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St. Charles resident Joe Maretta wanted to celebrate his 20th birthday climbing Machu Picchu in the South American country of Peru.
That dream was quickly dashed when his plane landed in Peru on March 16. Maretta and his godfather, Adam Francisco, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, were immediately quarantined because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
He is still there. And he has no idea when he is going to make it home. The quarantine, which was supposed to end on March 31, has been extended until April 12.
The situation has him frustrated.
"There have been times where I've kind of broken down and I can't help but let the tears fall off my face," said Maretta, a 2018 St. Charles East High School graduate. "I miss everybody at home and I wish I was there to support them. I feel so far away."
Maretta is trying to keep an upbeat attitude, something he tries to do in his job as a barista at the Starbucks restaurant located near Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles.
"I try to make their day better and make them smile," he said. "I work in a business where sometimes you're talking to people before they're even awake and they can be angry and groggy. I like it when I can change their attitude and their mindset."
Maretta and his godfather recently moved from the hotel they were staying at into a nearby Airbnb. Maretta's mother, Christine Kray, hopes that the move will reduce the chance of them being infected with the virus.
"He was staying at a hotel that had 100 new guests coming in and moving from the region of Cusco over to Lima," said his mother, "There are instances out there right now where if somebody is diagnosed with COVID-19, that they put the entire place that they are in on a severe quarantine. There are some hostels and hotels in the Cusco area that are going through that right now. They're in a little better of a situation because they are in an Airbnb apartment, so they're secluded."
To help pay for the additional expenses they will incur while staying in Peru along with the flight home, Francisco started a GoFundMe page, with the goal of raising $10,000. So far, the page has raised a little more than $3,000.
"We started it because we basically were given no answer on how long we would end up stuck here and we didn't know what the final cost was going to be to get us out of here," he said. 'When we started that page, we were getting prices that would cost $3,000 to $5,000 for a plane ticket. And nobody can guarantee us anything."
Many of the people who have donated to the page are customers of Maretta who he talks to on a regular basis. That makes him feel good.
Francisco said he is glad to be out of the hotel and in the Airbnb apartment.
'We wanted to kind of self isolate a little bit more, just to keep a safe distance away from groups of people," he said. "Plus, it's a little bit less expensive where we are staying now. The hotel wasn't giving us any breaks."
He traveled to Peru with Maretta to support his dream.
"It was a dream of his since he was really young," Francisco said. "And we were talking about it around his birthday last year. We're both really big into fitness and we thought it would be fun to go climb a mountain and see the Inca temples. The timing worked out because my birthday was a couple of days before we planned to leave and his birthday was while we were out here. And we were planning on being on a mountain for his birthday. That would have been an amazing experience if we would have been able to do it."
But now his thoughts are of going home. And he has something to look forward to when he gets home – a new house.
He was supposed to close on the house at the end of March, but wasn't able to since he is quarantined in Peru. Fortunately, the closing has been rescheduled.
"I have to be present for that and they extended the closing date until April 17 because I am sure we will back home by then," Francisco said.