Oh isn’t the world rather humorous.
It has been six months since I was writing a blog post about my first month of travel. The sights I saw, the people who made the journey of life special and all the great ice cream and mangos I had eaten.
I had written about my mental breakdowns, the difficulty of being surrounded by strangers and the reality of solo travel.
Yet here I am, recollecting the journey that cut my two year adventure short, and forced me to come home after five weeks.
29 February 2020
Before I begin enlightening you on the day my two year plan was completely shat on. There is an important part I need to share. My first G adventures tour (Quito to Lima) ended on 29 February 2020, my second tour was not starting until the next day. That day, I spent with a few friends from Tour 1, and we explored the city of Lima together.
From Tour 1, three other friends were going onto another tour that started 29 February (Tour 3 – To La Paz). Their welcome dinner was that night and my Canadian friend from Tour 1 and I thought it would be great to tag along to the 18 person G adventure tour.
I sat at a random seat, and opposite me sat three kiwis. It felt so good to hear the kiwi accent and find people with similar humour. That night was great. I became instant friends with those who were strangers moments before.
Both our tours followed a similar route, and stayed at the same hotels for a few days in a row, little did I know that those I met would also be my lifeline a few weeks later.
13 March 2020
I was on day 13 of the Andean Discovery tour. We had just hiked the Lares track for three days, it was probably where our tour group bonded the most. Many of us struggled with the altitude and the cold nights. Once we arrived to Aguas Calientes, I personally was in a great place. It was my travel anniversary and I hoped for many more months filled of adventure.
That Friday, I got to explore Machu Picchu. We all got up at 5.30am. It was the most excited I had been all trip. We were given tickets to get in at the main gate and without thinking, I walked straight to the highest viewing point. The excitement was overflowing that I did not pay attention to all the signs saying you could not back track. Once you had passed a viewing point, you were unable to return.
I stood in awe and disbelief of everything that was in front of me. I had made it to Machu Picchu, not only that but I had made it out of Nz, I was finally doing what I have wanted to do for so long. It was one of the most freeing feelings I had ever experienced. A feeling that will forever be remembered.
However, it was Friday the 13th.
The only thing on our minds on the way back from Machu Picchu was the emptiness in our stomachs. We all discussed what great food we were going to fill ourselves with. Once we met up with our tour guide, we were told the news that hit pretty hard. Shock hit each one of us differently.
Flights in and out of Peru to Europe would all be cancelled from Sunday onwards. Over lunch, we spoke of the struggles those in our tour were facing, the future plans for the rest of us and keeping each other updated of the news on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website.
I didn’t think the news would affect me, I was flying out to Los Angeles on Monday 16 March, which was not part of any cancellations that were put in place.
There were closures in only a few countries at that stage but I was not worried. However, as the day panned out, stress started to creep in. After talking to family in the Middle East and cousins in USA, Covid-19 started to sound more frightening than any other virus I had read about.
That night, after research, I had decided I would fly home to NZ. At that stage, my insurance had sent alerts saying insurance would be void given the pandemic. It also became clear that Covid-19 wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. My decision to go home was pretty difficult, but I knew that I could always fly back if it was the right thing to do. At the end of the day, I still believe everything happens for a reason.
I spent Saturday enjoying my last night of travel and on Sunday 15 March I flew from Cusco to Lima at 6am. There were no international flights out of Cusco ( well not on my radar). I spent the morning sleeping in preparation for my early flight out the morning of the 16th. Little did I know how lucky I was to have made it to Lima.
At 8pm that night, the president of Peru came on live TV for an announcement. I did not know this was happening, and had no idea what a press conference on a Sunday would be about.
He announced that at Midnight on Sunday 15 March, Peru would go in full lockdown. Flights in and out would all be cancelled. Airports were all to be closed and fighting the pandemic was to become the countries number one priority. An announcement I would have not had a clue about if it wasn’t for my tour guide from Ecuador.
At this stage, Peru had roughly 70 cases.
Four hours. We were given four hours to get out of the country, my seven kg bag had never been packed so quickly. Stress was oozing out of my veins, like every emotion I experience.
Flights from Cusco to Lima were sold out. Those in Cusco were stuck.
I trundled down to the reception of my hostel and asked about what was going on. The man on the desk was not stressed whatsoever, he was certain the government would never do such a thing. Even though I had shown him official documents that said just that.
I was given more information an hour later in regards to international travellers. I was told that we would be given a grace period of 24 hours. At this stage, anyone who didn’t have flights out of the country were stuck. But I was one of the lucky ones.
All the news came quite abruptly, so I decided to get to the airport 10 hours early. Just in case I was given wrong information, and my 6am was actually cancelled. I had made this decision at the hostel reception, where an Israeli was also stressing about the situation. At the time, I was wearing a Palestinian necklace, but this felt like a moment our differences did not matter.
We caught a taxi to the airport together and within the chaos, we managed to find an english speaking airport helper. They notified us that flights would still go on until Midnight Monday. After a sigh of relief, we found a spot to rest and took turns taking care of each others belongings.
To be able to get out of Peru, but have so many friends get stuck was hard to stomach. Those in hostels were to stay in their rooms all day with one a set hour or two to leave to get food. Some hostels did not have kitchens and all takeaway shops were closed. The military was on the streets patrolling 24 hours a day. Those who did not get out of Peru were not only stuck, but as a foreigner you were blamed for the virus.
At the same time, I still had a six hour layover in Mexico and five more flights to go. If you’ve ever gone to Mexico Airport, you will know about the lack of efficiency.
I made it to Las Vegas, and that was when I got my first feeling of peace. There was no sign of Covid-19 or people really. Flights were empty, and airports completely deserted. It was not until I got to Los Angeles, that chaos and paranoia came over me again. Hand sanitisation units were completely empty in a matter of hours and my 12 hour layover felt never ending. I was sure I would catch Covid-19. There was nowhere to sit, thousands of people crowded in the foodcourt, and I could feel something unsettling in the air.
I later found out many Covid-19 cases were at that airport at the same time as I was, I was lucky I was not infected.
My flight to NZ through Tahiti felt like it couldn’t come sooner. Each one of us had our temperatures tested. There were many other kiwis trying to get back on this flight. But not enough to fill the plane. I had more than three empty seats surrounding me. Which allowed me to have some much needed rest.
It took me a total of five days to get home. After multiple layovers, multiple flights and a whole lot of uncertainty that came with each one. However, my main aim was to get home in one piece. A longed for a feeling of certainty and comfort.
Before I arrived to Nz, my kiwi friend I had met in Peru on that random night on Tour 3’s welcome dinner had texted me. She had given me the details of their flight back home and invited me to join her and a few others at her bach for our compulsory two week isolation. A lifeline given my father is an essential worker.
I was rather naive at this stage. Thinking I would do some kiwifruit picking until they opened up the borders so I could return to my big adventures. It was not until the second week in to our isolation that Nz announced the level four lockdown.
Waihi beach was my second holiday. The people were great, the dinner was incredible and the beach was just the icing on the cake.
Once the two weeks of isolation at the beautiful Waihi beach were over. I returned back to (what felt to me) as square one.
I spent months applying for jobs that I was under or overqualified for with no luck. At alert level 2, a friend employed me as the centre co-ordinator for a community centre they were running.
The decision to take a break from Engineering and go into community work was not an easy decision, but it was a decision I will never regret. Although this does not feel permanent, it is something that has changed my mental health completely. It is amazing how our environment can come to dictate the state of our mental health. However, that is a blog post for a different day.
Being back has been harder than I have ever thought it would be. To be back to a place I have wanted to escape has taken its toll a few times. However, they do say that one’s biggest growth is through their toughest times. If anything, here’s to growth.