CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Eleven hikers are now back home in Charleston after being stuck in Peru for weeks after the country’s borders closed with only a 24-hour notice.
“The vacation had been planned for a year, but it quickly turned into something else," hiker Candace Kaiser said. "It turned into how do we get out of this country, how do we stay safe, and how can we stay together? That was a big thing. All eleven of us needed to stay together.”
The hikers had plans to go to Machu Picchu and other famous spots, but all that quickly changed.
They arrived to the country on Friday, March 13, and on Sunday, they found out that Peru’s president ordered the borders to be closed.
“We came to the realization that night that we were going to have to hunker down and be in Peru at least until the quarantine was over, and at the time, that was March 31," Kaiser said.
“When we started looking at all the flights, everything was price gouged," hiker Sean Diven said. "Then, it started to set in that this may be a situation where we can’t get out right away.”
During the more than two weeks they were stuck in the country, they said soldiers armed with machine guns would roam the streets.
They also said they weren’t allowed outside unless they were going to a grocery store.
“Everybody in the little town knew we were the Americans," Kaiser said. "We would have military drive by our homes at all hours of the day and the night honking their horns to tell us, ‘We’re here. We know you’re here. You’re under our law.’”
In that time, their parents and the hikers made calls to Congressman Joe Cunningham’s office which was able to arrange a chartered flight to get them home.
“It was constant contact with the state department," Cunningham said. "Basically, just trying to get federal agencies to work together, along with another country, and there were some logistical issues, and that was compounded by the fact that some of those folks had medical issues that needed attention to here in the United States.”
The hikers then had to get the right paperwork together and arrange a car to get to the airport. Their first flight took them to Lima to refuel and then it was off to Miami.
“I was kind of on the mindset of not getting my hopes up until I actually stepped foot on the plane," Diven said. "It was definitely a great moment.”
Once in Florida, several of them rented a car and drove up the coast. They arrived back home on Wednesday and will remain in quarantine for 14 days.
“I might be in a different boat, because I would definitely go back," Diven said. "I still want to go back and see Peru and see all the amazing things we didn’t get to see.”
Cunningham also had a message for them.
“Welcome back to the USA,” he said. “We are exceptionally happy to have them home, back in the Lowcountry and back in the USofA. We were happy to play a part in getting them back home and we’ll do the same for anyone else who needs it.”