How I landed in Peru 5 hours before it closed borders

Over the last three days I have been on self isolation at home in Peru. Now while you may (or may not) know, the whole country is under mandatory social isolation as a measure to prevent spread of COVID-19 (I never thought I would speak of such thing here on the blog). However, since I flew from the UK via Madrid, I had to enter a 14 day mandatory self isolation to avoid spreading the virus to people in the house, which basically makes my situation a bit more miserable than others.

Being conscious of the danger it could be for the family, I have part of the house just to myself and I am only allowed to speak to others from distance, from time to time if there is no one around I can go to the balcony and enjoy some fresh air (since we are all socially isolated, it is really fresh air). I couldn’t hug my sister when I came back, nor anyone else in the family, and a hug is what I honestly need now.

For now I am okay, I don’t feel any symptoms, and quite honestly hope to remain like that, for everyone’s sake. But how did I come to this?

I had planned a trip to the UK and a couple other countries from mid Feb until end on March. The first two weeks were fine, everyone pretty much getting on with their life as usual. It was until around the 24th of February that things started to change, and sadly with an outcome we are all yet to see. It was when I arrived to Germany that many countries in Europe started to report several cases of the virus, all of them related to people traveling to northern Italy. I had a few more days in Frankfurt and then a couple days plus work meetings in Paris before I could return to the UK.

At some point I hesitated about going to Paris, but alas, I decided to go and be extra careful with everything, being super mindful of the preventive indications given by the WHO. In Paris I walked mostly, and took the metro only when absolutely needed. Following the news every day, hoping I wouldn’t be banned from returning to the UK, where I had still a few more things to do before returning home in Peru. Day by day it started to be a routine, wake up, breathing exercises, see the news (from several sources), count down hours to take the train back to the UK.

Once back in the UK, life had changed, news of hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies, and incredibly also toilet paper banishing from shops’ shelves, people’s mood was the same but different (you know what I mean) news were not good, and it all felt like a huge storm you see from the distance, until it suddenly is blowing you away.

March 11th

I had still a bit more than two weeks ahead before returning home, a trip to Sweden scheduled in between. That all got wiped off once I saw the news I didn’t want to see: Peru announced mandatory self isolation from all visitors coming from France, Spain, China, and Italy. I had a bad feeling about it, I tried to see if I could change my flight back, no option whatsoever on British Airways app, or on the website, just a message to phone the local centre. BA’s UK lines were collapsing to the growing amount of people having flights cancelled due to ban on flights from Europe and/ or border closure announced by other countries.

My first thought was to call my sister and ask her to call BA in Peru, they confirmed the flight could be changed, now the thing was to decide when it was safe to return before Peruvian government took further measures. Also because my best friend’s wedding was next Tuesday, and I didn’t want to miss it.

March 12th

After contacting other friends who were abroad and had relatives working on airlines, I decided to go back before Monday 16th. My sis called BA at least 5 times, each time they gave her mixed information, first crazy amounts of money to change the date, until at the 5th try someone helped her book the flight back for Sunday 15th at a decent price.  Relieve! Unfortunately that feeling didn’t last.

A few hours later our president announced ban on flights coming from/to Europe, all of them. It didn’t say the starting date, or for how long it would be. I swear I had complications breathing that night, and not due to the virus. Uncertainty, a sudden feeling of homelessness, my brain didn’t stop trying to figure out what the hell I could do. Until reason kicked in and I thought, well they should give a few days for everyone to rearrange their travel plans and return, also for tourists in Peru to return home, that should be the sensible thing to do right? And with this thought, and exhausted I fell asleep.

March 13th

I woke up to desperately read more about the ban, some friends working at embassies shared first hand information, the ban started on March 16th at 00:00. Once again I felt relieve, by some miracle I had managed to change my flight for the day before, I spoke to the Peruvian consulate and was reassured that if my flight landed in Lima on March 15th at 7pm it was fine. My breath got back to normal once again, yet I sat back on my bed and cried. I had been trying to keep myself strong and resilient as I usually do, to surf the uncertain time without paniking, but for the first time I felt helpless, even though I knew I was definitely going back home, worse scenario I had friends who could help. I cried, for there were so many emotions new to me, I couldn’t control everything, and after a few tears, I managed to pull myself together again.

News from our hotel back in Cusco were not good either, many clients leaving earlier than expected, others that were to come soon cancelling their reservations. Peruvian businesses in the travel industry showing disagreement with the government for the “rather exaggerated measure”. While I read some public statements, and after seeing myself the whole situation deteriorating in Europe, I couldn’t help but think, this people only care about money, not the clients health and safety, not our people’s health and safety. Coronavirus cases were few in the country, but certainly there were more to appear soon. True, my business was also being affected but I agreed with our president.

That day I went to a friend’s place outside London, in a rather quiet area with few people living around. Since we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, we spoke for hours, and for the first time in, what seemed to be years long by then, I didn’t see the news or worried that much.

March 14th

I woke up after a good night sleep, that day was fantastic, I had the chance to go to peaceful places, familiar places, and enjoy myself. Only a few hours before the nightmare was over. Fingers crossed for everything to remain, even in a dreamed parallel universe, the same until I took the first flight to Madrid, then to Peru.

I did the online check-in, flight was on time according to my BA app. A few minutes later I noticed a notification on my phone, I stopped to breathe briefly, until I saw it was just a reminder to save the boarding passes for next day flights.

March 15th

Went to the airport ahead of time, just in case there would be many people in the similar situation rushing to drop luggage. Heathrow never felt so empty before, luggage drop off was quick and without any problem. BA staff were all very empathetic and trying to reassure us our flights were all going to depart on time. At 5 am people started filling the airport, this time though, they were all people trying to go back to their homes somewhere in the world.

Once on board of the flight to Madrid, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. BA crew were extremely nice and cheerful until the very last moment when we disembarked in Madrid. As if trying to lift the mood of a rather worried bunch of humans. I felt good with every smile, so genuine thanks for that.

At the airport in Madrid a lot more worried humans were trying to find their departure gates, two hours of anxiety to go, still frantically going about every single news site I had been following for the past 10 days: DW, BBC, Worldometer, Peruvian news sites, El Pais, and so on. The nightmare came to an end when I got on board, the captain went about the normal business and announcements, the people on the plane were all Peruvian except for a couple that spoke english with the crew.

On the plane, this time the Iberia crew were also very nice, understanding the desperation showed in all our faces, for the first time in many years flying, people were saying out loud “they had never been happier to go back to Peru”. Perks of having the flight not totally full, I took an entire four seat row and slept properly at least for half of the 12 hour flight.

Once we landed in Lima, I got ready to leave the plane, temperature check up okay and I was good to go, to a rather crowded passport control area. A lot of flights landed at the same time and there were at least 300 people queueing to go through and finally go home. A bit more than an hour went by, and I was already exhausted to wait, it was warm inside, stressed after telling people to keep distance, the few poor souls that coughed were stared with disdain and panic from others, many were using masks, others started to protest at migration authorities to speed up the process.

While this was going on, the president made another announcement: total closure of borders, and mandatory social isolation until March 31st. I can totally relate to how many people abroad and in Peru felt about those news, I had been on that boat. Ours was the last flight to enter Peruvian territory from Europe, we landed at 19:10 hours and the ban was due to start at 23:59.

Aftermath

Once I saw my brother in law outside the airport, we just touched our feet to resemble a high five, I sat on the car as far as possible from him. The way home seemed so lovely this time, traffic included. When we got to the house, I couldn’t hug my sis, nor hug the dog, I went directly to the shower, put my clothes on a black plastic bag (like hazardous material) and went to sleep.

It took me the first day of isolation to realize what I had been through, to be grateful of finally being back home with my family, to be grateful I was not stranded abroad, with this ever changing (not for good) world.

It’s been three days of isolation until now. A curfew was announced today (March 18th), so it will be not posible to leave the house from 20:00 to 5:00 next day. Despite the plead from authorities and the many messages on social media to stay home, there is still part of the population that resists to leave their daily routine, hence why, measures need to be more drastic.

We wake up with a recorded loud voice going around (on a car) the neighborhood at 6 a.m. telling once again people should not leave the house unless to buy food, buy medicine, for work (specific organizations) or an emergency case. We see helicopters flying over the city all day, to monitor the population.

On many facebook groups desperate tourists try to get information about how to possibly get back home before the end of the month. Many Peruvian citizens do the same from abroad. I feel for them, that is exactly the kind of situation I luckily escaped from. Airlines just cancel flights, some embassies are not so responsive given they must follow the social isolation measures too. I do my part to alleviate them, I follow the news and share relevant information, they will be able to return home, hopefully soon enough, when governments coordinate efforts to make it possible.

Meanwhile number of cases increase around the world, number of people death increase, Italy fights the virus, but their efforts are not enough, China declares freedom from the virus (good news), while the rest of the world is gets infected. Other governments just don’t do enough to stop the spread. Humans suffer, many are afraid, many have lost loved ones, countries rush to close borders and declare quarantine, the economy falls apart, small businesses have entered a parallel world with no end in sight, just like in Stranger Things.

Yes, all of this sounds catastrophic, sometimes we focus just on the things around us, but reality put together is a hard one to process. People start singing, playing songs, exercising from balcony to balcony. Italy, Spain, Peru and others coordinate time to applaud and thank those out there making sure we continue safe and healthy.  We now smile at our neighbors, and try to tolerate the whole thing the best we can. People show solidarity with those most vulnerable, they try to talk and stay in contact with friends they haven’t spoken to in ages. The planet is having a fantastic break from humans, a much needed one, at least there are positive things coming out of it…

I know this sounds like the script from a movie, but hey, it is our reality now, I don’t need to watch any film about unreal pandemics or viruses, because we are all living it right now. Unprecedented times, as I have read many times in articles recently, we never thought to go through it, it seemed like something only possible in fiction, but is here, and will stay for a few weeks if not months. So if you are still going out and about doing your life as if nothing happens, while others are falling sick, please be more empathetic and stay home, maybe you won’t get sick, but maybe you will carry the virus to other who will, and possibly even die, if our health systems collapse.

Let’s do our part even if a small one, remember details count! Remember we are in this together, regardless of nationality, language or background, we are all humans after all.  

Now I feel better, I needed to let these feelings and thoughts out, for me it is always better writing. It has been therapeutic already! If you would like to tell your story or thoughts, leave a comment or send me a message!

#forzaitalia #fuerzaespaña #fuerzaperu #forcefrance #hangoninthereworld