When Peru closed Machu Picchu on March 15, Jesse Takayama was on the brink of achieving a longtime dream. The 26-year-old Japanese boxing instructor had flown all the way from Osaka to visit the ancient ruins, arriving at the base camp of Aguas Calientes one day before the UNESCO World Heritage site shut down.
Seven months later, his patience paid off. Over the weekend, the Peruvian government reopened Machu Picchu just for Takayama, giving him a one-of-a-kind opportunity to tour the Inca citadel with virtually no one else around.
“He’d come to Peru with the dream of getting in,” Culture Minister Alejandro Neyra explained at a Monday news conference, according to the Financial Times.
Takayama told CNN Travel that he had decided to stay in Aguas Calientes when countries started closing down their borders in March, rather than try to get on a flight back to Japan. He rented an apartment, explored lesser-known sites in the area and began giving boxing lessons to local children. But his hopes of getting to visit Machu Picchu dwindled as his savings started to run low and plans to reopen the site were delayed from July to November.
Sympathetic locals who had met Takayama and learned of his plight lobbied on his behalf, and Peru’s Ministry of Culture eventually agreed to make an exception so that he could see Machu Picchu before he had to go back to Japan. Along with two photographers from a local tour company, he was the first visitor to set foot on the legendary site in seven months.
“This is so amazing!” he said in a video recorded from the mountaintop, according to Reuters. “Thank you!”