Banbury couple makes long-awaited homecoming after being stranded in Peru

After two weeks stranded in Peru a Banbury couple has made their long-awaited homecoming this week.

By Matt Elofson
Friday, 3rd April 2020, 11:12 am
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 11:12 am

Briony and Nick Blake had only planned to be in Peru for a few days to see the mountain Machu Picchu.

They actually left the UK in August and were half way through an around the world trip of a life time.

They were in the process of travelling north from Chile up to Canada when the coronavirus outbreak hit causing an early end to the 12-month planned trip.

Nick and Briony Blake on the British Airways flight back to the UK

Even still the homecoming brought on mixed emotions.

Briony said: "It's bitter sweet really. We knew we had to come home for safety and health, but we’ve come home and are unable to see friends and family who we haven’t seen in eight months.

"Plus our journey wasn’t meant to end yet, still so many places we wanted to visit. Our journey is definitely to be continued."

What was meant to be only two days turned into 14 days in country. Most of that time was spent Cusco, Peru, to see the mountain Machu Picchu. They stayed in a hostel while in Cusco.

Briony and Nick had not planned to stay in Peru long because of its high altitude and its impact on Briony's health.

She said: "A few years ago I was found to have a tumour in my right lung completely blocking the air canal, and my lung had to be taken out along with the tumour. I now survive with my one remaining good lung, and have regular tests to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned.

“Due to the cancer I had one lung removed and am living with one. Being stuck at high altitude made breathing very difficult for me.

"Cusco is at nearly 4,000m altitude and has around 40 per cent less oxygen in the air. I was never planning on being at high altitude for long, but with the lockdown in place I had no choice."

Once the nationwide lockdown went into place in Peru it made it very difficult to get back home to the UK.

The UK government worked with the Peruvian authorities to organise several repatriation flights for British nationals across Peru to return home. But the first flights were from the country's capital, Lima. It's more than a 650-mile drive from Cusco to Lima.

The journey home proved difficult even after cross Atlantic flights were scheduled for the return trip home. The couple tried to book a flight home but found prices 10 times more than the typical rate.

As the days passed Briony and Nick started a Whats App group to connect with other Brits who were in a similar situation in Peru. They found more than 500 Brits also stranded trying to return home.

Briony said: "Feeling lost and afraid my husband and I found other Brits and Irish people stuck here in Peru on Twitter."

After two weeks in country the couple got a repatriation flight with British Airways and landed at Heathrow Airport on Monday March 30. But the journey involved several stops and lots of waiting.

Briony said: "The Peruvians had a great reaction to convid 19. They locked down so quickly to stop the spread of the virus and their confirmed figures and death rate are proof it’s worked.

"Its just a shame we got caught up in it all. It was a scary and unknown time because the communication was so poor and that was down to our embassy.

"We were collected by bus at 6.30am from a nearby muster point where we were driven to the airport. We lined up outside the airport for a few hours and were let in 10 at a time to be heat checked, sniffed by the dog and to go through immigration. We then waited to board the plane.

"After two hours sitting on the runway we were off from Cusco to Lima. In Lima we went from the plane to a bus to the British Airways plane. We waited four hours on the tarmac until every seat was filled. We were then off to London. It was a very long and stressful day but all worth it in the end."

Arriving home early from their 12-month travelling trip brought its own challenges.

Briony said: "We are back home but unfortunately couldn’t return to our house in Banbury as it has been rented out as we were planning on being away for 12 months."

Relatives in Hook Norton where Briony grew up have taken them in until they can find accommodation.

Getting transport home from the airport proved difficult too with all the lockdown travel restrictions in place. But Hook Norton residents, Anwen Greenaway and Dan Harvey, came to the rescue.

Briony added: "We were planning on hiring a car, safer option than public transport, but unfortunately they put their prices up by nearly double. There was another couple from Hook Norton stuck in Cusco (what are the chances!) so we got a lift back with them in their car.

"We were in the Cusco stuck Whatsapp group together and found out we were from the same area, from there we then met at the airport in baggage claim. Very surreal."

After more than eight months away from home Briony is looking to one thing most about the homecoming.

She said: "A roast dinner! Roll on Sunday! You can’t beat a homemade roast dinner with the smell filling the kitchen."

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