North Hampton man recounts being in Ecuador when pandemic hit

NORTH HAMPTON – In years to come, when stories are written of the historic COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, Bob Rand will have a remarkable tale to tell.

The 77-year-old retired sales executive is back in his North Hampton home, enjoying New Hampshire’s coastline with his wife, Sherry, and with his daughter Kris McClelland nearby in Hampton. But for months, his return home was a dicey proposition, for Rand was in Ecuador when the coronavirus pandemic shut down countries and borders all over the world.

For the last 10 years, Rand has spent winters in Ecuador’s capital of Quito where his son, Court, runs a motorcycle rental business. Rand raves about the country, the climate, culture, food, biodiversity and the activities the South American country on the Pacific Coast offers.

Sometimes his wife travels with him for the annual three-month excursion, but this year Rand went alone. He arrived Jan. 29 with his return flight booked for mid-April. But his best laid plans were waylaid by the virus. And since Rand is a cancer survivor, COVID-19 presented a risk not only to his health, but to his life.

The shelter-in-place order came down for Rand in Ecuador on March 16, about the same time as in New Hampshire. But there was a difference.

“We were told by the government of Ecuador to isolate in place for two weeks,” Rand said. “It was a real lockdown. They had an abundance of police in Quito to enforce the order. You pay attention to police down there.”

Weeks progressed and commercial flights were canceled. By the end of March, Rand was monitoring the American Embassy in Ecuador, which offered a few flights out to Americans stranded in the country. Termed “humanitarian flights,” they flew out of Quito’s airport, Rand said, but with a grueling itinerary on military planes with no food or water available.

With his immune system compromised due to previous rounds of chemotherapy, Rand decided to pass that up.

“I figured (the shelter-in-place order) wasn’t going to last that long and I’d be able to book with an American airline when it was over,” he said.

Neither did Rand consider remaining in Ecuador as a hardship. A nation located between the Pacific Ocean, Columbia to the north and Peru to the east and south, as its name indicates, Ecuador is located right on the equator. Rand said it has a wide variety of natural wonders to offer, like the Andes Mountains, the sea and access to the Amazon River Basin.

“Quinto is at 9,350 feet above sea level,” Rand said. “The temperature rarely gets above 80 or so degrees because of the altitude. It’s spring there all year round.”

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Soon the original two-week order was not only extended, but curfews were also established allowing people to drive one day a week and for only a few hours a day. But Rand remained positive.

“We were doing fine except for the self isolation and business shutdown,” he said. “I was isolating with my son and three other guys in a beautiful home in Quito. They never stopped delivering water and propane to us. We had plenty of food and we were an eight-minute walk from a (large store). We had everything we needed.”

But March became April and April rolled on. United Airlines began flying out of Ecuador, and Rand booked a seat on the Thursday, April 30 flight. But he never made it.

“I picked up something and I got sick the day before the flight,” Rand said.

He isn’t sure what the illness was; he was over it within a day or two. He was able to get another seat on the May 11 flight. After a layover in Houston, Texas, he arrived at Logan in Boston on May 12, where Sherry was waiting to take him home.

One of the first things the couple did was take a drive along the coast, he said, ending up at Petey’s for a takeout fish dinner.

Friends and his daughter have been calling, he said, but he’s still honoring New Hampshire’s shelter-in-place order.

“I feel the best I have in three or four years,” he said. “I am very happy to be home.”

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