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Zachary Meckstroth and four friends arrived in Peru with their sights set on hiking to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
Instead, due to the outbreak of coronavirus there, the 28-year-old Tampa native turned Orlando resident and his buddies are quarantined inside a Cusco, Peru hostel where two occupants have been diagnosed with the disease.
No one is allowed to leave for any reason.
Not even a decree from the Peruvian government and the U.S. Embassy in Peru, granting the 28-year-old permission to fly home, swayed the military guarding the hostel.
His father, Chad Meckstroth of Tampa, said there is no indication of when the quarantine will be lifted.
But the father said it has been made it clear what will happen to anyone who tries to escape the hostel: They’d be arrested and face up to 10 years in prison.
Chad Meckstroth said his son also heard that “the military and police have authority to shoot on sight.”
Zachary Meckstroth, a graduate of Newsome High School and the University of South Florida, works in guest relations at Disney World. He began planning the trip with his friends a year ago.
They arrived on March 12, his father said, and were to begin their hike five days later.
But, before they could, on March 15, the nation went on lockdown, which included closing its borders.
“Then, two of the hostel’s occupants were diagnosed with coronavirus,” Chad Meckstroth said. “As soon as that happened, the military sent a blockade and no one has been able to get out" of the hostel.
Still, on March 25, Zachary Meckstroth received a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Peru.
His father shared it with the Tampa Bay Times.
“The bearer of this letter is a U.S. citizen and is en route to return to his country of origin and requires transfer to the Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport," it reads. “This transfer has been duly coordinated with the Government of the Republic of Peru. We request that you allow the bearer of this letter to transit to the airport in order to meet this objective.”
But Zachary Meckstroth was ordered back inside the hostel when he tried to catch his flight the next morning, his dad said.
“The military and police are barricading the street by our hostel because two people tested positive” for coronavirus, reads a March 26 text Zachary Meckstroth sent to his father that was shared with the Times. “That’s why we are on special quarantine.”
Three of his friends received a similar letter but are also still in quarantine. His fourth friend is still waiting for a letter.
Neither Zachary Meckstroth nor his friends show signs of the coronavirus, his father said, but meals are scarce because the cook is sick.
“They are not being fed right," Chad Meckstroth said. “They don’t know when or if the next meal is coming."
On Sunday night, the Peruvian military rounded up 60 of the hostel’s 140 occupants and moved them to a nearby hotel, Chad Meckstroth said.
“They don’t know why,” he said. “Some Americans were included. Zachary was not moved.”
The borders were initially to re-open on March 31 but that has since been pushed to April 12.
“We will continue to schedule flights for U.S. citizens to return home to the United States,” reads the U.S. Embassy in Peru’s website.
Chad Meckstroth has been in contact with the office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.
Castor’s office confirmed they are on the case.
“We have been working hard every day with more than a dozen families since Peru closed its borders earlier this month,” Castor said in a statement. “Thankfully, most have returned to the United States. We continue to work with the State Department to bring everyone home.”
Chad Meckstroth said he simply wants his son’s safe return.
“Zach and his group are getting daily updates at 3:30 pm from the Embassy and it is always the same story - they’re working on it,” he said. “I just want my son to come home.”
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