Shelley and Leo Vanderhoek on the balcony of their hotel in Lima, Peru on March 24, 2020. The couple have been stranded in Peru along with more than 1,000 other Canadians since the country closed its borders and its air space on March 15. (Submitted)

Chilliwack couple among more than 1,000 Canadians stranded in Peru

‘Our sole purpose is to come home’ - Leo Vanderhoek

Shelley and Leo Vanderhoek were in Cusco, Peru last week getting ready to hike to the iconic 15th-century Inca citadel Machu Picchu, a must-see for tourists to the South American country.

But before the Chilliwack couple could take a single step, they got a knock on the door from the hotel manager telling them they had to leave, the city was shutting down.

“We thought he was kidding,” Leo told The Progress over the phone on Tuesday.

It was no joke. Eight days later, and the couple are on an emotional rollercoaster along with the more than 1,000 Canadians stuck in Peru because of the country’s lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a private Facebook group called “Canadians stuck in Peru Covid19” that has more than 1,300 members.

After more than a week of frustration, unanswered phone calls and promises from the federal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that three flights would be sent to bring Canadians back from Peru, which has otherwise closed its airspace.

• READ MORE: Trudeau announces new flights to Peru, Americas to repatriate stranded Canadians

For the Vanderhoeks, that can’t come soon enough. And they have been sorely unimpressed with the Canadian government’s reaction to the lockdown in Peru so far.

Shelley and Leo Vanderhoek on the balcony of their hotel in Lima, Peru on March 24, 2020. The couple have been stranded in Peru along with more than 1,000 other Canadians since the country closed its borders and its air space on March 15. (Submitted)

• READ MORE: Canadian travellers trying to return trapped by border closures for COVID-19

When they were told in Cusco they had to get out, Shelley was able to get seats on a plane up to Lima, the location of the international airport.

“We managed to get to the airport and there was 16,000 people,” Leo said. “It was crazy.”

Many other Canadians were left stranded in Cusco, including Lisa Hall and her teenage daughter, also from Chilliwack. Hall said they had just finished spending they day at Machu Picchu when they got word that they needed to get out of Peru immediately.

Hall wasn’t as lucky as the Vanderhoeks, and didn’t manage to get out of Cusco. So while three flights are headed to Lima to pick up Canadians, questions remain about those in other cities.

“There are three [planes] but it seems that they may just be focused on Lima,” Hall said Monday over Facebook Messenger.

“We are quite concerned in Cusco.”

Getting answers is not easy, as Global Affairs Canada said Monday they had received 10,000 calls and 14,000 emails in the previous 48 hours.

While frustrated with being stranded, and angry at the Canadian government, Leo Vanderhoek has enough perspective to know how hard other people have it.

“Our sole purpose is to come home,” he said. “It’s quite comfortable in our hotel room. We are not really wanting for anything physical but our family and our community is in Chilliwack.”

He said the only ones out on the streets are military and police, and the occasional tourist looking to get some exercise.

“If you go for a walk you are fine as long as you have a mask on,” he said. “If you are outside they are questioning you. You can’t sit on a park bench.”

And while he isn’t in Canada, he thinks the government here, and even more in the U.S., are not doing enough to stem the tide of COVID-19.

“All you have to do is pretty much the opposite of what [U.S. President Donald] Trump is doing.”


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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Shelley and Leo Vanderhoek on the balcony of their hotel in Lima, Peru on March 24, 2020. The couple have been stranded in Peru along with more than 1,000 other Canadians since the country closed its borders and its air space on March 15. (Submitted)

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