Steep price for a free trip to Peru

LIMA, PERU -- It seemed a sweet deal: A free vacation to South America. All expenses paid, and a hefty cash bonus. Just bring a parcel back home to Europe.

"I thought I had no worries," said Vera Scheerstra, recalling when her boyfriend in the Netherlands suggested the trip. "I was stupid -- and in love, I guess."

For the Dutchwoman, it has turned into a life-transforming experience -- but not in any constructive sense.

Scheerstra is among scores of Europeans now in Peruvian jails on charges of attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Lima's airport. They are known as burriers, a fusion of "courier" and "burro."

Many, such as Scheerstra, languish in jail for years awaiting trial as their cases proceed tortuously through Peru's courts. Scheerstra and her boyfriend were caught in October 2005 with 16 kilos, about 35 pounds, of cocaine in suitcases.