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Amazon adventure turns into 'nightmare' after couple detained by protesters

CBC logoCBC 1/10/2015 Natalie Clancy

Matisse Facchin, left, and her parner Angela Skipper were detained by protesters while on holiday in Peru. © Natalie Clancy/CBC Matisse Facchin, left, and her parner Angela Skipper were detained by protesters while on holiday in Peru. What started as an Amazon adventure turned into a terrifying nightmare for a Vancouver couple detained for 36 hours by a mob of angry protesters in Peru.

Angela Skipper and her partner Matisse Facchin, both 27, were vacationing at the UNESCO world heritage site Manú Park when they were caught up in protests. 

"They came out with their boats and surrounded us ... They pulled our boat ashore and told us to get out," said Skipper.

She and Facchin were terrified.

"The part that scared me the most was when she said they'd shoot us if we tried to run away," said Facchin, who said their guide advised them not to swim away.

They say didn't see any guns — just bows, arrows and machetes.

Ongoing dispute over logging road

The Vancouver couple wasn't aware of an ongoing dispute over a planned logging road through the park, halted by a court challenge. 

Local workers who want the road built decided to protest by blocking tourists from entering the park through the Rio Madre de Dios River.

The two Canadians were the first of 40 foreign tourists and researchers detained by indigenous Peruvians.

Skipper credits her guide for protecting her, Facchin and a young Australian woman, by advising them to pretend to be sick so protesters would let them leave the beach to visit a clinic in the nearby village.

"We were essentially smuggled into somebody's home and we had to be quiet because we knew that the men were coming back," said Skipper.

"We were just terrified."

Skipper said the 30 protesters quickly ballooned to a mob of 200 men, many who were drinking.

She said her guide warned the young women they may not be safe at the beach where protesters gathered, so they hid in a shopkeeper's home all night.

The women in the village helped conceal them, said Skipper, while their husbands were off stopping all vessels from proceeding to the park.

'We were hostages'

Skipper said the three young women weren't released until police arrived, more than a day after the incident began.

"It kind of felt like a place where anything goes," she said. "There's no police and they tell you if you get into trouble nobody's coming to help you." 

Officials in Peru say the tourists and researchers from Canada, Australia, the U.S., U.K. and Germany were never in any real danger.

"They were in no way harmed,"  said Pedro Gamboa Moquillaza, head of the National Protected Natural Area Service (SERNANP).

He told CBC News the protesters were not armed, but agreed it was an unpleasant incident for the tourists who were "detained, not captured."

"When they experience something awful like that in protected areas in Peru, it's very unfortunate," said Moquillaza.

Skipper said Peruvian officials are downplaying the incident.

"They decided to use us as leverage in their cause. In a sense, yes, we were hostages. We were essentially held against our will," she said.

She and Facchin are now hoping for a partial refund for the two days they lost, hiding in a village in the jungle.

The Canadian Embassy was notified of the incident, and the government did issue a temporary travel advisory as a result. Travellers are urged to "exercise a high degree of caution" in the Manú region.

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