A group of Vancouver high school boys and the teachers escorting them are finally home after catching a flight out of Peru, which has been locked down to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The 12 Vancouver College students and three teachers landed at Vancouver International Airport midday Saturday. Wearing medical masks, they were greeted with long hugs from family members thankful to have the boys back on Canadian soil.
“This is an answer to our prayers,” Joe Dardano said, his arm wrapped around his son Nathaniel.
“It’s over, and now my wife can stop crying.”
The group travelled to Peru in early March to help build homes for local villagers. But as cases of COVID-19 began to climb in the country, the government mandated a 15-day national lockdown on March 15, closing its borders to all travel.
The students and teachers were forced to hunker down in a hotel in the village of Cusco, which is a 20-hour drive from Lima. With the Canadian Embassy shuttered, the group and their families back home were unable to secure immediate assistance.
The Canadian government was later able to secure flights to pick up the hundreds of stranded Canadians in Peru, with the boys catching the final available flight on Friday.
After clearing medical checks, the boys travelled from Cusco to Lima, then on to Toronto and finally on to YVR.
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Also on the flight was Chilliwack couple Shelley and Leo Vanderhoek, who saw two scheduled flights they were supposed to be on get cancelled.
They said getting seats on this final flight — first class to boot — was a huge relief.
“It’s awesome, we’re so happy to be back in Canada,” Shelley said.
The couple said there was virtually no screening process as they made their way from Peru through Toronto to Vancouver. With no symptoms to report, they said they were only asked a couple of questions before being allowed to carry on their journey.
They said they didn’t blame the Peruvian government for locking down the country, saying they are “doing everything right” in trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Vanderhoeks and the parents of the Vancouver College students gave special praise to Canada’s ambassador to Peru Ralph Jansen, who played a role in securing the flights for Canadians to come home.
All the Canadians who have returned from Peru will have to self-isolate at home for 14 days, following federal orders.
Despite the unexpected drama to the trip, Nathaniel Dardano said he doesn’t regret a thing about how the adventure unfolded.
“It’s been the greatest experience of my life,” he said. “I’ll never experience something like this again. Definitely got my money’s worth.”