By Benjamin Treviño
Marsha Green and her husband, Frank Armendariz, are among approximately 300 Americans currently stranded in Peru after the government there shut its borders earlier this week. Their situation highlights the dilemma of thousands of U.S. citizens abroad after numerous countries shut down or curtailed travel in an effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We are at a Marriott hotel, the JW Marriott El Convento-Cusco,” Green told The Monitor by telephone. “The staff is also sequestered here. They’re not allowed to leave, and we can’t leave the hotel property unless we are escorted. One of the hotel bellmen has to walk with us, like to go to a pharmacy or a market, but that’s the extent of our mobility.”
Green is vice president for marketing at the Bert Ogden Group, and Armendariz is a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. The couple arrived in Cusco on Saturday, March 14, as part of their excursion to the nearby Inca city of Machu Picchu. On Sunday, they hiked to the top of Huayna Picchu, the mountain that overlooks the ancient Inca ruins.
“It was the most-intense hike ever,” said Green. “But we set out to conquer that peak and we did. We took the train ride back and about the time we got back to the hotel, around 9:00 o’clock, we got a call from the front desk saying that the President of Peru (Martín Vizcarra) was issuing a decree that he was closing the entire country at midnight on Monday.”
Green and Armendariz were scheduled to leave Peru on Tuesday. However, they were told that anyone who did not have a flight booked to leave prior to midnight Monday would not be allowed to leave the country, and would be placed under a mandatory 15-day quarantine. Thursday marked day three of the couple’s sequester, and they are not alone.
“We’ve created a WhatsApp group in the hotel I’m in,” said Green. “I’m going to say that there may be 40 to 50 Americans in this hotel. There’s another WhatsApp group of Americans that’s stuck in Lima, and we were numbers 637 and 638 in that group, or something like that. Our Twitter hashtag is #stuckinperu.”
Green reports that the US embassy in Lima is closed, as are the airports in Lima and Cusco, and the US consulate in Cusco. She says the only thing US State Department officials have told her is to follow the embassy’s website for news and information.
“As of today, we’re not aware that there’s any action being taken to get the Americans out,” said Green. “We read a story that Israel sent a charter plane and came and got all the Israeli citizens yesterday, but we can’t validate that story.”
With only one case of COVID-19 confirmed in Cusco, Green says they feel safe. However, hotel guests are being asked not to congregate, and free breakfasts in the hotel are being served in four one-hour shifts, beginning at 6:00 am to minimize interaction among guests. Green also reports that hotel staff are constantly cleaning and disinfecting common areas.
“I could not be more grateful for an American hotel corporation,” said Green. “They are treating us amazingly well. We’re fortunate, but we now have a credit card that’s going to be exhausted and loaded up. The hotel cut their rates dramatically. We have limited clothing, so they cut their laundry services by 70%. It’s going to be 17 nights for hotel costs, so it’s going to be a pretty healthy expense. Luckily, we got a refund from United on our mid-carrier flights, so that’s a bit of a help, too.”
One problem, which Green described as “a little inconvenience,” is that her husband has developed an infected wisdom tooth. Armendariz was visited by a local dentist yesterday, and he was prescribed pain medication and antibiotics.
“He’ll be taking them for three days and we’ll see what happens,” said Green. “He’s uncomfortable and in a lot of pain when he doesn’t have the pain meds. He can’t go to the clinic. If he determines that he has to have further attention, then he’ll get picked up in an ambulance and escorted, and I won’t be able to go.”
Green says she spent an entire day calling federal agencies, Valley news outlets, her state representatives, the president, and the governor in an effort to get as much information as possible.
“The only person that has called me back is (state Rep.) Terry Canales’ office,” said Green. “(Former state Rep.) Veronica Gonzalez also replied, and she was going to get in touch with (U.S. Rep.) Vicente Gonzalez, but as far as any others, no.”
Armendariz and Green are scheduled to fly out of Peru on April 1. In the meantime, she says she wants her friends and family to know that they are safe, they are being treated well, and that all of their needs are being met.
“We all feel very safe,” Green said. “The hotel is an ancient historic monastery, so we’re very comfortable even though things are a little crazy. It sounds to me that the whole Valley is in more chaos than we are down here. Everything is fine. We’re comfortable. We’re well taken care of, but we’re ready to be back in the Valley.”
Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s office contacted The Monitor after the publication of this story to confirm that his office and Marsha Green had in fact been in communication.