‘We were free’; St. George couple stranded in Peru gets return trip home

An American flag in St. George, Utah on Feb. 13, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Dallofs are coming home.

Brad and Jodi Dallof, who were stranded in Lima, Peru after the country’s government abruptly closed its borders and airports, were able to get out of the country on an arranged flight to Miami, Florida on Saturday afternoon. After spending Sunday in Florida, the retired couple from St. George plan on returning to St. George Monday.

Upon landing in Miami and clearing passport control, Brad Dallof told St. George News he had a new appreciation for being back in the land of the Stars and Stripes. “We left the passport control point, they opened the doors, and we were free.”

Dallof also had appreciation for a particular travel agent. He said Condor Travel – a different agency than the one they used to travel to Peru – was able to arrange a place for them on a charter flight and obtain a document from the U.S. Embassy that allowed them to enter the airport.

Brad and Jodi Dallof pose in front of Machu Picchu in Peru on March 13, 2020. | Photo courtesy Brad Dallof, St. George News

“There was an agent there, Jhon Mejia, who worked around the clock until we left,” Dallof said. He said, ‘When you go home I can sleep.’ ”

Brad, 65, and Jodi, 62, were stranded in Peru during a vacation after Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra closed the country’s borders, airport and seaports abruptly last Sunday to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They were just two of what is said to be as many as 1,600 Americans stranded in the country after the announcement.

The U.S. Embassy in Peru released a statement Saturday afternoon that they were working to get Americans stranded in Peru out.

“The U.S. Embassy in Lima is coordinating closely with the Peruvian Government on all options for U.S. citizens to depart the country and are arranging charter aircraft,” the statement read. “A flight of 264 American citizens departed Lima for Washington D.C. on March 20, and the Embassy understands that LATAM flight 2488 departed Lima for Miami (Saturday) with over 175 U.S. citizens.”

The Dallofs were among them.

Friday night, as their hotel was across the street from Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, they caught wind of Americans who were told they would be able to get on a flight out of the country.

“They said they were contacted by the U.S. Embassy telling them that they would be going home the following day (Friday). I found out by talking to one of them yesterday,” Dallof said. “They were really surprised that I had not been contacted. It was pretty difficult to watch them walk over to the airport.”

Dallof said Condor Travel then arranged a place for them on the plane. But after several false attempts to leave the country – including one that involved the Mexican Embassy trying to get them a place on their Mexico humanitarian flight out – Dallof was hesitant to give up his room, especially when they had lost another room because of what they had thought was a flight out.

“Before we left the hotel, the receptionist asked if he wanted us to close the account or hold on to it,” Dallof said. “I hesitantly said to go ahead and close it, thinking that we would probably be back there anyway.”

Photo of the empty streets near Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru on March 20, 2020 taken from the Dallofs hotel window. | Photo courtesy Brad Dallof, St. George News

The Dallofs walked across the street from the hotel to the airport and sat and waited as name after name was called up to check passports and get them on the plane. They had to pay their own airfare, though in the statement, the U.S. Embassy said those on the charter flights will be compensated.

After waiting four hours, the Dallofs name finally came and they were aboard the plane heading to Miami. But they weren’t yet ready to cry victory.

“When we were in the air, I thought that the U.S. would turn us away before we landed, or they would keep us at the airport until they decided what to do with us,” Dallof said. “When the wheels touched down, everyone started clapping and cheering.”

One more hurdle to clear: passport check and customs.

“The officer checked our papers and said, ‘welcome home.’ He saw that I was pretty happy about that and said ‘happy birthday’ because he could see that it was a happy day for both of us,” Dallof said. “We didn’t have to clear any customs or have our bags rescreened. And there was no virus testing, which I was really surprised about.”

As the Dallofs head back to St. George Monday, Brad Dallof said his mind turns to Americans left behind. A Facebook group called “Americans Stuck in Peru” continues to chronicle their plight. “We had tried to help some people out before we left and will continue to do so until everyone is home.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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