I’d been monitoring global travel restrictions since mid-January as I was helping to organise a big international trip to Trinidad for Carnival in February, and yet still I was wholly unprepared for how quick and fast the restrictions would descend.
Coming back from Trinidad it was clear the world was starting to change, after what I now know was my last experience of true pre-COVID 19 freedom – a world where we could still dance and sweat and kiss and touch in crowds, perhaps it was rebellion or bravado that made me emboldened to book 16 flights in early March, which in hindsight was a bit ambitious to say the least.
I wasn’t trying so much to outrun the virus but to keep on working, earning and travelling while I could, to perhaps cling onto the life I once had, but could sense was disappearing, for as long as possible.
Either way I got a call March 6 that my uncle was very ill and when I called my husband with the news his first reaction was ‘when are we going?’. My uncle lives in Antigua, the land of sea and sun, but I had a busy ass schedule ahead. Family is important though and if there’s one thing life has taught me, is that you don’t delay trips to see people you love when you get news like this. Time is precious and things can move fast, too fast. I managed to slot in a solo weekend trip to Antigua whilst I was due to be in NY in few weeks’ time and then a longer trip over Easter together with my husband after we had moved house to Madrid at the end of the month and I’d done a bunch of other small work trips.
I was 5 flights into the 16 I had booked when the world started closing its borders in a way I’d never seen in my lifetime.
In a hotel in London at 3am I heard that the U.S. had barred flights from mainland Europe. Thinking myself fortunate for still being up, I quickly booked another flight to NY from London instead of Madrid so I could keep the travel schedule on track. By the time I woke the next morning, I realised that flight would be fruitless too, as I’d been in Spain in the previous 14 days. Lesson number one of travel in a COVID age is to definitely seek out the small print behind these announcements before making plans based on headlines.
I kind of knew when I started this journey, that I was running against the clock and at some point I would be grounded – people have tried to ground me for years, but I wasn’t going to let it happen willing – I would fight it tooth and nail and stay on the move for as long as I could. I was hoping to end up grounded in the right place. I certainly didn’t want to get stuck in London or NY, two cities I adore but the cost of those cities is worth it for what you can do in them and it wouldn’t be worth it to be locked in a hotel room. I was already feeling the walls close in on me after just a few days in this London hotel room.
After getting my head around the U.S. travel restrictions, I decided to change my NY flight for one direct to Antigua. This was maybe March 12, and I was signing contracts virtually for my new place in Madrid as I didn’t want to travel back to Spain to sign and then not be able to fly out to Antigua as planned. It was highly likely at this point that people who had recently traveled to Spain could be barred from entry into the Caribbean.
The new plan at that stage was for my husband to go to Madrid and pick up the keys and then come join me in London to depart for Antigua the following week and then we’d come back after 2 weeks to move to Madrid properly. Ha ha, how stupidly optimistic I was.
By March 13, with the death toll rising and the city threatened with lock down, moving to Madrid started to seem like a very bad idea. I’d virtually signed contracts and transferred the required stash of cash but was now getting cold feet.
I expressed my concern to our estate agent and heard nothing back. But by the next morning the city was indeed locked down and they agreed we could postpone our move until the restrictions lifted. 2 weeks they said, ha ha I thought. Having now understood the gravity of what was unfolding, I could now see that they were being very optimistic.
Cue panicked discussions to see if we could stay put in the flat in Granada where we had already given notice. Thankfully, we could extend the tenancy on a rolling basis until life was a bit more certain.
Thank God for that as we didn’t have anywhere to move into and it later transpired my husband would be unable to travel with me and was now stuck in Spain. At least in Granada, he’d have somewhere familiar with precious outdoor space to spend his quarantine.
Still in London feeling the oppressive four walls of my hotel room, that night I got a call from one of my cousins that Antigua had recorded its first case of COVID19. The message being, if I was still planning to come, I should come now before heavier restrictions were enforced. Less than 8 hours later I waiting to board a plane and headed to the place my mum loved and where family abounds.
I knew before I boarded, that this trip would be longer than a few weeks – I’d planned for six or seven in terms of my return flight and thought by then life would be back to normal. But if I didn’t leave now, I may not have chance to see my uncle. And so, I went.
After a little anxiety heading into customs in Antigua, I sailed through without any questions asked. But there was no one waiting at the airport, no big embrace, I needed to self-isolate for two weeks as my uncle was immuno-compromised due to chemo and very vulnerable. If I saw my cousin, he wouldn’t be able to see his Dad.
I mean truly there are worse places to self-isolate, I had a self-contained cottage at the end of my cousin’s land, views of the sea and could see the stars at night and food parcels were regularly dropped on my door, Wednesday was Doubles day, a dish I’d fallen in love with while in Trinidad.
But for someone who travels solo 80% of the time, being solo for two weeks was harder than I thought. I also had nothing in the way of reading material to occupy the long nights. The first thing I did when out of isolation was hang with the fam and then head to the beach for a run. I ran a few miles along the beach and saw little evidence of social distancing, people still feting and liming unaware of what was to come. It made me nervous.
I ran every day saying to my cousin I was enjoying my freedom to run while I still could. He was pretty incredulous saying they’d never stop me running on the beach. It was 5 or so days before the curfew was called and we were only allowed out between 6am and 8pm and not long after that before the lock down got stronger. Now there is a 24 hour lock down in place, all public places and beaches are closed and the only outside trips allowed are to a supermarket or pharmacy or for select key workers. My running days were over.
But regardless, I’m glad I’m here. I’m very conscious there are much worse places to spend lock down than on an island paradise with family.