Kacie Brandenburg’s recent trip to South America — her first time abroad — didn’t turn out as expected. It ended up being so much more than the borough resident and 2014 alumna of Haddonfield Memorial High School could have imagined.
Originally planning to experience the wonders of Peru for eight days, Brandenburg and her fellow American travelers had been stuck there for almost a month, thanks to a strict coronavirus quarantine.
“The Peruvian president made the announcement late at night, that borders were to be closed and a new curfew was in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. It just got more strict today, from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. in most regions,” she explained during a lengthy text exchange with the Sun on March 30 from a hostel in Cuzco.
“Flights were getting cancelled or costing about $3,000, which we couldn’t afford,” Brandenburg added. “It was shocking because it happened so quickly. We were at dinner and on our way to the hostel, and shops were closing up just a few minutes after the broadcast.”
No one in Brandenburg’s travel group has tested positive for coronavirus, but from the day the quarantine was enacted, they would have to spend at least the next 28 days in isolation. Yet a small group of Americans managed to find what they thought was a way out of the situation, thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Lima.
“After being signed up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and emailing LimaACS (U.S. citizen services) through the U.S. embassy for 10 days, three of the five of my group got repatriation flights,” Brandenburg explained.
“The documents come through email, and they request that the Peruvian government and military grant access to people holding the documents. Unfortunately, with two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our hostel, those travel documents don’t apply to us.”
Brandenburg was not among the group that tried to vacate the premises, but those in her group with the key papers did, only to be turned away with no room for argument.
“Based on their recollections and the video (which was shown on local station NBC10 on March 29), even when presenting documentation, some police officers sped up in the car shouting ‘Get inside’ and ‘Close the door’ at the Americans,” Brandenburg recalled. “They then pulled a gun and the Americans went inside, completely backing off.”
Although wise enough to pack twice as much medication than necessary for her eight-day sojourn, Brandenburg has already run through it all.
“I’m not feeling great, especially at this altitude,” she noted. (Cuzco lies at 11,200 feet). The air is thinner, so that combined with asthma, is not doing great things for my health.”
Despite the close quarters and absolute restrictions on moving about, Brandenburg has no such ban on contacting those close to her back in the states, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of technology.
“No communication restrictions. As long as I’m on WiFi, I can FaceTime and text my family, which we have been doing relatively constantly,” she said.
“It helps knowing I can reach my family, because I’d be a lot less scared and a lot less informed without them. They’ve been helping immensely and my friends — especially those from HMHS — have been trying to keep my spirits up.
“ I’m so lucky to have them.”
Luck eventually shined on Brandenburg, as she was able to leave Peru on April 3 and wind up in Miami, thanks to the tireless work of her father to get through to state and federal officials who could help. As she told the Sun on April 6, she’s currently in Florida and in self-quarantine for the next 14 days.