Tambo and her daughters first came to the Peruvian capital from a remote village in the Amazon rainforest, so that its eldest family, Amelie, could become the first family member to go to university.
The 17-year-old received a prestigious scholarship to study at the University of Lima at Científica del Sur in Lima, and the family had big dreams. They would rent a small room, help Amelie to start, and Maria would raise some money in a restaurant.
After almost two months of quarantine, they had no money left to pay for their rented room or food. Tambo decided to return to their village in the Ucayali area, 350 miles away.
With public transportation closed, the only option was to take the trip on foot. “I know the danger I put my children in, but I have no choice,” she said. “I die trying to get out of here or starve to death in my room.”
Escape from the city
Tambo, 40, is interviewed by WhatsApp group as thousands of Peruvians talk about how they left Lima to return home. She told me, “I have not left my home since the government announced the quarantine.” “But I don’t have any money anymore.”
She agreed to let me follow her on the dangerous journey, to tell her story, not sure about the outcome.
Tambo and her daughters left Lima in early May. She wore a face mask and carried a Melec Baby on her back with a large multicolored backpack outstretched with small hearts. Seven-year-old Emily and Yasira walk around beside her, carrying their own boxes. A pink bear was hung from a soft backpack.
Their epic journey, along dusty highways, railroad tracks, and dark country roads, will take the Tambus River across the Andes at high altitude before they reach the Amazon rainforest – a risky road for women traveling alone with three children.
We walked in the heat, hour after hour, we saw them move forward. Water and food were scarce, and Tampo’s passions were raw. She cried quietly singing to her baby Melek. “There is no road, you make your own path,” she said.
There were moments of kindness and rest when they made the journey by riding some tours along the way. One of the drivers threw them food while passing. But most of the time, Tambo and her daughters were walking.
On the third day, as they struggled in the thin air near the Andes, at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, we saw a truck driver pity the family, giving them a trip to the next town and sharing some of his food. “I walked a lot,” she told the driver, trying to stem the tears of gratitude.
It was a short rest period for their feet. She said to him: “My daughter’s hand was turning purple.” “I thought it wouldn’t work.”
Checkpoints along the way
The road to the home involves more than endurance. Tampo also had to move around at police checkpoints set up to prevent residents of Lima, the country’s coronavirus center, from spreading the virus to rural areas.
In San Ramon, before Tambo entered the woods, we saw a police officer questioning her. “You cannot pass here with children,” the officer said. Tambo negotiated with him. “I just go back to my farm, in Chaparnarania, where I actually spent a week.”
It was a lie. She could not tell the officer that she was coming from Lima, or that she would not be allowed to continue her flight.
But the exhausted mother persevered. She told us that she was doing what she had to do to survive. The virus was not as frightening as starving to death.
After seven days and nights, traveling 300 miles, Tampo and her children arrived in their native province, Ucayali region, where the indigenous Ashaninka inhabitants also lived.
There was one last obstacle on their way – entry to the area was blocked by the virus.
“What will happen if an infected person enters? How do we escape?” A local Sri Lankan leader told us. “Our only breathing apparatus is air. Our health center has nothing to combat the virus.”
But Tambo was identified. She negotiated with local leaders and was allowed to go home – provided she and her children were isolated for 14 days.
They arrived at night, Tambo overwhelmed as the family’s dogs ran to receive them. She fell on her knees and committed suicide, thanking God for delivering her home, as the animals defeated her tails and raised her arms in her arms.
As the tears flowed, her husband repaid, and her husband’s father got out of the darkness.
There was joy but the distance. Nobody can touch. Nobody can be embraced by the virus.
She told them with tears: “It was very difficult, we suffered a lot.”
“I don’t want to go to Lima again. I thought I would die there with my daughters.”