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'We had until midnight to get out': Columbia couple stranded in Peru during quarantine

Becky and James Patrick are among hundreds of Americans stuck in Peru as the country was placed under quarantine earlier this week.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Columbia couple is trying to get back home.

Becky and James Patrick are among hundreds of Americans stuck in Peru as the country was placed under quarantine earlier this week.

Airplanes can't get in or out, and the earliest flights many can get won't leave until next month.

Becky says they were given just hours to get out.

At 11:59 p.m. Monday, Peru closed its borders, entering a 15-day mandatory quarantine to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

"It was just crazy."

Becky Patrick of Columbia and her husband James woke up to the news with a knock at the door just before 6 a.m. Monday.

"They came to our little cabin and said we had to leave," Becky told us via WhatsApp video chat. "We had until 12 o'clock midnight to get out of the country."

The Patricks were part of a group of 15 tourists staying at the Tahuayo Lodge, two hours down river from Iquitos where the nearest airport could fly them to Lima then back to the U.S.

Becky immediately tried to book a flight from the middle of a jungle.

"My husband is packing all the clothes. I'm down on the other side of the lodge in the only area that has little WiFi," she said. "Everybody in the country was trying to do the same thing all at the same time and it was just overloading everything."

The group was forced to make flight plans at the airport, but it was already too late. By the time they arrived at 2 p.m. Monday, all flights were full.

"I was getting really upset because things were just not happening," said Becky. "It's just a lot of burden to think you're here in another country. This is a whole other world here."

The earliest flight out of Peru leaves April 1st, so they bought tickets. Until then, they're staying at the offices of their excursion company, Amazonia Expeditions, in Iquitos. 

Due to quarantine, Becky says the streets are constantly monitored by police and military members. No one is allowed outside unless they're grabbing essentials like food, medical treatment or medical supplies.

The Patricks were originally scheduled to depart Thursday.

"We were watching all of this coronavirus stuff before we left, and there were no cases in South Carolina," said Becky. "There was only one case in Peru at the time that we left, so we were thinking, 'It's ok, things look pretty good.' We had no idea this could ever happen. Who does?"

News 19 reached out to U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham to see how he's working to get South Carolinians home from Peru.

He said in a statement, 

"We have been in contact with several SC constituents in Peru and are working to assist them."

Senator Tim Scott said in a statement to News 19,

“The U.S. State Department is asking U.S. citizens currently located in countries where travel has been suspended to shelter in place. Our office is in continuous contact with the State Department’s American Citizen Services (ACS) branch to ensure they are aware of each of our constituents currently facing this situation in Peru and other countries. We are also making certain ACS is aware of any emergency concerns our constituents may have. Those affected should stay in contact with the relevant Embassy regarding the State Department’s current guidelines, and our office will continue efforts to help folks get back home.” 

On March 20, U.S. Senator Tim Scott sent the following letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

tim scoTt courte pote United States Senate caquecaan a AND PENSIONS March 20, 2020 Dear Secretary Pompeo, 'As you know, due to COVID-19 many countries shut down their borders with very limited or no notice to individuals from other countries. As a result, there are American citizens stuck in multiple countries with no means of returning home.

In the meantime, Becky says she and James are keeping in constant contact with their family in the U.S.

Before quarantine, the couple enjoyed the breathtaking sights of Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes and Iquitos. They did ziplining, they hiked through the Amazon Rainforest and swam with dolphins.

Credit: Becky Patrick

Even though their trip was cut short, the couple says their excursion company has been extremely helpful in making the best of an unprecedented situation.

Credit: Becky Patrick

"I know a lot of people are in so much worse situations than we are, but we feel pretty lucky to be together," said Becky. "I just want to reach out to the Columbia community and tell them thank you! Everything's good."

Becky says they tried to contact the US Embassy in Peru, but the agency is overloaded. They're also in touch with the state department.

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