Shelton pair stuck in Peru, longing for return home

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — What was to be a relaxing vacation to Peru has turned into a nearly two-week struggle to return home for Shelton residents Amy Pavlik and Giuliana Candiotti.

The pair, both U.S. citizens, landed in Lima, Peru, on March 15 about 3 p.m., but before Pavlik and Candiotti could even settle in, the country’s president declared a state of emergency, with all borders closed and flights and transportation halted for a 15-day countrywide quarantine in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are stuck in Peru with a huge lack of communication from our government, and we have no idea when we will be able to come back,” wrote Pavlik, a health care professional, in emails to Hearst Connecticut Media on March 26. “We have been told that repatriation flights will be beginning soon, but we have been hearing that for quite some time now.

“This was just a birthday trip that I took with one friend,” Pavlik wrote. “However, because of the last-minute notice with closing the borders, more than 4,000 other Americans are stuck here.”

Pavlik wrote the pair is self-quarantining in an Airbnb in Lima and she has been in contact with offices for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and her mother has reached out to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office.

“Murphy’s office has been very helpful with pushing for us and keeping us informed on any new information they hear,” wrote Pavlik. “Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much new information. The Embassy has left us very much in the dark.

“We need to be heard,” wrote Pavlik. “We need to be allowed to come back home.”

Candiotti is desperate to return home to her 7-year-old daughter, Gabby, who has written her own impassioned plea for her mother’s return and posted it on social media, asking people to share it, Pavlik wrote.

“My mom and auntie are stuck in Peru, and I need your help to bring them back,” wrote Gabby. “I miss them and want them home with me.”

Pavlik wrote her job is considered essential, and “my job needs me ... to help them, given this pandemic we are dealing with.”

After the pair initially landed in Lima, they had a connecting flight to Cusco at 6 p.m. on March 15 and arrived there at 7:30 p.m., checking into the hotel.

“Next thing we know, we start getting texts from Giuliana’s cousins who live in Peru,” wrote Pavlik, adding that the alerts were critical because no one at the hotel at which they were staying mentioned anything.

“We panicked and spent the rest of the night trying to find flights out. We knew we needed to get out of Cusco and back to Lima first, because Lima is where the international airport is. Cusco also has an elevation of 11,152 feet and with my history of asthma, I knew it would not be good if we got stuck there for a prolonged period of time,” wrote Pavlik.

Once the pair secured a flight from Cusco to Lima — three hours and $800 later — there were no flights out of the country available.

“We were being placed on a mandatory quarantine and were only allowed to leave the house to go to the grocery store or to the pharmacy,” wrote Pavlik.

“My days are all starting to blend together,” she wrote, “but I believe it was Wednesday, March 18, when the president of Peru made an announcement that he would open back up the border for citizens of other countries to fly back to their respective countries. However, this meant that the respective countries had to arrange flight transportation. Within the first couple of days, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Israel all sent flights and got their citizens out. We heard nothing from the U.S.”

Pavlik wrote the pair did find a support group online and realized they were not the only Americans stranded. She said she learned there were more than 2,300 people from 47 different states who had signed up on a spreadsheet that someone in the group created, and there were many more not on the spreadsheet.

The pair learned repatriation flights began on March 21 but “we found out later that this flight took some citizens, but it was mainly filled with ‘Peace Corps Volunteers and U.S. Embassy personnel and family members.’ The U.S. ambassador to Peru was actually one of the first people out of the country. He left us all behind to fend for ourselves,” she wrote.

Hope appeared dashed again, said Pavlik, as all the foreigners seeking to leave learned that new laws were going into effect March 21 and the airport would be closing once again.

On March 23, it seemed like the United States and Peru finally came to an agreement because “we were informed that several flights a day would be beginning in the upcoming days,” Pavlik wrote.

But, yet again, she wrote, March 24, brought another day of no flights out.

“We are trying our best to stay in and have only been going to the grocery store when it’s absolutely needed,” wrote Pavlik. “As you can imagine though, this is a huge financial burden, and money is running out. On top of all of the additional money that we have had to spend, we will need to sign a promissory note if and when our repatriation flight comes stating we will pay the government back a large amount of money.”