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Peru posts photos of American couple; family confirms they are safe

By Catherine E. Shoichet and Rafael Romo, CNN
March 1, 2013 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
Peruvian authorities released images of Garrett Hand, left, and Jamie Neal, Thursday. The couple was believed missing since January.
Peruvian authorities released images of Garrett Hand, left, and Jamie Neal, Thursday. The couple was believed missing since January.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mother: "I am so happy today that my son is well"
  • In online posts, Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal assure friends they are safe
  • Family members had reported the California couple missing
  • Peruvian officials say the couple was unaware their family was looking for them

(CNN) -- For more than a month, Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal went off the grid.

But new photos of the couple -- who family members had reported missing in Peru -- surfaced online Thursday, posted by officials to prove that the pair were safe and sound, enjoying their South American vacation.

A Facebook page for Peru's tourism ministry published several photographs showing the couple smiling and posing with authorities.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima also confirmed that Hand and Neal were "safe and sound." And Hand's mother released a statement saying she'd spoken with her son.

In Facebook posts Wednesday, Hand and Neal assured friends they were alive and well, and wrote they had been out of contact for more than a month because they had been traveling in Amazon villages without electricity, Internet or phone service.

Photos released Thursday show Garret Hand and Jamie Neal.
Photos released Thursday show Garret Hand and Jamie Neal.

Missing since January, U.S. couple found in Peru

The couple, who hail from the San Francisco area, left in November and began a series of social media posts chronicling the trip of their dreams -- a four-month bike adventure through South America.

Their online posts stopped in late January, prompting concern from family members. Saying calls to their cell phones had gone unanswered and bank transactions had stopped, relatives told reporters they feared the worst and asked for authorities to help find the couple.

On Wednesday, relieved family members told reporters that the travelers were safe and sound. They thanked the Peruvian government, the U.S. Embassy and others for their help.

"I am so happy today that my son is well," Francine Fitzgerald, Hand's mother, said in a statement. "Now our family will have to process all of this, and I think this will take some time. I can't wait to see Garrett and Jamie walking off the plane and into my arms."

Peru is known for the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, located in the Cusco region, which attract hundreds of thousands of international travelers each year. Some remote areas of the country are out of cell phone and Internet reach.

When the couple was spotted traveling in a small boat on a remote jungle river, Peruvian officials said they were clearly enjoying their trip and weren't aware that their families were looking for them.

"These two young people have fallen in love with Peru," Jose Luis Silva, Peru's tourism minister, told CNN on Tuesday. "They have visited off-the-beaten-path places, and it seems like they're having a blast -- so much so that they have forgotten to communicate with their families."

On Wednesday, a post on Neal's Facebook page said that authorities had taken the couple to a military base, where they were fielding questions and being photographed.

"The Peruvian military gave us our own house to stay in," she wrote, "and food and a bunch of booze to drink."

All the attention was "insane," Neal said.

"I may delete my Facebook when I get home."

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