A Henderson couple hope they soon will be on their way back home after being stranded on the Galapagos Islands when the Ecuadorian government closed borders and airports in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Robb Hillman, a nurse at Henderson Hospital, and his husband, David McMullin, were able to board a plane, Saturday morning, back to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. There they hope to take another plane bound for Houston on Sunday. However, they are not sure whether they will have to be quarantined in Ecuador or Houston or whether the flight back to the U.S. exists, Hillman, 47, reported via Facebook Messenger.
They are receiving conflicting information as officials have told them the flight will not occur, however Hillman’s mother was told by the airline company the trip is confirmed, he said.
“So we are unsure what will happen tomorrow,” Hillman reported Saturday evening.
Finding lodging was challenging. The two arrived at a hostel in Quito just before the 7 p.m. curfew.
Finding food was even harder.
“The manager here is trying so hard to find us something to eat, there are seven of us, but it’s looking grim,” he reported. “Dinner might be a small bag of Doritos and a chocolate bar from the vending machine. Lol. But at least we are here!”
The Galapagos Islands, which were made famous by Charles Darwin as the site where he did research for his Origin of Man theory and are known for their marine life, are a destination for thousands of Americans every year. The islands are part of Ecuador, which closed its borders because of concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
On Saturday morning, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health reported 506 people in the country had tested positive for COVID-19. Hours later, that number jumped to 532. Seven have died.
The problem is that neither the cities of Guayaquil nor Quito would allow an earlier flight from the Galapagos to land, Hillman wrote Friday night while the two were stranded on the Galapagos Islands. Hillman took a sabbatical to travel for a year.
The couple flew to the Galapagos on March 14, just before Ecuador closed its borders. Hillman estimated that there were about two dozen fellow Americans stuck on the island with him and McMullin.
The couple have been in Ecuador for about three months and thought about cutting their stay short to fly back home, but they read news that U.S. airports were packed. In the articles at the time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Americans not to rush home, he said.
“We thought we had time to come back after it calmed down a little,” Hillman said. On top of that, Ecuador at the time had only about a dozen cases.
“We just didn’t want to get stuck in those big crowds of people waiting for health checks in the airport. That’s a nightmare scenario for a nurse,” he wrote. “We thought we’d have a week on the islands (where there is no virus) and then come home safely with fewer people around.”
Hillman’s mother contacted Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and a staffer left a voicemail saying the office would try to help.
Sitting and waiting was stressful on the Henderson couple. On the island, they had little phone connection and could not answer calls.
During their stay at the hotel in the Galapagos, employees fumigated it for COVID-19, Hillman wrote. Crews took a spray nozzle and hosed down the entire hotel.
“They got us outside but when we came back to the room everything was wet, except for the top of the bed. The floors, the walls, the furniture, even the TV was dripping wet,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Hillman commended hotel and airline staffers and the government for being helpful and friendly throughout the stressful time.
“It’s been a mess but they made it happen,” he wrote.
On Wednesday, multiple outlets reported that the mayor of Guayaquil had stopped a plane from Madrid from landing by sending trucks and cars to sit on the runway.
Stuck in Peru
A southern Utah couple is stuck in Peru after that country closed its borders and suspended air and water transport, according to the St. George newspaper in Utah.
President Martin Vizcarra issued a 15-day quarantine, according to the newspaper. Though the couple attempted to leave the country many times, they were unsuccessful. They checked into a hotel and have been told they are not allowed to leave their room “at all,” according to the paper.