频Its opening was a sucker punch: news that a Peruvian government minister had gone on live TV to say even repatriation flights would be banned by the end of the day. Visions of an eternity spent up in the Andes, rage at the lack of official help in getting us home.

三级成人视频But then, glimmers of hope. Finally correspondence from the FCO: a rescue looking set for next week. 

And while this emotional rollercoaster plays out on my constantly flashing phone, I’m simultaneously sweeping out the wood fired oven, chopping tomatoes, grating cheese - it’s a lockdown Saturday and the family with whom I’m staying have decided to fill the day with from-scratch pizza making. Life goes on. And by the time our first slices are ready (it takes a good, fun while) the positive updates on our exile are rolling in.

Garden air, giggles, good news... Pizza never tasted so good.