TAMPA, Fla. - A Tampa native and his friends are finally back home 22 days after landing in Peru. It took a complex mission and the help of both governments to get the Americans out of the country. The group was facing months trapped at a hostel under strict quarantine.
Zachary Meckstroth says it wasn’t until they were on the plane that he knew for sure they were getting out of the country.
“When we landed we all went nuts,” he said. “We were just so thankful and happy to finally be home, just so much relief, and happy to be home.”
The 28-year-old and his friends were locked down inside the Pariwana Hostel in Cusco after some guests there tested positive for COVID-19. They say they were held by armed guards and told it could be months before they could leave.
“The story kept changing, we were terrified, just because it kept changing, we weren’t sure if we ever were gonna come home,” said Zachary.
With a day’s notice, the group of five, plus two other Americans at the hostel, were told they were being extracted and a repatriation flight had been arranged.
“The seven of us Americans, we left the hostel, as soon as we walked outside there were military, police, doctors, all these things were going on,” Zachary explained. “Everyone in hazmat suits and they actually put us in one as well, gloves, like a plastic shield for our face, masks.”
The U.S. Embassy in Peru tweeted a photo of the Americans boarding their flight home Friday. It was a complex task and took the help of both governments to arrange.
“Since January 29 we have now repatriated over 50,000 United States citizens back to their homes,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
That number includes more than 6,000 travelers in Peru.
Boats and busses are being used to get citizens in remote parts of the country and dozens of planes have flown residents back to American soil.
Zachary says he is forever grateful.
“We landed, we got off the plane and went through everything, and my dad was waiting there with a bottle of champagne and cups ready to go,” said Zachary. “So we all just 'cheers' and celebrated being home, just so happy, just so happy to be home.”
Zachary tells FOX 13 News he spent the weekend filling up on coffee and junk food and would eventually like to head back to Peru to finally hike Machu Picchu.