In this episode of Non-Beta Alpha, the CTO of Wentworth Management Services, Gary Crites, shares his experience of being stranded in a foreign country that has implemented Martial Law. Gary Crites was vacationing with his wife in a remote town in Peru when he received the news that the country was going into lockdown. Gary had less than 22 hours to plan their departure. The couple made it to Cusco, a more developed area in the country, but failed to make it out of Peru before the lockdown. Because the Crites’ have children in the United States, Gary and his wife completed their “Step Registrations” separately, allowing his wife to return home without him.
While stranded in Peru, Crites grew increasingly frustrated, not only with the actions of the Peruvian government, but also with the inaction of the United States government. It was particularly frustrating for Mr. Crites that the Canadian government managed to extract all its citizens from Peru while 5,100 US citizens remained stranded there.
Ryan Morfin: Welcome to Non-Beta Alpha. I’m Ryan Morfin, and in today’s episode, we’re joined with a very special guest, our very own chief technology officer, Gary Crites. Gary has been locked up in Peru on martial law, due to the Coronavirus crisis, and he’s going to give us some insights today about what it’s like to live under martial law in a foreign country. This is Non-Beta Alpha. Gary, welcome to the show.
Gary Crites: Thank you.
Ryan Morfin: I know we’ve been talking back and forth the last few weeks, but I think your situation is something Americans and people in our industry need to really find out more about. First of all, where the heck are you?
Gary Crites: At this very second, I am in Cusco, Peru.
Ryan Morfin: What the heck are you doing in Cusco, Peru?
Gary Crites: This was not my ultimate destination, of course. I got trapped here. On the 16th is when the president of Peru declared martial law, total shutdown. He gave us about, I think I had maybe 20 hours, maybe 22 hours, of notice. At that time, I was in a city called Aguas Calientes. It’s right at the base of the Machu Picchu, a tiny little city. We got notified around 2:00 AM that the entire city was going to be evacuated because the entire country was going on lockdown.
We had 22 hours to try to get out of there. It was a bit difficult. Obviously, the only way out was by train, so we got started probably the next morning around 4:30 AM, trying to get out by train. What’s normally a three hour, two hour, three hour ride, took us about 11 hours to finally get to Ollantaytambo, and then from there is a cab ride, which is another two hours to get to Cusco. By that time, I was already 11-plus hours into it.
I may have only had another eight hours to finally make it home, but Cusco’s 685 miles away from Lima, and there were no flights, none whatsoever, by the time we got here to the airport. Everything was completely shut down: no buses, no cars, no cabs, no way whatsoever. We decided to hunker down, find a hostel and just sit this out.
Ryan Morfin: The world came crashing to a screeching halt and you’re in the middle of a backwater city in the mountains, I guess the Andes mountains. You and your wife were looking at each other, and you’ve got family here. What are you guys thinking at that period of time when you’re realizing there’s no flights out?
Gary Crites: Honestly, it was a shock. We had to instantly move into survival mode. With the total evacuation of the city, the first thing that happened is all the local residents were gone. We woke up in a hotel that was completely abandoned. There was nobody there working. The only people in the city left were a couple of people that were working the train station. It was absolute chaos. All of the tourists, hundreds of tourists slamming the gates at the train station, trying to get through.
It was an absolute nightmare, but we were lucky. We have family back home that was able to go over to the house and take care of the children, take care of the pets and everything, so we didn’t have to worry about that. My real worry was just, obviously, the safety of my wife here.
Ryan Morfin: You’re in this second world, third world country, how are the military and the police treating foreigners in Peru today, you think?
Gary Crites: It started off okay, but it has progressively gotten worse as this has gone on. There are reports now of citizens being kicked out, US citizens being kicked out of hostels. There’s cases of abuse reported to the police that have gone unpunished. There are people being given deadlines. I know I’m in contact with a couple right now that they’re out on the first, and they have nowhere else to go.
I ran into a couple from South Carolina yesterday that got kicked out. It’s gotten a lot more difficult of late, and a lot of the places where people are staying, I suppose that they’re under pressure from the government as well. We’re allowed out now about one hour a day, every other day, and only to go to the grocery store. If you’re out longer than that, they don’t let you back in.
Ryan Morfin: Talk about the grocery stores, how … When you first started martial law, talk about the supplies that were available and then what is like today?
Gary Crites: When it first started martial law, it was a bit of a shock to the system because you see military vehicles driving down the street, armed guards in full urban camo, everybody with the bright blue gloves and the bright blue masks on. Initially you think, oh, this is kind of interesting, but yeah, they stop everybody now, when you’re walking the streets. The grocery stores at that time were full. The hotel, for instance, at that time was full. We had over 300 people in the hotel I’m at right now, and at this very second, I think we’re down to about 20 guests, whatsoever.
Food ran out two days ago, so trips to the grocery store are all that more important. The issue with that though, is you’re only allowed out for an hour every other day. It takes a little bit to walk to this particular grocery store because they’re not on every corner where I happen to be. Then when you get there, they only allow in 25 people at a time, so you have to stand and wait in line.
I think day before yesterday, when I was there, it took me 30 to 45 minutes to finally get into the store, and then once I was in there, the shelves were … They’re bare because everybody’s hitting it. Then I had to race back, empty handed, to try to get back into the hotel, so I wouldn’t be stranded outside overnight.
Ryan Morfin: Your wife got out, you guys both registered on the state department emergency website, but for whatever reason, you guys didn’t get out together, so maybe just talk a little bit about the travel ordeal she had to go through to exit the country and then what you plan to do since we’re still there.
Gary Crites: Yes. The direction that we’ve been given ever since the 16th, really, when it was locked down is registered for STEP. That’s basically everybody’s answer. We’ve contacted Cornyn and Cruz and Abbott, and a lot of people. Everybody comes back and says, well, register for STEP, everything’s going to be fine. We did that right off the bat. At first, we registered separately. Then we also noticed on the fine print, you can register as a group or a corporation or an organization.
It seemed a bit odd, but we went ahead and did that as well, and apparently that’s how you have to register if you want to travel together. They started running down the list. They ended up getting to her first. She, of course, would have had the option to skip that, but then we don’t know when they would have called our name again, and it was important to get her back to the family. We went ahead and pushed forward with getting her home.
Part of the issue with getting there is you get the repatriation email, and then they tell you that you’re on the manifest. It was a, Dear US citizen, you get to fly out tomorrow, get to the airport, however you can. We’re not organizing any transportation for you. It’s a bit of a hike to get to this airport and, again, there’s no buses, cabs, cars, anything running. The hotel doesn’t offer any type of transportation whatsoever, so we managed to sneak her onto a chartered bus that the Canadian government got for their citizens that were going out.
We sneaked her on the back of that. She managed to get to the airport, but once you’re at the airport, you have to stand outside of the gates, and the gates are all guarded by the military, again. They run down the list to make sure that you’re on the manifest, and that took several hours of just standing outside of there, because people were split up.
There are lots of citizens that are going because one family member has received the notice and they haven’t, but they want to go anyway, to hope to get on because a lot of these planes have been leaving half full because there’s been no transportation to actually get to the airport. They created two different lines. They have a standby line that wrapped around the airport, and she was sending me pictures. There were hundreds and hundreds of people sitting in the standby line, hoping to get on, so they grab about 75 of those people and brought them onto the plane as well.
Then once you get through that step, you get inside the gates, you’re still out in the parking lot, and you wait another few hours where they have dogs running through, checking all of your bags for whatever. Then they check all of your information again, make sure that you’re where you’re supposed to be. Then they start taking people into the airport 10 at a time, and then eventually fill it up. She spent from 4:00 AM to finally 11:00 PM before she landed in Miami, because Cusco, you can’t just fly straight out of Cusco.
The high altitude, the winds, it changes the capacity that you’re allowed to have on the plane. The pilots themselves have to have special certifications to be able to fly out of here. That’s why there’s not very many and they have to stop in Lima for a refuel, and that took a couple of hours. She finally made it about 11:00 PM to Miami, spent the night, and then got a direct flight the next morning, to get to Dallas. Luckily, now she’s home and safe.
Ryan Morfin: You’re stuck there still, and you’re not the only one. There were some estimates between, what, 5,000 and 2,000 Americans are stuck in Peru, with really no clear game plan on how to get them out.
Gary Crites: Yes. Not even 15 minutes ago, the embassy in Lima just sent me another email, letting me know that to date, 2,300 Americans have been repatriated. Then yesterday, apparently the information they were getting from STEP just wasn’t enough for them. They created a new repatriation flight registration form. It was just a simple Microsoft form on the internet, and it got another 2,800 responses. If you add that 2,800 to the 2,300 that have already left, there’s at least 5,100 people that were stranded here in Peru.
Ryan Morfin: That’s terrible. No, it’s mind breaking to think that you’re stuck in a foreign country and your government’s not doing whatever they can to get you guys out, but other countries have been getting a lot more support: Canada, Israel, Mexico. How would you grade the US’s response so far to logistically supporting Americans abroad?
Gary Crites: Granted, I’m a bit biased, being as I’m still stuck here and frustrated, but we locked down on the 16th. By the 18th, every single Israeli was already repatriated, so that says something. Canada, Brazil, Chile, of course, the local South Americans are a little bit easier to get out, but Canada got their people out really quick. Then they also took the extra step of actually chartering buses for transportation to get you to the airport. That’s just a simple step that I think the US could have taken that they still haven’t.
Ryan Morfin: What’s been the toughest part about being in martial law, in quarantine, when you and your wife were together, just kind of the day to day, what’s the toughest part about living in that environment?
Gary Crites: It’s gotten a bit easier. I take that back, it was a bit easier-
Ryan Morfin: Because your wife left?
Gary Crites: That’s part of it, yes. Once we finally got into a hotel that was more permanent. We bounced around in little hostels to start with, but once we got into a larger hotel, we were surrounded by other people in the exact same situation as us. We were able to compare information, share information, it was a lot easier, until the food ran out. It’s been tough being in a little 10 by 10 room, solid. You’re not allowed to leave. You can’t go down to the lobby. There’s no gathering in the courtyards. Again, you’re only allowed outside once every other day, so it’s tough. It’s really solitary confinement. It’s difficult.
Ryan Morfin: Gary, how has the government of Peru been treating Americans during this crisis?
Gary Crites: They’ve been treating us really the same way they’ve been treating their own people. Again, the guidance we’re getting from STEP is if you can’t get out, you can’t find your own means to get out, you need to abide by the local rules and the local quarantine. The problem that I have with these drastic measures though, is I really think that the cure is worse than the disease at this point. At this very second, there’s, what, 671 cases in Peru, 16 deaths.
There’s 32.2 million people. That’s .002% of the population is affected by this, but with this drastic martial law that they’re doing, that’s 100% of the population. This is a very, very poor country to start with, with poor people in here. This is a tourism town, so this shutting them down, these extreme measures, is completely shutting down the economy. Again, it’s all based on tourism.
I was sitting down in the lobby watching the local news and they were interviewing people in what they call those shantytowns, those little makeshift buildings that run up the side of the mountains. They have no food. They’ve got no help, no aid whatsoever, no money, no income coming in. This is something that they’re not going to be able to recover from, in my opinion. This is irrevocable damage, all in the name of flattening the curve.
If you take a look at just January, for instance, in Peru, there were over 5,000 cases of dengue fever, with 12 deaths. That right there is way more than the 671 that we have so far with COVID-19. It just, to me, it doesn’t make much sense.
Ryan Morfin: I’m glad you found a stable situation, at least for what it seems like has been a volatile period, and I’m glad your wife is out. I want to thank you for coming on the show today, and we will be keeping an active interest in trying to help you get the heck out of there and get back home. Gary, appreciate you coming on the show today, sharing your story, and hopefully it gives other Americans abroad or people who have loved ones, some context. Hopefully it gives some of these Americans a heads up of what might be coming our way if martial law is imposed to force a quarantine. Thanks a lot, Gary. Appreciate you. We’ll hopefully see you soon.
Gary Crites: All right. Thank you.
Ryan Morfin: Thanks for listening to Non-Beta Alpha. Before we go, please remember to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple Podcast or our YouTube channel. On our next episode, we’ll talk to someone in London as the UK pushes through the crisis after Prince Charles and the prime minister both test positive for the virus. This is Non-Beta Alpha, and now, you know.
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