There’s a moment when a surfer stands up on his board, right in front of a wave seemingly impervious to the impending bone crushing water about to consume him. He is all confidence and fluid grace.
This is our story about the tsunami called COVID-19, and our escape down the Amazon river, Peru.
The madness started for us when I was denied access to my doctor for a long-standing annual appointment in Redondo Beach. I answered the receptionist’s questions about my whereabouts over the previous couple of days – I had attended my annual RE/MAX International convention in Las Vegas. Suddenly, and very quickly a nurse manager came out most apologetic while approaching me, cautiously. She gently handed me a face mask, told me to go home, self-quarantine for 2 weeks and reschedule my appointment. She never took my temperature, never asked me how I felt; in fact, didn’t ask me any further questions. That was on a Thursday, my husband and I flew to Peru on Monday.
LAX day of Departure March 9, 2020
The airport was quiet. Some travelers wore masks, most didn’t. Our flight to Lima was 98% packed. No special precautions were taken, no questions asked, no forms filled out.
We slept fitfully. Sanitizing hand-wipes within our grasp, the sound of snoring nearby, and worrisome coughing and sneezing from the passengers. We landed in Lima and exited the airport without even a questioning glance in our direction.
Lima for two days kept us busy and the news of COVID-19s unrelenting path of destruction filled the CNN stream; we were on the move again. Another flight, another complete absence of questions or screening.
Arriving in Tarapoto Peru, the tenor back home was definitely growing in augmented octaves. News was spotty. The US President was speaking, and then the literal border walls were closing in. By morning, my husband had a sore throat. Now it was personal; my concern was growing. Zinc, Airborne, Vitamin C, and a temperature reading. His cough got worse. He was sneezing. I could tell he was struggling and tired. I fluctuated between bossy and brave. I took our temperatures twice a day. NO fevers.
Another day, another flight; again no screening, no questions, no forms to fill out. We were flying seemingly farther from the eye of the storm; Corona was nipping at our heels – we got news that schools throughout Peru were now closed. With every mile travelled, we hurried deeper towards the jungle and farther from the danger.
Iquitos was busy, a bustling city known for its rubber rich history. Life appeared normal. There was plenty of toilet paper to go around. Our Hotel was packed, people gathered around the TV – CNN; talk was entirely about the virus. Europe was shut out and shut down. Italians sang from the window in beautiful haunting melodies.
Family and friends urged us to come home; to come to our senses, but quite honestly, we felt safer on the Amazon for the next 7 days. Our frustration and a blessing was that we were far, far away from Civilization.
I incessantly told Ken that I felt flippant, too nonchalant with my feelings of being one step ahead of the wave. I didn’t want to be home, quarantined, obsessed with the news, the hoarding, the lack of food, the deaths.
Here we were. On a luxury boat in the middle of the Amazon feeling removed, displaced yet safe albeit looking over our shoulders when a trace of internet would slip into our purview. The news back home is grave. The USA is an island.
The Boat had been booked for 15 people from across the globe. Only 5 of us are aboard, being cared for by a staff of 18. This would later become a huge blessing in disguise.
We visited native tribes, warrior women, and hunters. We learned about ancient botanical medicines, toured a baby monkey refuge and I got to hold my first sloth. All the while the world outside our jungle universe was spinning off its axis in slow motion whilst we are educated, entertained, waited on and bitten by mosquitos. Life was surreal.
Today we ran out of Zinc lozenges.
The future is uncertain. But as I watch a mysterious pink dolphin swim by; I ponder the imagery of our journey into the unknown future.
For now, all I see is miles upon miles of water, jungle and endless sky.
Pre-dinner festivities included many classic Peruvian pisco sours mixed in with a healthy dose of laughter. Dinner was elegant, delicious and robust. The five of us retired for a peaceful sleep, or so we thought.
Midnight day 4
Midnight day 4 we were awoken by a sharp knock on the door. Our guide had urgent news from our Captain, and we all assembled in the hallway in various physiological states of undress and lucidity. Thoughts of pirates raced through my groggy brain as I tried to digest what was being told to us. Peru was in a state of total lockdown; no domestic or international travel of any kind was to take effect in 24 hours. At an unknown point our ship could be grounded. No way in or out until March 30. We were given three options as we gathered on the main deck area.
- Turn the ship around and race back to Iquitos with an uncertain ability to catch a flight within the 12-hour deadline. Also, a risky move as travel at night exposes the risk of pirate attacks.
- Take a small skiff through the night that would take 5-6 hours and arrive to an uncertain outcome in Iquitos.
- Stay aboard, continue the remaining 3 days of our journey, then return to Iquitos and stay aboard our Ship until such a time that we could catch a plane, to anywhere.
As a group, the 5 of us, Ken and I and the other 3 travel mates from Florida decided we wouldn’t risk going to Iquitos. Who knows what mayhem was transpiring there?
New concerns rose quickly from the water depths of my very active brain; supplies, fresh water, food. How cut off would we actually be? For the foreseeable future, we were totally disconnected from the rest of the world. No internet, not phone SOL. Our very beautiful vessel felt like TRUE sitting ducks for frantic locals in need of supplies. Increased security on board patrolled with rifles.
We retired to our respective cabins and the sky seemed to rebel in parallel and mother nature let loose with a fury of lightening, thunder and torrents of rain.
Morning brought little news, but our captain reconfirmed that we could stay aboard indefinitely. No news had come in overnight from our Tour Operators. Still no internet connection but we had a window of several hours that maybe communication could be achieved at our next port of call. A tiny village in the middle of the jungle.
News of price gouging in Peru and the army getting involved added to a low-lying anxiety.
The ship’s captain offered us a discount on our rooms. We sat in silence in the main area looking for clues in our travel insurance. Medicine was counted for an extended stay. We were also concerned for the staff, the ramifications for their lives, their families.
This was rapidly becoming an adventure. Lost track of days.
Normally Amazon cruises (remember they are smaller vessels) do not navigate at night. There is a real risk of Pirate attacks, however yesterday we were told in another group meeting that it was for security reasons not to be anchored on shore near the small village.
Dinner last night was business as usual. White linens, white wine, all 5 of us trying to be upbeat, but the air- conditioned room carried a questioning atmosphere delving into unknown topics from our quarantine, politics, our families and next steps. When we decided enough was enough, we watched a Clint Eastwood movie on the main deck. Then Ken showed photos of our last trip to India. We went to sleep quiet rightfully unsure of how the morning would play out.
The sun rose through the sky unrestricted by any intergalactic quarantine.
Details for were limited; it was a precautionary measure. So, we motored thru the night and awoke in Iquitos, not the most picturesque spot, especially when the Military pulled up alongside our vessel. There were three men, two Military, and one Navy. On Military guard wore a mask – according to a nurse friend back home, incorrectly.
We were told by the one and only English-speaking staff that two of our crew, the Captain and one other man had to disembark for “emergency reasons” not shared with us. These two men had to go thru a rapid screening to test for Covid-19 and if they tested ok then they would get off our boat. IF the tests were positive, heaven help us.
The first evidential crack of a decline in supplies reared its ugly head. It’s definitely a non-essential item but Black Tea and Pepper are no longer available. Other teas yes, juices that were previously 100% fresh squeezed now appear to be mixed with water. I have no issue with economizing our stores, I’m easier going and adaptable than most, but this may be a tiny peek in perhaps what’s yet to come.
Our Captain and another staff just left the boat; we were told again for testing to see if he could stay off the boat for his personal reasons.
The view outside the main deck is industrial on one side, green on the other. There is mandatory cessation of all travel, but we see small motorized canoes zipping across the water, most likely in haste to avoid the patrolling army.
Once we achieved a good cell tower connection, I sent a group email to the US Embassy with our passport numbers etc. We are all registered with STEP, the State Department site so we are able to get alerts.
Ken is now suffering from his typical hot weather edema. Staff nurse is trying to obtain the necessary meds. I’ve been administered an antibiotic which seems to be helping. It’s some sort of Amoxycillin.
Our skiff just left with 9 big blue empty water containers. NOT a good sign. That, and the illness on board are my two concerns. Concerned for the staff who are missing their families and their families who are concerned about them. You couldn’t tell their deeper inner thoughts because they are all smiles.
Yesterday we were to continue onto the next beautiful phases of our trip; Cusco, Machu Picchu, train to Lake Titicaca. The destinations travel dreams are made of; but instead here we were, on our vessel, gobbling up any scraps of information. We are docked close to Iquitos with a cell tower, so we have intermittent internet and CNN.
The connection to others locally via FB and WhatsApp is a source of comfort and distress at the same time. There are many here in Peru from all nations including the US suffering worse fates than us 5. One woman posted that she has no window in her lodging, has no outlet to the outside world.
To make this unprecedented situation all the more surreal, last night was had a Bingo night with all the staff and finished off the evening with Karaoke. The owner of the vessel is lucky to have his wife aboard. All the other staff are missing their families, yet they are all smiles, laughter and a deep desire to be of service. I cannot give our crew a high enough praise.
My gratitude for our good fortune turns into a sour taste of guilt.
The days and nights are beginning to blur together. I have one book to read and am savoring the pages. We do have coffee table books on Peru on board, but that’s not as appetizing as a good old page turner.
Let’s go by first names now; we are all family it seems. Jodi, John, Lloyd, Ken & I have our spots on the upper deck. We gaze out the window at the never changing scenery. The days are punctuated by mealtime; again, another surreal experience – white linens, doting staff. Things have loosened a little, the staff laughs more, there’s less of an austere atmosphere.
We’ve been on the boat for a week today. Those first few days were magical, and I cling to those days.
Cruising down the Amazon, taking the small skiff into narrow waterways, marveling at the shy pink dolphins that our guide has a unique ability to commune with. Seeing a wild sloth in a tree, Macaws flying the way mother nature intended, unrestrained squawking their dominance over the treetops.
Last night was light triumphing over darkness. Last night transcended nationality, social status or language. Last night the commonality of food made us one, one life, one unit together against the quarantine.
I donned a chef’s coat and hat and began to share my version of love via a little bit of flour, eggs, milk, sugar, butter and music. Our new friend John Clarke took everyone’s order starting with the staff.
Last night summoned smiles, joy and endless laughter. For a precious moment the global disaster outside the boat seemed far away. Everyone was served one of my crepes, all staff, owner and wife, and lastly the 5 guests.
We retired to our cabins warm with brotherhood, not fever.
I think some days have passed since my last entry; I’ll try to bring our story up to date. The days and nights seem truly to melt into one as there isn’t a distinct punctuation in activities, location or state of mind.
Last night we had a huge and I mean monstrous lightning rainstorm. One bolt was so strong I thought it would rip the boat in two. According to our guide, there are much worse storms. I can’t begin to stretch my imagination to
that very dark and scary place where mother nature hurls her most wicked retribution.
What does a typical day in quarantine on a luxury boat look like? Feel like? Smell like?
Husband brings me hot tea in bed at 7am, not too dissimilar to life back home. Breakfast is served at 8am sharp where we meet up with our other travelers and staff. Everyone is always (so far) in sparkly & cheery spirits. We share the usual social pleasantries, how are you today, how did you sleep and aren’t the eggs delicious this fine morning?
After a robust and guilt laced breakfast of piping hot coffee with milk, eggs, toast, butter, jam, fruit juice yogurt and more we waddle up to the upper deck and retreat into our cellphones. It’s quiet. No one talks whilst updates are revealed about our common plight; are there flights? Will there be flights? Has the embassy made contact? We then all exchange notes and updates or more likely lack thereof.
Later Ken or I will get a massage (part of our package). Maria is kind, knowing and talented in the art of relaxing muscles that carry stress hiding deep in our cells. After each one of my massages, I hug Maria tightly, for a moment longer than she expects, to let her know how much I appreciate her care and that I recognize she is suffering too.
Lunch is served! Time to gather in the dining room again, to a different style of napkin design that thrills us at every meal. How many ways are there to fold a napkin!
Ken usually has the staff in stitches with his “Ken-ness”. I know the staff enjoys his mischievous sometimes out-there attitude. Remember, only one staff speaks good English. His antics and comedy are a universal language. Is our Spanish improving? What do you think!
After lunch is when it gets weird for me. I get overcome with the sensation that my shoulders are going to sink into the floorboards. I am so tired I retreat to bed and sleep so deeply I wonder how I am able to sleep at night.
Ken wakes me up; he’s either been asleep next to me or on the main deck trying to deal with bill paying, finances and home issues. Life goes on during a global pandemic.
Cocktail hour! Hip Hip Hurray!
Senior Vincente whips up something strong or less powerful, local and exotic or standard bar fare and we all behave in a very British civilized manner. No drunken fools on this boat! Well Ken…. 🙂
I decided to anoint myself the cruise entertainment director. What a surprise. Keeping morale up is my middle name. I tell stories, read poems and have sung a song or two. Karaoke night was hilarious. Even our Sheriff John (Sr. Victor) sang a melancholic ditty.
Dinner is served at 7pm. Again, we delight in the always different creative napkin display (thank god for small amusements).
Every meal is an abundance of truly wonderful creations from our resident chef, Juan Carlos. His presentation is beautiful, creative, don’t know quite how he keeps it up. Ken and I sit at the same table every night, in the same seats even though all table are set up immaculately. The Clarke family does the same. Funny how humans are creatures of habit.
We applaud the chef and make small talk. Politics are avoided like the plague….hahaha I just made a funny!
Post dinner festivities depend on varying levels of fatigue. We are cognizant of our good fortune watching movies, happy to watch even bad ones. I have yet to find the energy to pull off our dictionary night, but I think this evening will be perfect. The lighting show last night was entertainment enough!
Morning brings not much news but a more palpable sense of urgency to take any flight out we can, independent of arrival location stateside. Interior flights in the USA may be curtailed or stopped.
I have found out that I have access to FB Live. This is MAJOR good news for me, and I think it might be due to the big medical ship that docked nearby might have given a boost to my connection. I worry my transmission are painfully dull, but they connect me to my peoples – those I know and those I only know via the internet, but they are my friends. Physical proximity or the absence of face to face meeting matters not. Again, I’m grateful.
What a difference a day makes!
The chatter out there had been that the US Embassy was ramping up and that we should check our emails and resend the same information yet again to the specific email address; same protocol:
Subject Line: Last name, first name
Body of email: DOB, Passport #, Age, Email address, phone number, location
We dutifully and eagerly fulfilled all the actions required, double check our names were on a google doc that a
volunteer from our Embassy Dana, created by location. There were many stranded Citizens, and not just from our country.
The nightly Peruvian Presidential briefing brought more devastating statistics of the spread of the Virus. He also referenced that there could be a tighter lockdown period to come. He promised another address the following night.
When you do the same thing, day in and day out without any variation of space or place, time becomes one big blob. I could count the days, figure out the exact timing, but that wasn’t what we were experiencing.
We were told to be packed up and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We were told to keep our phones on all night and check our emails multiple times throughout the night in case we received the ever elusive, most desired email of all time; the notification of evacuation and repatriation. But first, a massage, cocktails and dinner. The fine line between our real Life and this suspended reality was becoming mind numbing, almost a suspended dreamlike state while pleasant, all we definitely wanted to do was wake up and run away.
Over dinner we 5 strategized finances, tipping, calculating out how much was a fair price for being a government hostage on a luxury yacht. We checked our commercial flights and found out they had all been cancelled – thanks to the WhatsApp group, “Stuck in Iquitos”. We ran to our phones, computers to navigate next steps.
It should have been a red flag right away. We were able to rebook our respective flights. Ken and I were to fly to Lima on 3/31, then on 4/2 Lima LAX. The Clark family were set to fly out 4/1 to Lima then to Florida somewhere.
There was increasing talk that the new Presidential address by the Peruvian leader would be a new, stricter quarantine. NO commercial flights, but maybe, just maybe evacuations would be allowed for foreigners. We just had to wait till the next evening. It was the 25th of March.
Our life was about to turn on a dime. Ken woke me up from a very groggy nocturnal hibernation from life’s woes. He was hyper, questioning, was it true, could we believe it, was it official, why weren’t our names on this email. Should it be believed? I expelled the fog from my brain and focused as if my life depended on it on the series of emails before me. It took a Herculean force to center my thoughts squarely. Yes, they were real, our travel commander answered the questions at 2 in the morning as best he could. He talked about Metadata, the senders email address being .gov, and how that was difficult to fake. He gave us the green light to make a run for it.
Ken woke up the Clarkes and we all headed up to the main deck. We had to print very phony looking travel passes for check points, we had a multi-page “promissory note” from the US GOVT to pay for our repatriation flights. If repayment was NOT effectuated at a later date back stateside, passports would be VOIDED. Documents were dispersed efficiently, the staff was assisting us with seamless efficiency, until it came time to settle the bill.
To cut through the painful thick of it, we watched the owner of our vessel, the man who held our lives in his hands, struggle to get the bank via the credit card machine to accept the rotund amount we needed to pay. Several attempts made and failed. We had to proceed with trust. Thank you, Oscar.
It was now 3 am. They would serve breakfast at 7 am and we would leave for the airport at 8 am sharp. We would have a security detail, a motorcycle official of some sort to escort us safely. We gathered our carefully filled out forms, truly terrified to make the slightest error, all the while feeling utter angst for others out there who didn’t have access to a printer. They would try to make do with screen shots from their cell phones. Gods speed. We would need strength for the journey. I asked the chef to prepare simple sandwiches and water for our trip; we were told the plane might not have even a drop of water and that the wait at the airport for processing would be long, hot and chaotic.
Back in the cabin I packed the last items but couldn’t remember seeing my wallet. Panic started to penetrate my no longer steely reserves. Ken found it in the back of the vault. I have a tendency to leave things in hotel rooms all over the world, usually in the most remote of places like Katmandu Nepal, Tarapoto Peru to name a few.
It was hard to sleep. We were going to be in the war zone of the unknown in 5 scant hours. We had been coddled, cared for, waited on and isolated from the outside world, the virus that was at an arms distance, was now knocking at our pores. We slept.
I’m not sure if Lloyd Clarke our resident grandad was lucky or not to have slept thru the events of the previous night, but he sure got one hell of a wakeup call!
The ugly reality of money dealings reared its serpentine tongue spitting head and we had to deal with some issues. We also wanted to give special gratuities in cash to certain staff that we had been most directly involved with. An overall tip structure was decided by us 5. Equanimity to the end. We were family now.
Jodie Clarke at breakfast asked me again if I was certain all of their names were on the manifest list email. I confirmed and we both eyeballed the email, and all was in order. The alternative to being on the manifest list It was too frightening to contemplate.
Greasing the palm has always had an unpleasant taste to me. There was deep emotion behind the exchange of cash. We wanted to give sustenance to the staff who were now, most definitively out of a job for who knew how long.
Breakfast on the surface of the white linen was like every other breakfast, but it wasn’t. This was it. Today was our D-Day. Soon we’d be at ground zero facing the plague right in the nucleus.
The owners had gifts for us too, little Peruvian trinkets we didn’t have time to accumulate due to the quarantine. They sincerely wanted us to have something Peruvian to bring to our homes. We accepted with full hearts, hearts full of love, compassion, fear and the deepest sense of gratitude for the never wavering motherly care they bestowed upon all of us.
It was time. We had to kit up. This time Gloves and masks with our life vests. The departure photos were very different than our joyous beaming arrival pics.
Saying goodbye to our Peruvian caretakers was extremely emotional for me. I can only speak for me, but I had to force back not just tears, but sobs. Each one of them meant so much to me, to our collective lives and I couldn’t be sure who would survive and who wouldn’t.
Down the river for the last time, the skiff, our vessel full of too few but vibrant Amazonian memories hurried to a port that was a shock to the system. Here we saw the real Iquitos; the poverty was blinding. Oswaldo our beloved guide and translator stayed at our sides as we made our way to the bus that would protect us and deliver us to the airport with one real Amazonian woman on a motorcycle at our flanks.
Surprisingly there were many people out, shopping at the open market, some with masks, some not. There was a line several blocks long at a bank. As we neared the airport, we witnessed heartbreaking shacks with pleading handwritten missives for the President. Amazingly we were not stopped once at any check point. My guess is we had clout with our biker babe sidekick!
At last we were at the closed iron gates of the airport. The bus in front of us carried many of the people from the “Stuck in Iquitos group”. I recognized faces from photos. I was so happy they made it.
Because of our dear 90-year-old Lloyd Clark, they allowed OUR bus to drive to departures; he wouldn’t make that walk. He was lucky, but his luck was about to run thin.
Oswaldo our guide promised to stay with us no matter what until we were thru the process and assured our seats on the flight to Miami. Back home family was learning of our evacuation. We were trying to send messages FB posts. People were worried about us.
God it was hot inside. We formed an orderly line and we waited. The line grew and grew. Some wandered off and got chairs from an abandoned restaurant. Remember, the airport was officially closed, non-operational. We waited. No news. No idea but we had been told by other evacuees that there would be a long hot wait, so that’s what we did.
Some hours later Latam Air staff arrived. Then the medical workers. The health testers. A group of Peruvian petroleum workers were being flown out. Go figure.
One man didn’t pass the test, not sure if it was his fever, or swollen glands or what, but he didn’t pass muster. He removed his mask and hung about making phone calls.
We were now told to make distance. You could hear the collective groans, we’d been quarantined together, we’d be squished in a small airplane together, but well, we needed to be spaced out. The problem was the airport wasn’t really big enough for 6’ per person.
Lloyd got tested first. He BP was high. They listened to his chest. He was trembling, sweating. These were not the best of times. But he passed. If Oswaldo hadn’t been there to translate the questions the process would have been much more challenging.
Next John, Lloyd’s son. BP also high. He told them he had had a cough. Jodie and I stared in disbelief. This might not be the time for total transparency, especially since he had passed the two-week mark with no fever, healthy appetite and a sound tummy. But, he passed, as did Jodie also with high BP. Ken was next and he too passed. I thought I was going to pass out. I thought I was dizzy but realized I didn’t have my land-legs yet. I passed without a BP test as I was the youngest in our group.
Next was the part that made my Blood Pressure shoot thru the roof. Lloyd, the Patriarch of our little band of misfits wasn’t on the manifest list. He therefore would strictly NOT be allowed on our flight. His son and daughter in law, Ken and I were all on the list. Not Lloyd. Panic ensued. Oswaldo tried to talk to whomever had the highest level in the chain of command. It wasn’t working and, in the meantime, El Presidente just ordered another severe mandatory 2 week lock down for the whole country.
Then came the ray of sunshine I forgot about. Ms. Sunshine, yes that’s her real name on her business card. She works for the consular department at the Embassy and my sister who teaches all over the world made sure I had her contact information. We had been in touch, but not constantly as I was communicating with the coordinated embassy channels. I called her number via WhatsApp. She answered, told me she saw the screw up and was escalating it to the highest level. There were no promises being made. If he couldn’t get a seat on this flight, the whole Clarke family would have to…. answer unknown and unthinkable.
Dana the guardian angel and volunteer at the US Embassy kept us briefed. We didn’t have much excess time.
Amazingly for Lloyd, this wonderfully eloquent man who had been of service to his country in wartimes past, got added to the flight manifest. Mission accomplished, Ken and I made our way to the security line. The Clarke’s would catch up. Their toil was not over, as at each security check the officials had the original manifest, less Lloyd’s name. The resolution had to be repeated at least 3 more times.
Ken and I stood at the edge of one more final security check, and after that we handed in our promissory notes, then we got checked off the manifest again, got another officially stamped document and went thru X-ray screening. More than 3 oz of any liquid? NO problem! This was an evacuation repatriation! One passenger had an almost Sparkles sized bottle of water.
I photo documented the triumphant Clarkes as they joined us at the gate. Maybe an hour later, something truly beautiful and surprising happened.
The Latam Crew arrived and as they parted the river of passengers like Moses, they received rousing applause and a standing ovation of appreciation.
We still had a long wait for unknown reasons. Then we found out why. There was an argument over who would be paying for the fueling of the plane. During this whole repatriation situation, there was much going on behind the scenes, behind international leader’s closed doors we mere mortals were not privy to.
Lloyd in a fancy wheelchair was first in line to board.
We walked outdoors towards freedom our hearts full, yet fully aware of the impending danger that lay ahead. Miami was a cesspool; California was drowning in illness. The airplanes and airports were the delivery vehicles of the pestilence.
Once aboard joy fought disappointment. The flight wasn’t full. There were empty seats that could have been filled with evacuees. Why? How? We wouldn’t ever know the reasons, so we rejoiced as the plane sped down the runway, lifting up into the air toward our beleaguered homeland.
We were repatriated and deposited in Miami Fl USA.
The repatriation cost was promised to be repaid at a cost for now unknown.
The world can surprise you in wondrous ways. We were invited into the home of our beloved Clarkes where we were promised steaming hot never-ending hot water shower, a canopy bed and a ride to the airport no matter what time the next day. What could we say to such an embracing act of kindness?
Touchdown on American soil never had such an impact on all of us; well maybe it had for Lloyd who was in the military but for the rest of us it was a moment to rejoice. Miami international airport was a ghostly quiet, empty and surreal; there is no better adjective to describe life in March of 2020. And it was about to get just a tad stranger as the night wore on.
We were hungry, sweaty, most probably smelly and needed food and sleep. Our evacuation from Peru had left indelible memories on our physical and emotional states. I could feel that I had been holding on so tightly to my breath for so long It had to have repercussions on my body.
We drove to Ft. Lauderdale towards their home on the New River, but we stopped at a takeout restaurant, the only one left open. The scene was surreal. Drivers running red lights, people with mental illness in the street having arguments with imaginary foes, motorcycle groups revving loudly as they zoomed past.
Arriving at their home, Jodie hugged the walls; Lloyd took up residence in his usual spot and commanded control of the TV remote. We ate, enjoyed a beer and went to bed.
The Clarkes drove us to the airport the next morning. Again, emotions surfaced as we said goodbye. And then, just like that we were off.
The gate was deserted, we sat distanced from others. Some people wore masks, one LAX bound passenger wore full body paper protection, like a hazmat suit my inspectors wear when they crawl under a house. We boarded and took our seats & I sanitized our areas – seatbelts, seats, surfaces everything I could find. Our flight attendant Elliott was attentive and sensitive, kind and openly vulnerable. There was a moment of silence over the PA for a Philadelphia based flight attendant who lost the fight against COVID-19.
We were going home. We were so excited, apprehensive and anxious. It was real!
We Made it Home
Arrival at LAX, again no medical screening and limited evidence of people wearing protective measures. We had been fully kitted up, gloves and masks since we left our boat in Iquitos, changing them at what we hoped were the proper intervals.
Waiting for our luggage I ran into the husband of a high school pal of mine, a local public persona. He had gotten stuck in Argentina.
We loaded up our luggage in the car, the driver was not allowed to touch our luggage as a precautionary measure), and we drove…….HOME. Home, a place of ease. How lucky we felt.
Our neighbors left us provisions at the front door, steak, milk, eggs and that kind gesture brought me on the brink of tears, it opened the restrained floodgate of tears that began to spill. Our other neighbors who had our house key, left us thoughtful items inside our fridge, food, wine and then came the second wave of tear-filled gratitude.
We are now ready to self-quarantine for 14 days, but we need to accomplish one last mission. We had to get our dogs home. We got in the car, called ahead, paid over the phone and followed the proper protocol for retrieving the dogs.
At last, finally reunited, and ready to take on whatever comes next. For now, I need to learn to breathe.
See below for our article in the Beach Reporter > https://www.dailybreeze.com/2020/03/31/redondo-beach-couple-makes-it-home-after-coronavirus-quarantine-stranded-them-in-peru/