November 23rd 2020
Like everyone else, we first heard news of a virus outbreak in Wuhan, China at the beginning of the year, but didn’t think much of it. We had been traveling in central America & subsequently decided to visit the Caribbean countries of Cuba & the Dominican Republic.
We had a few months to spare before returning to Fiji in July to carry on our charity work. As we traveled around the Dominican Republic, the virus became an ever-greater part of world news, as country after country reported outbreaks, followed by restrictions, curfews & lockdowns. Gradually, the storm seemed to be moving closer….
In March, we were stopped in our tracks by a national lockdown that confined us to a little Airbnb apartment for the next 4½ months. Our onward flight was cancelled & instead of being intercontinental travelers, our world shrank down to a few square kilometres, limiting us to a few shops and — luckily — the beach where we were usually allowed to walk but not swim. Nearly all hotels & businesses shut down, airports closed & even local buses stopped operating. Next came masks, further restrictions & police patrols.
We found there were occasional flights to the USA but these were of no use to us since there was no possibility of an onward flight to Fiji. In fact both Fiji & Malaysia, (the other country we call ‘home’), both closed their external borders & they remain closed until at least the end of 2020.
Fortunately, our TV had a channel with airport arrivals & departures, & so after a few months of daily searches, we began to see a few limited flight connections to other destinations such as Europe. Thus began our new life as Covid refugees, with frequent internet & news searches for possible flights out of the Dominican Republic that might or might not be available. Many of them turned out to be ‘fake news’, as although airlines were selling tickets, without sufficient passengers there was no guarantee that the flight would materialize. Indeed, many flights were cancelled or rescheduled multiple times, often with very little notice.
Eventually we were able to get a flight to Madrid, Spain, but because Dominican Republic had high Covid statistics, we figured we probably wouldn’t be allowed out of the airport & so got a connecting flight on to the south of France where we were allowed to enter with no problems!
It felt wonderful to be free again & we used the next few months to visit relatives & friends, as well as to travel as much as possible in the French Alps. Due to our long association with couch surfing (www.couchsurfing.com), we were able to find free accommodation in what would otherwise have been a very expensive area. A big ‘thank you’ to all those who helped us.
We had planned to cross the land border from France to Italy but new rules on the Italian side meant that we would now have to get a certified positive Covid test, (within the previous 48 hours), to present at the border. This is very difficult as Covid tests are by appointment & there’s a big queue, so to get the results within the correct time-frame that corresponds with the planned border crossing date is unrealistic. Alternatively, arriving at the border without a test we would risk either being turned away, or possibly being put in quarantine & then being given a big bill to cover the costs!
Next we seriously looked at crossing Lake Geneva by boat to arrive in Switzerland, but it looked like the same thing would happen there. We went through every European country & found that nearly all of them were introducing serious entry restrictions. It seemed like we we were stuck in France….
In the meantime, we noticed a shift in the position of the French government. Back in August we heard statements such as, ‘There will no more national lockdowns as it’s too harmful for the economy.’ As infection numbers went up though, restrictions were increased & we started to hear statements like, ‘We’re now looking at all options.’ Next came, ‘Another national lockdown may be inevitable’, & shortly after this we found ourselves in — guess what — another national lockdown!!
Similar to our Caribbean lockdown, a night time curfew was instituted, our movements were confined to a 1km radius & we had to carry an attestation even to make short trips to the shop for groceries. Fortunately we only had to put up with this for 1 week as we had been looking at flights to different countries around the world & had finally found a country where we could enter without compulsory testing, without a compulsory quarantine & without travel restrictions: Turkey!
We had to defy the 1 km radius rule to get to the airport, but had various helpful documents with us in case of being stopped: health attestations, plane tickets, reservations & suchlike. In fact, we only got stopped at the airport itself where we were asked our reason for travel. We avoided the ‘H word’ (holiday) as that’s now become very politically incorrect & instead firmly stated, ‘We’re leaving France!!’. We were allowed to pass & were so happy & relieved when the plane finally took off to new horizons…..
To be continued!