GREAT ESCAPE: Whitsunday woman’s shock lockdown in Peru
BEING stranded at a retreat in the middle of a jungle with no internet as the world goes into lockdown sounds like a scene straight out of a movie.
However, this was reality for Airlie Beach business owner Kat Harrison whose three-week escape turned into a ten-week turbulent ordeal.
Ms Harrison, who is the owner of Bohemian Raw cafe, travelled to the remote town of Iquitos for an ayahuasca retreat earlier this year where she had limited access to the outside world.
However, the retreat's no phone policy was cut short when news arrived that Peru's borders had been closed.
Ever the optimist, Ms Harrison was positive she would be able to secure a flight back to Australia.
"I thought 'This can't be real, surely we're going to get home'," she said.
"I didn't believe it at all."
But as three weeks turned into five, and then eight, it became clear the trip home would not be as simple as previously thought.
The coronavirus pandemic had just started to escalate when Ms Harrison travelled to Peru and she admitted thinking people were "dramatic" for cancelling their travels.
However, when she found out how serious the pandemic had become two weeks into the retreat, she said it felt like "I just ran out of a movie to go to the bathroom and now I've come back in and I've missed a whole part of the story".
On hearing news of the border closures, Ms Harrison spent the next few days trying to contact people back home to understand what was going on.
Her remote location meant this involved hiking half an hour up a hill to reach signal.
From there, a series of emails and WhatsApp messages ensued with the promise of flights totalling up to $5000 falling through day after day.
"It was just sending a million emails to people and we didn't know if they were going to reply," Ms Harrison said.
"And we got fake emails so you didn't know who you could trust."
The closest town to the retreat, Iquitos, was only accessible by boat or plane, which made the trip home all the more difficult.
However, Ms Harrison kept looking on the bright side and said there were worst places to be stranded while waiting for a flight.
"We were literally in the middle of jungle," she said.
"The retreat morphed more into a community where we were all helping with cooking and collecting our own water.
"I just had to surrender to the fact that this is my life now … Honestly, I loved it, but it was very much an emotional rollercoaster for many people."
Her days were spent in a cycle of yoga, cooking and "a lot of self-reflection" and food was shipped in for those stranded at the retreat.
Several weeks after she was due to leave, Ms Harrison's out came in the form of a WhatsApp message from someone working at the consulate.
"We had to hike out of jungle at 4am in the dark," she said.
"We got on a little boat which took three of us two hours to town. Then a car picked us up from there and took us to this little bed and breakfast and only reason the lady accepted us is because she knew someone at the temple so she knew we'd been quarantined.
"That night, a man WhatsApp'd me and said he would pick us up and take us to the airport.
"We went to airport and met all these other people doing similar things and had to sit at airport for 10 hours, and they tested our temperature three times. There was no food, no water or anything.
"No seats were allocated on the plane but it was basically a sit wherever you can scenario.
"It was really different, but they flew us to Chile and we stopped there for two hours and got on the long flight home."
Ms Harrison landed in Melbourne and entered a two-week quarantine period before making the trip back to Airlie Beach.
However, looking back on the experience she said she would relive it again.
"The funny thing is, I always said I wanted three months off a year," she said.
"If someone had asked me if I wanted to lead a normal life or go through this experience in a different way, I think I'd say I'd like to be stuck in another country, why not?
"But I think I sit in a privileged position saying that because we did get out.
"I think that you just have to surrender to the circumstance. There's something at play always and we get ourselves so worked over the fact we're not in control, but if we sit back in reflection, we realise we're not really in control of much."
Since her return, Ms Harrison had been hard back at work in her cafe Bohemian Raw, which reopened last month.
"Honestly it's been amazing. We've had best response from the locals and I'm a little bit shocked to be honest," she said.
"It's really nice to feel like we've created a little vibe down there that people really do miss and enjoy.
"I'm happy people missed us."
And as for her overseas ordeal, Ms Harrison put it down to the universe protecting her from the stress of closing and reopening a business during the virus and thanked her staff for all their help.
"The girls are all so amazing, they all managed everything while I was gone without any direction whatsoever."
Bohemian Raw, located at Coral Sea Marina, is open daily from 8am to 12pm.