SHERIDAN — When Austin Barton and Colton Bates left for vacation March 11, they knew of the COVID-19 pandemic but cancellations and warnings hadn’t reached their current levels.
By the following weekend, though, the world was a different place.
On March 15, local officials announced the closing of Sheridan County schools. In the week that followed, state officials would close restaurants and bars to dine-in traffic and later would prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people.
Similar closures and even more heightened restrictions were put into place around the globe, including in Peru where Barton and Bates had traveled for a spring break adventure.
The duo started in Lima before traveling to Cusco, where they stayed with a local family and took in the city. Then they spent a couple of days in the Sacred Valley with plans to take a train to a town just outside Machu Picchu on Monday, March 16.
“We waited for the train, but time came and went and it never came,” Barton said in an interview with The Press via WhatsApp.
He and Bates tracked down a ticket agent who let them know the trains were canceled and the president of Peru had ordered the closing of the entire country at midnight on Monday. The men had just 14 hours to get out of the country before the nationwide quarantine went into place.
“When we realized we weren’t going to be able to leave, we knew we needed to decide where to be for the duration of the quarantine,” Barton said.
Bates said when they arrived back at their hotel, another American family there provided more information and they all looked for flight availability, but had no luck.
“Monday was pretty nerve wracking for me,” Bates said; this trip was the first foreign travel he has done without his immediate family. “At that point we knew we needed to get to a good location, and then from there we just really didn’t know anything.
“We didn’t have a place to stay; we didn’t know what food availability there was,” he continued.
Fortunately, Bates and Barton found an Airbnb and have been staying with a family in Cusco. They’ve been told to have limited movement, but can go to a local market for food.
Bates, a University of Wyoming student and Sheridan County resident, and Barton, a software engineer in Colorado, are not the only ones stuck in Peru. There are hundreds of U.S. citizens within the country’s borders and hundreds others scattered around the globe and unable to make it home.
“With the ongoing challenges and increased travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus, several people from Wyoming are facing obstacles returning home from foreign countries,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said via email Friday. “My staff and I are working closely with the State Department and other federal agencies to expedite their safe return. This includes members of the Sheridan community who are currently in Peru.
“Right now, there are more than a thousand Americans stranded after the government of Peru closed the border,” he continued. “We’re doing everything we can to try to get them safely back home as soon as possible.”
According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, approximately 500 American tourists left Peru over the weekend. Bates and Barton were not among them.
Via WhatsApp Monday morning, Barton said they have not heard anything definite in terms of a possible departure. He’s been told additional flights could be planned for Monday night, but that they’d have about 12 hours notice. As of 8 a.m. Monday morning in Cusco, Barton and Bates had not received notice. The pair is anxious to get home but said they are trying to keep realistic expectations.
“They had no option to get out, we tried everything — our fear is the worse the virus scare gets may make it impossible to get them home for a very long time,” said Bates’ mother, Sheridan resident Jill Bates. “This is such a helpless feeling for them to be held basically against their will — they didn’t do anything wrong, they aren’t sick but they are confined to someone else’s home in another country and told they can be arrested if they leave the house other than to get food.”
Bates and Barton, though, noted that the Peruvian people have been very kind. Plus, the duo is grateful to be able to connect with other Americans there.
“It’s pretty amazing how all of the Americans have banded together,” Barton said.
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