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Familys trip of lifetime in Peru turned scary amid shutdown due to virus

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Familys trip of lifetime in Peru turned scary amid shutdown due to virus

DES MOINES, Iowa (CNS) — Bob and Mary Boyle of St. Pius X Parish in Urbandale, Iowa, had planned the spring break trip of a lifetime to Peru with their son Aidan, a sophomore at Dowling Catholic High School.

But as the departure date drew closer, concerns about COVID-19 grew.

The couple thought they had accounted for all the risks they might face before deciding to move forward with their vacation plans.

“The very first part of our trip was three or four days in the Amazon,” Bob said in an interview once the family was back home. “You’re pretty cut off when you’re there. But probably around (March) 16, the people that run the lodge and our guide said the government is going to close the (Peruvian) borders.”

The Peruvian government also wanted to halt all movement within the country — no buses, trains, planes — nothing. The Boyles had not planned for that scenario.

Everyone in the lodge where they were staying agreed to quickly grab their luggage and belongings so they could make it to the nearest town before the country shutdown. Military and police were everywhere.

“We got into the airport and got a flight to Cusco — a medium-sized town,” Bob continued. They really needed to be in Lima but couldn’t get there.

Though concerned about making it back to the United States, the Boyles were happy to have found a hotel room available. But being stuck in a foreign country amid a global pandemic was scary and they had lots of questions about the unknowns.

“No one likes it,” Bob said. “We didn’t want to be there. There’s kind of a fine line between civility and incivility. If the supply chain stopped moving in Cusco and people were hungry or people develop anti-American sentiments or the police were not 100% honest … it becomes more than inconvenient. We just hoped it stayed civilized. But we thought, ‘What if this breaks down?'”

Police were everywhere enforcing the rules.

“I was more worried about my wife and my son,” Bob continued. “My wife has some illnesses and she was running out of some medications. My son is only 15 and I’m worried about civil unrest.

“We just tried to remain positive and I did have faith that I would eventually get back home,” he said. “And I definitely maintained a perspective of how fortunate I was. I was safe, healthy and fed. People around us were living in hostels. People were running out of money. And I felt incredibly fortunate. … I really don’t have any real problems in the world — much worse things are happening.”

Mary has leaned on her faith as she has faced her health struggles, and despite her fears, she leaned on it during this time.

“My biggest concerns were … that we were going to become exposed to the virus in a country where the health care is not good,” Mary said. “Another is that we were basically living under martial law and the police presence was really ramping up and they were starting to storm in hotels and hostels and put people in up to a two-month quarantine.”

When their friend Carla Shey-Osborne of St. Pius X Parish learned about the Boyles’ ordeal, she lifted them up in prayer — and made some noise, contacting U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, about their situation.

The Boyles’ names — along with 5,000 other Americans all trying to get out of Peru — were added to a U.S. government list for repatriation flights. But the number of days or weeks until they would get assigned a flight was anyone’s guess.

On March 24, Bob woke up at 4:30 a.m. and checked his email.

“It said, ‘Be at Cusco airport at 8:30 a.m. I got it at 4:30 a.m.,'” Bob said, noting his relief that he’d checked his email in the middle of the night. “We were five miles from Cusco airport. The bad news is that no one was allowed on the street and there’s a severe financial penalty.”

He went to the front desk to ask for help, but the hotel couldn’t find any transportation to get them to the airport.

Thankfully, their travel agent found the Boyles a driver. Once at the airport, they ended up in a line of nearly 250 Americans anxiously awaiting their flight back to the United States.

On top of that, the Ministry of Travel’s email did not specify the entire Boyle family would be on this flight. They crossed their fingers and offered up prayers at the airport.

“We found all three of our names were on the list,” Bob said. “And it took quite a few hours to physically get in the Cusco airport.”

Mary said she often prays to her late mother for intercession during times of crisis. This was no different. And they were being evacuated on what would have been her birthday.

The plane landed in Lima an hour later. The flight crew changed, the plane was refueled and they left Peru.

“There was a lot of clapping on the plane,” Bob said. “And when the wheels touched down in Miami, people clapped and cheered again.”

Despite their ordeal, the family wants to return to Peru and explore everything they didn’t get a chance to see.

Bob said: “It’s a beautiful country full of nice people.”

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Mescher Collins is a multimedia journalist for the Diocese of Des Moines.

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