A way out of Peru for stranded Chicago mother and son

The trip of a lifetime became a nightmare after the borders of the South American country were sealed March 15 in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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Nick Beach, 18, and his mother, Sally Beach, 50, of Old Town, fishing along the Amazon River in northeastern Peru.

Sally Beach and her son, Nick, who live in Old Town, went piranha fishing in Peru but became stranded there after the country’s president shut the borders in an effort to contain the coronavirus.

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The words they had been desperate to hear for days came Wednesday night in an email as they sat in their windowless hotel room in northeastern Peru: A rescue flight would be waiting for them the next morning.

Sally Beach and her son, Nick, who live in Old Town, had seen several similar announcements for others end in disappointment. Nevertheless, they found themselves Thursday morning in a motorized ricksha, clutching their suitcases, as the driver navigated trash-strewn dirt roads to get them to the Iquitos airport in time.

It was not until the airplane took off, arranged by the U.S. Embassy and filled with about 100 other Americans and permanent U.S. residents, that the Beaches knew they were finally heading home after being stranded in Peru — victims of a coronavirus national border closure.

“The second the plane got off the ground, everyone was clapping and cheering,” said Nick Beach, 18. “That was the first moment we were all like, we are actually leaving.”

The mother and son arrived in Chicago late Friday morning after flying from Iquitos to Miami on Thursday and then having to spend the night at a nearby hotel because they just missed a connecting flight.

They spent about two weeks in Peru on what was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime to the Amazon River and Machu Picchu. But the day after they arrived in the capital city of Lima, they learned President Martin Vizcarra was shutting the borders within hours in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Amid the scramble of tourists to flee, the Beaches knew they’d never book a flight out in time. So they made the best of a bad situation and continued with the Amazon portion of their vacation.

But they’d spent the past few days holed up in a hotel in Iquitos, emailing the U.S. Embassy, members of the Illinois congressional delegation and anyone else who could help them get home. At times, they wondered if their government had forgotten about them.

On Thursday morning, after learning they’d been confirmed on a flight out of Peru, they stuffed clothes smelling of insect repellent into their suitcases and made their way to the airport.

“We feel very fortunate that we got out fairly early because there are still thousands of Americans waiting for flights,” Sally Beach said after arriving at their condo. “I know I’m going to be comfortable in my house. We have a full refrigerator of food. We’re just going to be happy quarantined at home for 14 days because we don’t want to spread anything we might have picked up coming through Miami or O’Hare [International Airport].”

They never made it to the famed ruins at Machu Picchu. So does that mean she wants to head back to Peru at some point? She’ll think about it.

“It’s a long journey down there,” she said.

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