/ Articles / Minocqua couple returns home safe after being stranded in Peru
Daryl Carrington and Mary Myers were fast asleep when their tour guide shook their tent and awakened them in the early morning hours of March 16. Camped at about 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the married couple’s guide told them they had 24 hours to leave the country or risk being quarantined.
The Minocqua couple was only two days into a six-day hiking trip to Machu Picchu when the Peruvian President, Martín Vizcarra, announced the country would be going into a 15-day quarantine due to COVID-19.
“When the guide initially came and told us we had to get out, I didn’t understand,” Myers said. “I thought maybe there was an earthquake or a rockslide or an avalanche and we had to get out of that area, but it was really we had to get out of Peru.”
Retired college professors from Temple University in Philadelphia who moved to Minocqua two years ago, Carrington, 72, and Myers, 67, had spent the last three months traveling around mostly South America, visiting Costa Rica, Chile and Argentina. They had planned to stay in Peru for a month, joined by two friends from Philadelphia, before visiting Brazil and Belize. With the threat of coronavirus looming near, their trip was cut short.
Peru’s president had announced the quarantine several hours before the couple’s tour guide awakened them. Foreigners were given 24 hours to evacuate. The clock was already ticking.
Although their guide had brought a satellite phone, the group was out of reach of service. The tour company was forced to deliver the news the old-fashioned way: a messenger.
“He hiked in the dark four hours up the mountain, to where we were camped and that’s how we got awakened at 2 a.m.,” Carrington said.
“There was absolutely no forewarning or we would have gone home a lot sooner,” Myers said of the president’s announcement. “The country seemed pretty stable.”
The group hiked the four hours down the mountain — navigating rocks, fallen trees and even llamas — in the dark.
They reached a waiting van and drove to the hotel in Cusco where they had stayed for a few days prior to the camping trip. They tried to make airline reservations online, but flights were either full or cancelled.
They decided to go directly to the airport, but were met with long lines. Without a boarding pass for that day, they weren’t allowed inside.
According to Carrington, “it was a total fiasco.” The couple waited for three or four hours before deciding to return to the hotel.
The couple was left with few options as neighboring countries were also closing their borders and driving to Lima — the country’s closest airport with direct flights to the U.S. — would take almost 20 hours.
“It was just very clear we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere,” Carrington said.
Unable to leave Peru before the start of the quarantine, Carrington and Myers joined thousands of Americans who would be trapped in the country with no idea when or how they might be able to return home.
At first, Carrington and Myers were not too worried about staying in Peru.
“We did not know how extended it would be,” Myers said. “We thought the U.S. State Department would be able to help repatriate people.”
Sheltered in their hotel in Cusco, the couple registered for repatriation with the State Department, but it took five days before they received any information. In the meantime, the couple reached out to Wisconsin Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson for assistance. Their traveling partners contacted Pennsylvania’s senators and governor.
“This quarantine is much more strict than anything that’s happening in the United States,” Carrington said, speaking from their hotel room. “There are police on the street; the police stop by in our hotel lobby every other day.”
Without proper documents, the Americans were unable to leave the hotel and depended on its staff for their groceries.
“They bring the groceries back in a bag and we wash everything — including the vegetables — in bleach solution and the bags, inside and out, and all that so that there’s no transfer,” Myers said.
Since Carrington, Myers and their friends were the only guests, the hotel owner allowed them to use her apartment, which included a kitchen.
“It’s like our clubhouse for Team Quarantine and our friends come up and we cook together,” Carrington said.
Aside from cooking, the group passed the time with games and exercise.
They said they were very grateful for the attention they received from the hotel staff.
“They couldn’t be nicer,” Myers said. “We were like a little family when we were there since we were the only ones in the hotel: the four of us.”
On March 26, Peru’s president extended the country’s state of emergency 13 more days. The quarantine and curfew restrictions are now scheduled to end on April 12.
With no prior warning, Carrington and Myer’s friends received a call on the evening of Saturday, March 28, informing them that their group would be flown out the next morning.
They checked out of their hotel early the next day, March 29, and headed to the airport in Cusco.
The van, driven by the hotel manager, was stopped twice by police on the way.
“Fortunately, he had three or four different official-looking papers and a big envelope that he would give to the policeman on the street,” Carrington said.
They made it to the airport 20 minutes prior to their appointed time, which was 9 a.m. Already, there were lines of passengers hoping to get on flights that day on both sides of the road outside.
The group was finally given a green light from a U.S. embassy staff member that their names were included on that day’s flight manifest, which is a list of passengers and crew on board an aircraft.
Instead of paying for the flight upfront, the passengers signed a promissory note that they would pay the fee at a later date.
The couple said airport staff was implementing safety measures.
“They did temperature tests on our foreheads and stuff when we went in. Everybody was required to have gloves and a mask, which everybody did have,” Carrington said.
The couple finally boarded and made the quick flight from Cusco to Lima, where they refueled. Although they were assigned different seats for the flight to Miami, everyone on the plane was asked to stay in their seats. The flight crew wore protective gloves and masks.
Over 12 hours after their travel day began in Cusco, Carrington and Myers finally reached U.S. soil, arriving in Miami late on Sunday night.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Peru, as of March 30, approximately 2,800 Americans have been repatriated from Peru.
Though they were back in America, the couple’s journey was not yet over. On Monday, March 30, they caught flights to Charlotte and then to Milwaukee, landing around 4 p.m. They drove the rest of the way home and arrived back in Minocqua later that evening.
Having been in Peru’s strict quarantine for a week, the couple said they noticed a difference in the U.S.
“There’s a whole different level of seriousness,” Carrington said. “When we left Peru, they checked our temperature with that forehead gun, but we didn’t see anything like that when we arrived here, which would be prudent.”
The couple said they are happy to be home, but understand their lives won’t be returning to normal quite yet.
“Now we have to self-quarantine for 14 days because although we got on the plane healthy, we don’t know if we arrived home healthy, so we have to be really vigilant not to infect anybody,” Myers said. “We’ll just stay put and try to stay healthy and hope everybody else does the same.”
Delaney FitzPatrick may be reached via email at [email protected]