The families of the young Bay Area couple who seemed to vanish on a South American bicycle trip are breathing easier Wednesday after hearing from Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal for the first time in a month.
Garrett Hand phoned his family and friends Wednesday and posted a message on his Facebook page.
Hand and Neal of Oakland had embarked on an extensive South American trip last November, often posting their where-abouts on social media. But their posts abruptly stopped January 25th.
Wednesday evening, Garrett's father and older sister beamed as his mother Francine Fitzgerald told gathered press Wednesday afternoon that she received the proof the family had been waiting for that Garrett and his girlfriend were safe in Peru.
"I finally heard my son's voice today," Fitzgerald said with a laugh. "I am so happy that my son is well."
Garrett also posted three simple words on Facebook: "I am alive."
Peru's tourism minister said that he spoke with Garrett and that the 25-year-old expressed surprise by the commotion the young couple had caused. Garrett reportedly laughed and said everything in Peru was "fantastic."
"We cannot describe the hope and emotion, the relief and the exhaustion that we're feeling right now," said Fitzgerald.
Family and friends became even more concerned for the couple's safety after the U.S. State Department Issued a warning about potential kidnapping threats against Americans.
Garrett's mother said she's anxiously waiting for her son to fly home.
The first thing she'll do when she sees Garrett? "Grabbing him in my arms and holding him close to me," Fitzgerald said.
It still was unclear when the couple will return to the Bay Area.
There are reports that the two were in a remote area on the Amazon River and that could be why they were not in touch with family and friends.
Watchdogs are questioning an exclusive agreement between the City of Oakland and a non-profit group, tapped to lead a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the area around the Coliseum BART station.