About a year ago, Brent Timm quit his job in sales to sample the cuisine of all 195 countries around the globe.
After eating his way through Europe and Africa and video blogging his foray on social media, the former Oakdale resident and part-time actor arrived in Belize in mid-February hoping to cross Central America off his gastronomic tour.
Now, he finds himself stranded on Ambergris Caye, an island popular with snorkelers and scuba divers under normal circumstances. The tiny hamlet of San Pedro became a ghost town after a quarantine was declared on March 25, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Except for brief forays to the local grocery store or fruit stand, Timm, 35, has been holed up in a hostel waiting for circumstances to change.
"I really miss my family and my dog, and can't wait to be reunited with all of them," Timm said this week.
Other Minnesotans in far-flung places find themselves in similar straits. While some have made it back to the United States, including those on a wayward South American cruise ship that garnered international headlines, an unknown number of Minnesotans remain stranded abroad.
The U.S. State Department said more than 35,000 Americans from 74 countries have returned home since the pandemic took hold. But Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said Thursday the State Deparment estimates some 20,000 Americans remained stranded abroad.
"That's still a lot of people who are not home, this has been traumatic for so many Americans and Minnesotans," Smith said Smith.
Commercial airlines have complicated the problem by either severely cutting back flights to the United States or eliminating them entirely as countries have closed their borders.
Peru has been a particular hot spot for stranded Americans. Noncitizens were given just 24 hours to leave the country late last month. Since March 21, close to 4,000 Americans on 23 flights have been repatriated from Peru, according to the State Department.
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Peru said it will continue to work with Peruvian authorities and the private sector to organize flights, but warned those remaining to return home "as soon as possible, as we cannot guarantee that repatriation flights will continue indefinitely."
Michael Hurben and his wife Claire, of Bloomington, left Minneapolis for Peru on March 13. Avid bird-watchers, they traveled two days later to Iquitos, a remote northern town accessible only by boat or plane.
"The first couple of days it seemed normal," said Michael Hurben, a retired engineer. But on March 16, the owner of the hotel where they were staying said a travel ban was going into effect. They accepted an invitation to travel to a sister ecolodge farther down the Amazon River, where they stayed for about a week.
As the pandemic spread, they returned to Iquitos — despite the travel ban — to access electricity, Wi-Fi and better cell service. That's where they remain, hoping for a flight home.
"Lima looks like a worse place to be," Hurben said, noting they can't get there, anyway.
Confusion is rampant, and Hurben estimates more than 40 Americans still remain in Iquitos. One flight bound for the United States landed March 26, but the Hurbens were told it was full. They later learned it had room for more passengers. Stranded travelers from other countries have been rescued from the town, he said.
"It's a real mess," he said.