Missing couple reported safe in Peru

clocke@sacbee.comFebruary 28, 2013 

3M27NEWSLINE

Garrett Hand, left, and Jamie Neal, shown here in an undated self-portrait, have been found near the Ecuador-Peru border, according to news reports. Relatives hope to confirm today that the two, who had been reported missing, are safe.

GARRETT HAND

The Peruvian government and family members confirmed Wednesday that a former Sacramento woman and her boyfriend have been found safe on their bike trek through South America.

Peru's Department of Tourism Security announced that Jamie Neal and Garrett Hand, both 25, had spoken with their respective families. Hand accepted the agency's offer to arrange a telephone call so that he could put his mother's concerns to rest, according to a news release from the Ministry of Exterior Commerce and Tourism.

Neal, an Elk Grove High School graduate, and Hand, who has worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, left in late November for a four-month bicycle tour.

Garrett Hand's sister, Alena Hand of Sacramento, said earlier this week that the couple had communicated almost daily via Facebook and other social media since beginning their trip in Buenos Aires. But since Jan. 25, she said, the couple had had "zero contact" with family and friends, and had last been seen boarding a bus in Cusco.

Family members in the Sacramento area could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the Contra Costa Times reported that Hand's sister Larkin McGowan confirmed through a text message that her family had heard from her brother.

According to the news release from the Peruvian government, Neal and Hand arrived Tuesday in the city of Loreto. They had been traveling by bus, bicycle and boat in zones outside the regular tourist circuit, where their access to phone and Internet service was restricted.

They reportedly were surprised to learn that family, friends and the international community were concerned about their well-being, officials said.

Neal and Hand reportedly are now heading to Ecuador.

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