ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque couple is back home after trying for weeks to get home from South Africa.
Kevin Dooley and his wife Tricia run Idube Photo Safaris. They take people everywhere from Africa to India to Brazil, photographing nature and the tribes along the way. They left in mid-February for a two-month trip to Ethiopia and South Africa.
“We were doing a safari in Ethiopia under the tribes of Ethiopia, photographing them, learning about them. Ethiopia still has some of the most remote tribes in the world,” said Dooley, who says when done, they moved onto South Africa to photograph the wildlife through multiple safari groups. “Nothing at that particular point in time that really caused any concern … A lot of times when we are in Africa, we’re in very remote places so we don’t necessarily have access to the news all the time.”
They had heard about the coronavirus but at the time, there was nothing to cause concern. Halfway through their wildlife safari, things changed.
“Once we finished our first safari and picked up our group for our second safari, that would’ve been around, I believe, the second week, we were starting to pick up a little bit of information,” said Dooley. “Everything really snowballed and happened very quickly where the safari lodges started shutting down as well as airports shutting down.”
They made sure their group got home safely. They then postponed the other two groups that were set to join them to this time next year. However, when it came time to get themselves back to the States, flight after flight was canceled.
“We knew there was a different, sort of, train of thought on getting back home,” said Dooley. “They completely shut down the airport, so there were no flights going in or out.”
They reached out to the US Embassy in South Africa and started working with other Americans to get home. Dooley’s says they were able to stay with his brother-in-law for the time-being since his wife is originally from South Africa. Just last week, they got the call that the embassy chartered a plane through Ethiopian Airlines to get them back to the U.S.
“From the very first time that we registered with the embassy, it took approximately two to two and a half weeks until we actually flew back home,” said Dooley. “They opened up the airport just for our flight.”
After an intensive health scan, filling out documentation and K-9 bag screenings, the Dooleys and a little over 200 other Americans were on a flight from Johannesburg to West Africa for a fuel stop, then on to Washington D.C. Dooley says the embassy coordinated another plane of Americans through Johannesburg, as well as flights out of Cape Town and Durban, bringing close to a thousand Americans home from the country. Dooley says around 80 people didn’t show up for their specific flight.
“I think a lot of people were very, very torn between staying in South Africa because they had much fewer cases of the virus in South Africa,” said Dooley. “A lot of people at the last minute thought maybe I should just stay put instead of traveling all that distance.”
However, that wasn’t it for the Dooleys’ travels. Domestic flights were also canceled so they went from D.C. to Atlanta, then Salt Lake City, and finally, Albuquerque. Their total travel time was around 42 hours.
“I’m very used to being in Africa, however, I’m not used to being in Africa when all of a sudden, it becomes an issue of whether I’ll be able to get home or not,” said Dooley, who says he spends about 4-5 months out of the year on safari in Africa, in addition to his other trips around the world. “I’m a pretty tough traveler but when I got on that plane in Salt Lake City, I was done. I was so wiped out yet I was so happy I was on my way home.”
Dooley, a U.S. Navy veteran, says the US Embassy and Ambassador Lana Marks worked tirelessly to get them home.
“She did such a good job and she made me feel so proud to be an American,” said Dooley. “She was there. The US ambassador was there with us, walking us through all of this.”
With at least a two-week home quarantine ahead for Kevin and Tricia, one of the things they’re looking forward to most is spending some quality time with their reunited corgis.