Nelson residents arrive home from quarantine in Peru

Decontamination misting of waiting bank customers outside Greg Smith’s hostel room in Cajamarca, Peru. Photo: Greg Smith
On the bus from Pucalpa to Lima, Laurel Conley and all passengers had their temperature taken by Peruvian medical staff. Photo: Laurel Conley

Three West Kootenay residents who have been stuck in remote parts of Peru because of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown, and who were interviewed from there for an earlier story in the Star, are now back in Nelson.

Greg Smith, who was quarantined in a hostel in Cajamarca, says he got less than 12 hours notice that a van ordered by the Canadian embassy would drive him to Lima.

He says this was a result of praiseworthy and innovative work by staff of the Canadian embassy.

Canada had already evacuated about 2,000 citizens from Peru, he says, and he was one of the last because of his remote location.

He says Cajamarca’s lockdown process gradually got more strict with earlier curfews every day. They added gender days in which men could go out one day and women the next, and they banned going outside for any reason on the Easter weekend.

“No criticism of Peru,” he said. “They do not have a robust medical system so they need to do this medieval quarantine process.”

The van picked up other Canadians along the way. When it reached the Lima airport – passports already having been checked in an earlier city – it drove straight onto the runway and the passengers proceeded directly onto the plane bound for Toronto.

Smith noticed something different about Lima.

“It was surreal. Lima is usually very polluted, but the sky was crisp and clear and blue,” he says.

“The plane was full and it was lifted off the ground by relief as much as by the engines. The pilot gave a very moving speech, and off we went.”

Smith says he was taken aback by what he considered lax hygiene standards practised by airport staff in Toronto and Vancouver. There were no tests or temperature checks, in contrast to Peru where medical staff took the temperature of every passenger in the van.

“But here I am back in Nelson and I am just so grateful that I made it. I’m back in my own bed. I’m in quarantine, and I’m down with that, it is appropriate.

“This was an emotional roller coaster the likes of which I had never seen in my life.”

Laurel Conley and Veronica Holman, also interviewed by the Star from Peru, are back home as well.

Their two-day bus ride, organized by the Canadian embassy, from Pucalpa to the Lima airport, was punctuated by a stressful series of military roadblocks.

Conley says she was afraid they would not be allowed through because in some places the police didn’t care whether their embassy papers and passports were in order.

“It depends on which roadblock you hit. The papers may mean something, and they may not. Right up until we got on the plane there was never a guarantee that we would get on a plane.”

She and Holman arrived in the West Kootenay on Sunday evening.

Related: West Kootenay residents stranded in Peru seek a way home

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