It’s a tourist’s nightmare: One minute you’re marveling at the breathtaking mountain vistas and polished drystone walls of Machu Picchu‘s Incan ruins, and the next you’re caught in a brutal storm that washes away the only train tracks. You have to spend days sleeping in a train station and paying the locals too much for food.
That scenario befell 1,900 tourists visiting the Andes in Peru. The January 24 storm was, of course, far worse for the 26 who died and the 20,000 villagers near Cusco. Resulting landslides wiped out straw-and-earth huts, farms, and economically vital roads and bridges.
The travelers, who included babies and young children, were airlifted out by their respective countries — around 400 Americans, 700 Argentines, and 300 Chileans. The Peruvian government closed Machu Picchu and demanded that the Bermuda-based Oriental-Express Hotels hustle to rebuild the PeruRail track that whisks 68,000 tourists a month from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
The Lost City of the Incas was shut down for more than two months, costing Peru about $1 million a day in tourism revenue. The April 1 reopening was such a big event that even American actor Susan Sarandon made an appearance.
The shutdown prompted conservationists to express some concern that the site — one of the seven wonders of the world, discovered in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham — won’t hold up. In fact, fears of environmental degradation were voiced as early as 2002. Fortunately, the landslides, common during El Nino years, have not sent the structures crumbling down the mountain. Not this time, at least.