When 26-year-old Jesse Katayama started his dream Peru vacation, he did not believe in the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. When he reached Aguas Calientes on 14 March, Katayama was ready with a permit and entry ticket to visit Machu Picchu on 16 March – the same day that the Peruvian government decided to close the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Like many other travelers who officially caught the epidemic and the borders suddenly began to close, Katayama found himself stranded in Peru. However, he made the best of this unexpected event, touring other local attractions such as Putucusi Mountain and Calientes Falls, although the border continued to prevent him from going to neighboring South American countries.
Instead, he settled and took up temporary residence in Aguas Calientes, where he rented a small house and lived like a local for the past seven months. Back home, a boxing instructor, Katayama taught some local kids boxing classes and saw himself making new friends across town. He is optimistic that he will open his own boxing gym when he returns to Osaka, so he has spent several months in lockdown to practice his steps.
Katayama told CNN that he would run every morning and watch the Machu Picchu from a distance. He added that he thought he would never be able to make it to Machu Picchu. He was hoping it wouldn’t open this year. But he kept it right because he had a great time here.
With his funds running low, it finally seemed like he would have to return to Japan without getting close to Machu Picchu. Then, a local tour operator named Andean Roots Peru took the step and got special entry permission from the Ministry of National Culture for Katayama.
Through this stroke of fortune, he gained the experience of having the iconic Inca citadel (usually crowded with spectators) to himself. He was taken by Jose Basante, the head of the site, and two photographers who came to document the single experience. Peruvian Cultural Minister Alejandro Neyra told reporters that the Japanese citizen had entered together with the head of our park so that he can do it before returning to his country.
Katayama posted on Instagram, “I thought I never made it (Machu Picchu), but everyone asked the government and the city and they gave me very special permission,” adding “Peruvians are very kind. Thank you so much!”
He decides to go home on October 16th but tells CNN that he will definitely miss his interim home and his friends in Aguas Calientes. “I will definitely cry,” Katayama said. “These seven months were very special to me. I discovered a new part of me.”