Anthony Dalla Bona admits he was a little hesitant to travel to Peru in March, but says when he left Canada to visit the South American country, there were no travel bans in place.
At the time, the travel consultant said, Peru only had a handful of confirmed cases of COVID-19. So when an opportunity arose to travel for work, Dalla Bona said he had little reason to avoid visiting.
On March 15, however, just one day after Dalla Bona landed in Cusco — a city in the southeastern part of the nation — Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra went on television to declare a national lockdown, closing the country’s border to international travellers.
“Peru is one of, I think, the quickest and most dramatic responses to how they were treating quarantine,” Dalla Bona said. “They immediately closed all airports for commercial traffic. They closed the land borders. They locked down the streets.”
Over the next few days, Dalla Bona said Peruvian officials began releasing “rules and protocols and policies” about how to handle the lockdown.
For Dalla Bona, that meant spending the next few weeks stuck in Cusco, largely unable to leave his hostel, other than for essentials like groceries and medicine.
“That was the first week or so of my quarantine,” he said. “[I] really had a lot of fun. I was enjoying South America [and] I got to meet lots of cool people.”
Countries around the world soon began calling home residents — including Canadian citizens abroad.
“However, getting home was not quite that simple,” Dalla Bona said. “Since there were no commercial planes out of Peru, the only way you could leave and go back to your country is if they organized a repatriation flight for you.”
And though the Canadian government organized a total of seven flights out of Peru, Dalla Bona said those planes were leaving out of Lima, the capital city, not Cusco.
“There were no commercial flights and we weren’t allowed to take a bus, we weren’t allowed to drive, all the cities were shut down,” he said. “It kind of created a little bit of a logistical hurdle for us to get on these flights home.”
About one week after the national lockdown, however, things became even more complicated for Dalla Bona and the approximately 160 other people quarantined in his hostel.
When the Peruvian health ministry in Cusco found out … they had a pretty big reaction.– Anthony Dalla Bona
That’s because two hostel guests had become sick enough to warrant a visit from doctors to conduct a COVID-19 test, eventually testing positive for coronavirus.
“These people were not terribly ill, but they definitely had a cough and they reported symptoms, but they were totally OK and healthy the whole time,” Dalla Bona said. “But when the Peruvian health ministry in Cusco found out that we had positive cases in the hostel … they had a pretty big reaction.”
Military officers were soon stationed outside of the hostel, and no one was allowed to leave — not even for essentials.
“Everything had to be brought in,” Dalla Bona said. “We pretty much stayed in that hostel without leaving for the next four weeks.”
Still, repatriation efforts continued, with more and more hostel guests getting the chance to leave Peru and return home.
“But it was difficult for Canada,” Dalla Bona said. “There were nine of us Canadians who were in there for quite a while.”
And when the Canadian government announced on Thursday, April 16 its last repatriation flight out of Lima — until Peru lifts its travel ban — Dalla Bona said he started to get a little nervous.
“We’re like, well, maybe there’ll be another repatriation flight, or maybe we can just get on the repatriation flight with another country,” he said. “The Americans all got out of Peru pretty fast.”
Dalla Bona said his concern grew further when he learned that the Peruvian government planned on stopping all repatriation flights on April 22.
Hope, however, came around 10 p.m. local time on Friday, April 17.
“We all got into a pretty good habit of, when our embassies told us something, you immediately share it with everybody else,” Dalla Bona said. “So we were hearing from the German embassy that they had managed to get a plane into Cusco and the Germans might be going home, if they can get the right approvals and they can circumvent all the logistics in Cusco.”
The Dutch embassy soon said citizens would be permitted on that German flight, followed by the Swiss and Polish embassies.
“And then eventually [we heard] from the Canadian embassy that we were able to go,” Dalla Bona said. “They told us the next morning … pack your stuff, check out of your hostel, because you’re going to go on this flight with the Germans.”
On Saturday, April 18, Dalla Bona boarded a flight from Cusco to Lima. A Lufthansa charter took passengers from Lima to Frankfurt, and Dalla Bona was able to board an Air Canada flight to Toronto, where family were waiting for him in Pearson International Airport on Monday, April 20.
“When we landed, I’ve got pictures of us just applauding and just being so thankful,” Dalla Bona said. “It’s a real privilege to be home.”
Now back in Windsor, Dalla Bona will spend the next two weeks isolating with his mother.
I’m very thankful … for the [hostel] staff that were able to stay behind and really take care of us.– Anthony Dalla Bona
He said he’s immensely thankful for everyone who cared for him while abroad, as well as those who worked to get him home, including his friends and family, as well as the Canadian government and the Canadian embassy in peru.
“I’m very thankful and all of the guests are really thankful for the [hostel] staff that were able to stay behind and really take care of us,” he said. “Cleaning the hostel … keeping our rooms cleans and doing things like laundry, they were a big part of that, but also just feeding us. There was a kitchen staff that stayed and made three meals a day for the whole hostel.”
“They kept us healthy and alive and we would’ve had a really bad time without them.”
In total, Dalla Bona spent 42 days in Peru, and 35 days in the hostel in Cusco.