ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) — A retired St. George couple is now back in the United States after becoming stranded in Lima, Peru after the country’s government abruptly closed its borders and airports in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brad and Jodi Dallof tell ABC4 News they traveled to Peru March 11 for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit Machu Picchu, the Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains.
“We were there for a few days and got to visit Machu Picchu last Sunday and then later that night the President of Peru addressed the nation. He said that the borders were closing,” Brad Dallof said. “As far as facing infection with the coronavirus, when we arrived in Peru, it was the safest place in the world to be.”
“We felt that we were safer there than we were at home, but that all changed very rapidly last Sunday evening,” Jodi Dallof added.
When the Dallofs learned the airports were shutting down, they decided to stay at their hotel in a very remote location, but hotel managers informed them they didn’t have enough food for the tourists to stay there for two weeks. That’s when their first panic sent in, they said.
“We were well taken care of, but it was a very frightening experience,” Brad Dallof said. “How much longer were we going to have to stay there? The more time we stayed there, the bigger the expense for food and hotels, and we had no idea what we were going to do.”
The only thing the Dallofs said they could think of was to get to the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima.
“We didn’t have a way, but our group somehow managed to get a bus, and the next morning we were able to get to the airport by 6 a.m.” Brad added. “We stood in line for 8 1/2 hours and we were one of the last names to be called from a list. We barely made it out of Cusco.”
Once they arrived in Lima, the Dallofs said it quickly became apparent they were not going to be able to leave the country before midnight, so they found a safe hotel. At that point, the couple said they tried contacting everyone they could think of: travel agencies, airlines, and the U.S. government.
“Trying to get a hold of the U.S. embassy was a joke to say the least,” Brad said. “Communication was very difficult for us because our phones didn’t work in Peru.”
“No calling, no texting, the only thing we could do is send and receive emails. People we were trying to contact or were trying to contact us didn’t know that,” he added.
After leaving the airport, the Dallofs said they became separated from their group, and they were the only Americans at the hotel, so language became a huge barrier.
“The restrictions started to set in, and we were told that we couldn’t leave our hotel unless it was for food or medical,” Jodi said. “We were lucky there was a grocery store a block away that we could walk to. But once we got there, there was a line you had to stand in to get into the store and you could only pick up the things they had rationed, such as 3 bottles of water per day.”
The Dallofs said around that time they started having contact with Utah representatives and senators and the U.S. Embassy. The Mexican Embassy offered to get the Dallofs and two other American couples on a Mexican government humanitarian flight, they said.
“We made our way to the airport with all the proper documents. We got up to the counter and we found out it was for Mexican citizens only. We were turned away,” said Brad.
“Now we didn’t have a hotel and we didn’t know what to do,” Jodi said.
“Fortunately we found some Americans that were already at the airport who told the guards that we were with them, so that we could go to their hotel with them,” she added. “That hotel ended up being on the airport property, so once again we had a place to stay.”
The Dallofs said they found out the U.S. Embassy had called one American couple at their hotel Thursday evening and told them about a flight they were scheduled on. The Dallofs said they had not received any calls. Their travel agent soon let them know that he had them on a flight to Miami the following morning, they said.
“We had a lot of hopes dashed, and we were hoping this was the real thing,” Brad said. “Even when we got on the plane, we weren’t sure, but it lifted off.”
The couple arrived at the Miami International Airport Sunday morning but learned their flight to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas had been canceled. They were re-routed to Denver International Airport before making it on a flight to Las Vegas, arriving early Monday morning.
“The hardest part was dealing with the unknown,” Jodi said. “Sometime things changed minute by minute.”
After hearing that a second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Washington County by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on Saturday, the couple wants to give a few pieces of advice: stay calm and listen to CDC instructions.
“We want to give a big thank you to all of the media and so many people who have tirelessly spent time getting us out and getting people out of places out over the world,” the Dallofs said. “We are representatives of thousands that are still there. While we were over there, we tried to help others, and now that we’re home, we’re not going to stop,” they added.
The Dallofs tell ABC4 News they have already planned on a quarantine when they arrive in St. George and are currently in touch with officials from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.
“We want to keep us safe and everyone around us safe,” the Dallofs said.
UPDATE: Brad and Jodi Dallof arrived at their St. George home after arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas around 2 a.m. Monday. They will self-quarantine for 14 days.
LATEST CORONAVIRUS STORIES: