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A Bay Area man who traveled to Peru last month has been stranded in that country, while an anxious family and struggling business await his return.
Max Gambirazio, who owns the San Carlos roastery business called Papachay Peruvian Coffee, flew to his coffee bean plantation in Villa Rica, Peru, on March 13. Three days later, in an effort to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, Peru closed its borders and put strict curfews in place, leaving Gambirazio unable to return.
Despite being on a U.S. evacuation list, Gambirazio said he has yet to hear anything definite from the U.S. Embassy in Lima about when and how he might leave the country. As of April 8, the U.S. State Department had helped repatriate more than 6,000 Americans, according to the embassy in Lima, but a Facebook page titled “Americans Stuck in Peru” indicates that many remain stranded in that country.
Gambirazio’s difficulties are compounded by the remote location of his farm — in a high-altitude rainforest on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. He went to Peru hoping to send the new harvest of coffee beans back to his Bay Area business. But in order to move an 18-wheeler filled with coffee from the farm to the airport in Lima, Gambirazio would have to pass through government checkpoints, and the departments he needs to deal with for permits are all closed.
“I put everything back,” he said, in a telephone interview. “I’m not shipping anything until they reopen.”
The coffee estate’s location is also a barrier to Gambirazio’s own escape from the country. He said the U.S. Embassy only arranges to pick up Americans along Highway 1, close to Lima, and he can’t find any alternative transportation.
“Even if I had a pass, people don’t want to take anybody in their trucks because of the virus,” he said.
Meanwhile, back in San Carlos, Gambirazio’s wife, Juliana, has closed their storefront restaurant to reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus. She continues to make deliveries, but most of the family’s income came from the storefront and from corporate clients whose offices are closed.
“The virus gave us a big lockdown,” said Max. “No money is coming in. We are talking about months.”
And while the economic consequences loom large for the family, they aren’t Max’s biggest concern any more. He just wants to get home to be reunited with his wife and daughter.