Lyxi Reeder, 23, and Jessica Johnson, 24, planned to spend their long-dreamed-about spring break trip to Peru exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Instead, the two—teachers at Stafford County's Drew Middle School—are quarantined within a hostel in Lima, unable to leave except to walk, but only one at time, to the grocery store, or to the hospital, should they need to go there.
"There are Peruvian police and army walking up and down the street with semi-automatic weapons to make sure things are going smoothly," said Johnson.
Johnson and Reeder left for their trip from BWI Airport on Sunday morning, March 15. They knew coronavirus was a concern, so the night before they were to leave, they checked the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Embassy in Peru to see if there any travel restrictions in place that would affect their trip.
"The only thing Peru had done on Saturday night was they had stopped cruise ships, which had happened in a lot of different places," Johnson said. "And the CDC website just said to exercise caution when traveling. It didn't say, 'Don't go.'"
But by the time the two arrived in Lima at 11 p.m. the next day, the Peruvian president had closed the borders.
"While we were in the air, he made that announcement," Johnson said. "As soon as we got off the plane, it was a mad house in the airport. People were pushing, shoving and screaming at each other. It was a whole big mass of confusion."
Johnson and Reeder got through immigration in about an hour and a half and went to their hostel. The next morning, they went to the U.S. Embassy in Lima to ask what they should do.
"It was me and Lexi and about five other Americans frantically waiting for information," Johnson said. "The U.S. representative told us not to expect any aid from the U.S. government. Not to expect a charter flight. We asked if we could get access to the commissary or any emergency financial assistance. She basically said we were on our own and urgently told us to get out of the country as fast as we could."
But this proved impossible, as all flights out of the country have been cancelled. They were stuck.
"We're just fortunate that we're in Lima as opposed to Cusco [where Machu Picchu is]," Johnson said.
The two joined a Facebook group called "Americans stuck in Peru."
"It has around 500 members now. And there are around 300 in Cusco," Reeder said. "There are hundreds of elderly people and children. Some are running out of necessary medicines, like insulin. We're getting fairly nervous for all of them."
Reeder and Johnson said other governments have sent humanitarian flights to help their citizens who are stranded in other countries, but the U.S. has not done this.
According to the Washington Post, a group of nine Democratic senators on Wednesday sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, raising concerns that their constituents stranded in foreign countries were receiving conflicting signals from U.S. embassies about whether Washington would help them return home.
Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he was considering using military aid to help stranded travelers in Peru, though he did not offer specifics, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, Reeder and Johnson said they are safe in their hostel, though bored.
Johnson said she only brought one book with her on the trip, "Turtles All the Way Down," by John Green. She forgot her second book at home.
"I did a yoga class. I walked up and down the stairs," Johnson said. "We have a window, which is nice. So we can look out the window. We played some games. We do have WiFi, which is nice, but we haven't done any streaming, because we're trying to hold off on that until we get really desperate."
Johnson and Reeder don't have any access to the kitchen at their hostel, because that was closed along with all other common areas, so they can't buy food that needs refrigeration or preparation.
"We're going basically on bread and fruit," Johnson said.
Peru's quarantine is supposed to last until March 31, but the teachers said the word is that will be extended. They're worried about being able to get back to work in time to teach when school starts again.
Mostly, though, they're worried about the other Americans they met through the Facebook group, those who need medicines, the children and the elderly.
"That's a big deal," Johnson said. "If we’re stuck here, we’ll live but there are some people who definitely need immediate help."