'We can't get home': Stuck in limbo abroad, these Winnipeggers wait
Uncertainty and confusion prevail as COVID-19 limits international travel
On the streets of Lima, Peru, there are armed soldiers warning people to keep their distance from each other.
The country's borders have closed for at least 15 days and Winnipeggers on a gap year trip in the country are now stranded.
"They walked up to me and they told us to separate from each other, just to space out," said Piper Larsen, 23 in a FaceTime interview explaining the military presence Tuesday.
Larsen has been travelling through South America since early January.
She has been in Peru since March 6, with two other friends who are celebrating graduating from university. When they arrived in that country, there was only one reported case of the coronavirus, she said.
On Sunday night, the friends learned Peru's borders would soon be closing. They tried to book a flight home but Piper said they were too expensive and none of them flew directly to Canada, so they instead opted for an early-morning $500 flight Tuesday.
The group was too late.
"We were honestly four hours away from the deadline which I think is kind of the difficult part — we were so close to being able to go home."
Still, Larsen thinks she and her friends made the right call.
"We knew that we were really safe in Peru and that it would be better being here in Lima than Panama City in the airport or stuck in a different airport," she said, noting the great hospitality locals have given.
Larsen was watching Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday when he told all Canadians abroad to come home.
"We watched it and tried to kind of grapple what we could from it. It was hard to hear that when he said 'Canadians — it's time to come home,' but there is no way for us to come home right now."
Zoe Matties also feels she's getting mixed messages. She too is stuck abroad this time in Guatemala, where borders have been closed for 15 days.
The Winnipeg woman arrived last Wednesday to be with her husband who is on a faith-based trip with students from the Canadian Mennonite University.
"They've closed the airports so we can't get home. So that's been kind of a bit frustrating even though we've been told to go home, there hasn't been a possible way for us to do that," she told CBC Radio's Up to Speed on Monday.
"Emotions come and go. I think everybody's in fairly good spirits considering the facts."
In a rural village in Sri Lanka, Winnipeg artist Franklin Fernando is trying to sort out fact from fiction. He said the Canadian government has told him that he should be able to fly home but airlines have told him there are no more flights until next month.
"It's just the fact that it's so uncertain," he said via FaceTime Tuesday.
"It's important that I get to Canada at some point so that I can start working and supporting my family."
Joanne Lussier-Demers got home just in time after being in the Philippines for vacation.
She was on a scuba diving trip when the captain got a call warning all domestic flights were being shut down on Sunday — a problem for the group of eight who needed to get to Manila to fly home.
The retired Radio-Canada employee told CBC Information Radio getting through to Philippine Airlines was impossible and Expedia wasn't working, so one person drove 45 minutes to purchase eight tickets she thinks were the last on that flight to Manila.
"Roll with the punches," she said.
Once in Manila, it seemed everyone was wearing a mask and some were in protective suits. The group waited three hours in line and finally got their ticket home.
"We were very happy to board when I got my boarding passes for Manila to Vancouver. It's like, 'Woo hoo, we're coming back home,' and at least we'll be on home territory."
She said going through customs in Vancouver was a breeze and the group was not asked any health questions but were given a pamphlet about self-monitoring and a note to self-isolate if needed.
She said it did not ask the travellers to self-isolate for 14 days as the federal government has repeatedly asked all travellers arriving from outside of the country to do.
- An earlier version of this story accurately indicated Piper Larsen has been in Peru since March 6. However, she has been in other South American countries since early January.Mar 20, 2020 12:12 PM CT
With files from Marcy Markusa and Nelly Gonzalez