Niagara-on-the-Lake residents Scott Robinson and Chelsea Widdicombe are coming home.
On their 10th day of quarantine in the city of Cusco, Peru, Widdicimbe and Robinson received word they had been booked on a flight from Lima to Toronto the afternoon of Friday, March 27.
“We found out about 10 this morning,” said Widdicombe. “I got a What’s App call from the embassy. He said we were priority, compared to other people, and we were going to get a code, and to book immediately and not to share the code with anyone.”
Reached at their accommodations Thursday at 2:30 p.m., they were still awaiting word on their flight out of Cusco, to connect with their repatriation flight back to Canada. Details on those arrangements were just coming in as they were speaking via Facebook Messenger to the NOTL Local.
Robinson had left for a 10-month world-wide adventure February 29th. HIs lifelong friend, Widdicombe joined him in Peru on March 12. They spent a few days taking in the beauty of South America, and were on their way to see the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, when Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra declared a country-wide state of emergency due to the COVID-19 virus.
Borders were closed on March 16 and all air travel was cancelled. The novel COVID-19 continued to spread like wildfire across the country in the meantime.
The pair tried to find a flight to Lima, but were unsuccessful. They then rushed to find accommodations in the city of Cusco, and ended up in an Airbnb with a dozen other travellers. The next day, they were subject to a 15-day quarantine. Days went by with no word from the Canadian government as to negotiations for repatriation flights.
Earlier this week, the two 23-year-olds seemed resigned to being stranded indefinitely in the South American country. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francoise-Phillipe Champagne had arranged for three flights this week out of Lima, but those seemed focused completely on travellers already in the capital city.
Canadian citizens were repatriated from Peru on flights Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Adding the Friday departure, the total comes to 1,200 Canadians who will have been flown back home. Also on Thursday, Champagne and Jansen both made reference to having arranged more flights out of Peru for next week.
Until Wednesday morning, it seemed Robinson and Widdicombe would not be making the trip home this week. But hope came for them when Ralph Jansen, Canada’s ambassador to Peru, announced that Friday’s flight would be composed primarily of those currently stuck in Cusco. Robinson and Widdicombe found out about their priority status the next day.
The news they were coming home arrived at a perfect time for them.
“Today was a bit of a rollercoaster,” said Robinson. “We woke up to the news that the Peruvian president was extending the quarantine. It was supposed to end March 31, but he extended it to April 12. But about two hours later, our incredible news came in.”
Their journey home will begin with a 1.5 hour flight from Cusco to Lima. Robinson expects they will be met by Canadian embassy officials in Lima, who will escort them to their plane there, as they board for the approximately eight-hour trip to Toronto.
Though the flight was arranged by the Canadian government, all passengers do have to pay. Widdicombe says the cost of the flight for each of them was in the $1,400 range.
As travellers during the time of COVID-19, of course, upon arrival in Canada Widdicombe and Robinson will be subject to a 14-day quarantine. That doesn’t bother either one of them.
“That is fine,” laughs Widdicombe, a huge smile lighting up her face. “I don’t care.”
“This situation has made things very clear, in terms of the COVID pandemic,” adds Robinson. “It’s the best thing to do for Canada and for humanity, to stay inside and wait it out as the government recommends.”
After all, as Robinson points out, over the ten days of their quarantine they’ve only breathed outside air on two occasions. Both of those were trips to the local market in Cusco to acquire supplies, on days two and nine of their quarantine.
Anne Robinson, Scott’s mother, was over-the-moon happy to hear her son and his friend are coming home.
“I was absolutely thrilled with the news,” she said. It was a little unexpected, which made it all the more sweet. “I‘m super happy that they are on their way home. I’m feeling very appreciative to everyone in the Canadian government, the airlines and the Peruvian government, for helping to get the approvals to get them home. We can’t wait to see them!”
Their journey begins Friday at 5:30am, when they have to be at the market square, to be picked up for one of two flights leaving for Lima. Their flight from Lima should be arriving at Pearson Airport just past midnight Saturday morning.
The plan is for Chelsea’s parents, Doug and Nancy Widdicombe, to drive two cars to Toronto.
There, they will keep their distance from the travellers while getting the keys to Chelsea’s car to them. They will return home in one car, while Chelsea and Scott will take the other.
Nancy has stocked Chelsea’s car with bottled water and food for the drive back to NOTL, along with some medical gloves so the car doesn’t get contaminated.
She has also stocked Chelsea’s house with plenty of supplies for the two-week quarantine. She was actually there dropping off supplies when she received the call with the great news.
“When she said she got a flight, I thought it was from Cusco to Lima. So I was asking about the process of getting on a flight back home, when she said ‘Mom, you don’t understand, I’ve got a flight home’. She started crying, I started crying, Scott was emotional.”
Nancy admits the entire ordeal over the 10 days of quarantine was very stressful. “I’m anxious, even after this news,” she said. “I won’t rest until she and Scott are on the plane.”
As for the stranded pair, they can’t wait to be on that plane. And they promise the entire ordeal hasn’t soured them on travel.
Chelsea says she usually enjoys shorter trips, so the extended time in Peru was a bit much for her. But she will travel again when it’s possible.
And Scott added, “As soon as it’s safe for me to do so, I’m going to re-book my trip.”
They are both quick to point out how fortunate they feel having been chosen to leave Peru this week. Scott also stresses that there will still be 1,200 people stuck in Peru after this week.
Chelsea adds “we can’t stop pushing the government to send more flights. We have to keep fighting.”
For the next two weeks, though, they will pushing, and fighting, separately, in the comfort of their own homes back in NOTL.