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TRAVELLING IN THE TIME OF CORONA

April 1, 2020

I just want to clarify that I am writing this post in the comfort of my home. Yes, I had to come home and I made it back just it time before all the borders closed. Thank God.

So as most of you know, I was travelling through Latin America for the past six months. Boy, was I having the time of my life. I had fun, I was meeting a lot of wonderful people, and I was discovering who I was as a person. It really did feel like one of the most essential trips that I had taken. Naturally, I wanted to go on for a few more months. After all, I had only reached South America.

Coming to Colombia had been such a dream, and a much-awaited trip for me. Growing up, I had read the works of one of Colombia’s most popular sons, and my favourite author: Gabriel Garcia Marques. His works such as ‘El Amor en Los Tiempos del Colera’ and ‘Cien Años de Soledad’ has impacted my life and how I write as a writer. I was so happy when Dante and I landed in Medellin, because, finally, I was in Colombia. But no more than three weeks in the country, the world had stopped. All travellers were called back into their own countries, and right then and there, I knew that this little adventure of mine had come to a complete halt.

The New Corona Virus or COVID-19 had been spreading around the world, and it had finally caught up with all of us in South America.

It was pretty funny to think that three weeks prior, there had been talks about the Corona Virus in Mexico. My roommates and I just shrugged it off, and proceeded to do our own personal travels. We had been living in Mexico City for two months (four in total, without me being in other states), and we knew it was time to head out to somewhere new. Kristin had plans to go back home to California to teach. Tommy planned on going to Bogota because his Mexican Visa was about to expire in a few weeks. Shauna and Becca had planned to go to Havana for a few days. Then there was me, I was going to Medellin to further work on my Spanish, and to tick the fifth continent of my bucket list. Little did we know, God had other plans.

Two weeks into my travels in Medellin, people had started to panic about the Corona Virus. News about borders closing were anticipated day by day. We had no idea what was going to happen the next day, and we were all so stressed. Then I received a message from Shauna asking me how I was, and telling me everything that has been happening in Cuba. She was in Cuba, where news was completely shun and the internet was completely limited. She said that day by day they would go online and see some horrific news about the world and the spreading of the virus. It was crazy, and I could not imagine being in Cuba at that time.

In Medellin, everything was starting to close. The hostel that I was volunteering at was going to close too. I was volunteering with five men from different parts of the world; Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and Germany. At some point I considered renting an Airbnb for about a month because there were news about the Colombian borders closing, and so I was running out of options and time. I had to work my way out of this crazy situation and sort out my plans for the coming months, because this thing is no joke. But then my co-volunteers started planning their trips back home, and so right then and there, I have decided that I was going to go home too.

I have booked a one-way ticket back to Mexico City, planned on staying there for about less than a week. This will give me ample time to say my farewells to Shauna, Kristin, Tommy, Becca and Manolis. I mean, when you come to think of it, this was the perfect end to this eye opening trip. This might not be the trip we all wanted, but what can we do? So we all went back to our casa in Mexico City and spent a few days together before we all went home.

Shauna went back to the United Kingdom, then Tommy had caught a chartered Lufthansa flight that the German government had sent to take Germans back to Germany. Kristin stayed behind with her boyfriend, Armando. Then there were three: Becca, Manolis and I. The night that Tommy flew back to Germany, I had received an email from Philippine Airlines saying that my flight from Los Angeles to Manila had been cancelled. Then I thought, maybe I should go back to New York, but the epicenter of the Corona Virus is in New York City. Plus, there were news of the United States borders closing. Great. Now what? What was I to do?

That day I have made up my mind that I was going to be stuck in Mexico City until further notice. I mean, Mexico City is not a bad place to be stuck. I had been living there for about four months, and I know the city pretty damn well. I know my in’s and out’s, and I was pretty comfortable. But then again, we are currently facing a pandemic. So I wanted so desperately to be able to come home.

One the day that all of my flights got cancelled, I made this video whilst in Mexico City:

I had been so stressed and I had no idea how long I was going to be there for. Because who knows how long this pandemic will end?

That next day Becca was packing to fly back into the United States. She asked me if I could still come to Los Angeles, and we could go to the airport together. I told her I was not sure because of the border issues, but I knew inside of me that I wanted so badly to come home. So in a whim, I booked a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles right then and there. The flight I booked, departed the next day.

During that last night that we had in Mexico City, it was so bittersweet and nerve wrecking. I did not know if I was going to be let onto the flight. But I prayed really, really hard. Then I packed, and we both showed up at the airport. Becca and I were both flying Aeromexico so we checked in together. You know what? Everything was so smooth. The checkpoints at the airport in Mexico City was very smooth and it took no more than twenty minutes for us to check-in, then go through health checks, and immigration. How crazy was that? I mean, I did not sleep at all that night because I was so scared I was not going to be let onto the flight. But then, everything worked out perfectly.

Then I arrived in Los Angeles. There was no line at all. I mean, there were literally ten people on my flight. So TSA was pretty quick, I could not believe my fate that day. I had been so lucky!

But there was one more hindrance. My flight from Los Angeles to Manila was cancelled because I originally booked to fly out on the 26th of March. But lo and behold, the last flight from Los Angeles to Manila was on the day that I arrived, the 25th of March. So I checked-in at the Philippine Airline desk at LAX, and begged them to let me into that last flight back home. Because, if I get stuck in Los Angeles, I would be devastated. I did not know anybody in California, and I just wanted to come home.

Honestly, I could not believe my luck that day. The guy at the desk told me I could come home that night, and I felt a source of relief in my body when he handed my boarding pass. I was coming home. Finally, I could come home.

The day before that, I asked God for three miracles. He gave me more than three. Time and time again, I would pray and limit God into asking him to do things for me. I would tell things like, “Please give me three miracles today.” Knowing fully that He can give me ten and more miracles. That day, I knew that God had exceeded my expectations, and I knew that I should never limit Him again.

Today, I type this article in the comfort of my childhood home here in the Philippines. You have no idea how relieved I am to be able to back home just before everything closed and just before all flights were done for the month of April. I am fully in awe of the Lord, and I am using this time to reflect on things I have learned on that last trip that I took.

Friends, I hope that you are all having a great time during this pandemic. It might be hard, but I know that in the end, everything will work out for our own good. I hope you are all staying at home and washing your hands, because we should be able to flatten curve if we exercise proper caution.

Until then, I will be dreaming about being able to come back to Latin America.

Please be safe, and all my prayers, thoughts, and love are all with you. x

UPDATE: I have previously released a podcast episode talking about my experience whilst being stuck abroad during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. You may listen to it on most podcast streaming platforms. If you have Spotify, then stream this episode by clicking HERE!

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.”

1 Corinthians 3:18 NIV

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