Remember the lockdowns? You know what I'm talking about. When literally the entire world stopped functioning for weeks, and in some places, months. Machu Picchu closed in March 2020 and many tourists were stranded until they could be evacuated and return to their home countries, either on last minute, or humanitarian flights. But one young Japanese tourist decided to stay in Peru, spending 7 months in the small village of Aguas Calientes. He was so close to the majestic ancient city of Machu Picchu that he was willing to hold out for the chance to visit the ancient Inca wonder. Eventually, Jesse Katayama (27), became the "first tourist to enter Machu Picchu" after reopening in November 2020.

During the pandemic lockdown, the trains stopped operating and residents of the small town became isolated from the rest of the world. During his extended and unplanned stay, Jesse was treated well, and amused himself by practicing his martial arts and teaching skills to local children. Jesse's commitment to stay paid off, and ultimately he was given special permission to be the first official tourist to enter Machu Picchu with a private tour in November 2020. 

To repay the Peruvian villagers for their kindness, Jesse decided to return to Aguas Calientes in December 2021, as Santa Claus. Loaded with gifts of t-shirts and school supplies to hand out to the children, Jesse met with Machu Picchu Mayor Darwin Baca, to formally express his gratitude to the residents for their hospitality and kindness during his unintended stay.  The expedition became known as "The Machu Picchu Santa Project," and was supported by the Embassy of Peru in Japan, Association of Japan Peruana, Otama Mura Adachi Pistola Hukushima, and American Airlines.

I can't think of anything better than being the "first tourist to visit Machu Picchu after covid lockdown" except maybe being part of "The Machu Picchu Santa Project." What a great way to end the year of 2021!