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Biking Couple Disappears in South America

No activity on the Oakland couple's bank, credit card accounts since Jan. 25, says relative Larkin McGowan of Concord.

Bay City News Service

Family members and friends are worried about an Oakland couple who appear to have disappeared during a bike trip in South America last month.

Garrett Hand, 25, and his girlfriend, Jamie Neal, left on their bike trip in late November. At the end of January all communication stopped, said Hand's sister Larkin McGowan, a Concord resident. She said there has been no financial activity on the couple's bank accounts or credit cards since Jan. 25.

"That's the big alarm," said McGowan, who lives in Concord.

The couple, whom McGowan described as avid bicyclists and well-traveled, have been documenting their trip online. Social media posts dropped off around the same time the financial activity stopped, she said. The last post on Neal's Facebook was on Jan. 23, when the pair arrived in Cusco, Peru.

Hand's mother is anxious for the return of the couple.

On Feb. 13, the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, posted an emergency message warning of a potential kidnapping threat in the Cusco area.

"The embassy has received information that members of a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area," the message reads. The threat is listed as credible through the end of February. McGowan said the families are working with the U.S. Embassy and local authorities.

Hand, a commercial fisherman in the Bay Area, posted in Spanish on his Facebook page from Cusco on Jan. 25 that the next stop of the trip would be Pucallpa, Peru, if the couple could find a bus.

Neal, who is in her twenties and works at the Pedaler Bike Shop in El Sobrante, had been in touch with her coworkers through the end of January, shop mechanic Mark Lindgren said. The shop has pooled together a $3,000 reward for any information that will help locate the couple. Lindgren said Neal had taken time off work for the trip, and that regular customers and colleagues are concerned.

Donations for the couple's families can be made at any Mechanics Bank by mentioning Hand or Neal, Lindgren said.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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