My Marmalade Challenge..

If anyone read my last blog, it was quite the solitary adventure, but I really didn’t know what was in store for me over the next week. I’m happy to report that I am now safe and home with my family back in the UK. The last week abroad was one of the most mentally challenging times I have faced for several reasons, which I will explain.

My last blog explained how I ended up in lock-down in Cusco, Peru.  Now I will expand on the last week there and how I was repatriated home. As for most people in the world, the days were blurring into each other and life was continuing. I was still stuck in the hotel and continuing to try and find sanity through socialising with the other guests in the hotel and doing many laps around the courtyard to get those steps in.

Everything took a major turn when one day I was sitting in the courtyard discussing how bored I was. I thought I would do something about this and print off some cards to play. Whilst doing this a member of staff came up to me and the other guests saying that there was a suspected case of COVID-19. Due to this we would have to immediately go to our rooms and not leave. We would have food delivered and someone would come to update us later on.

By the time I went to collect my stuff everyone was gone. I went up to my room, not really sure what to make of this new situation. I wasn’t freaking out just yet as I didn’t know completely what was going on. I continued talking to some friends online when I looked out of my window, which had a view of the hotel’s courtyard, and saw four to six people in full hazmat suits disinfecting the courtyard. It honestly looked like the scene from Monsters Inc when one of the monsters gets a sock on it and all those disinfector monsters come out. Everything else I had experienced up until now did feel like I was watching some weird sci-fi movie, but this was the first time I really felt like I was living it and not just watching it.

Still unsure what to make of the whole new situation and with some very stressed parents at the end of the phone, some of the people in the hotel had made a WhatsApp group where we discussed what was going on. It wasn’t long from being stuck in my room that I heard the horrible news that the suspected COVID-19 patient from our hotel had passed away.

This is the point where I completely freaked out and didn’t know what to do. I remained calm whilst talking to my friend but completely lost it when speaking to my Dad over the phone, trying to get him to break the news slowly to my Mum, as I knew she wouldn’t be as calm on the phone. The next two days were genuinely some of the worst I experienced. Not in the sense of what I had to do whilst being stuck inside, but mentally, was completely draining.

On one side I was extremely sad about the guy in my hotel and really felt bad for that whole situation that the hotel was in, as everyone, including the staff were now quarantined in here together. On the other side, more selfishly I was extremely concerned for myself and my safety as suddenly the one place I had to be safe was now the most high-risk area in all of Cusco.

Mental exhaustion sets in..

After two days I was mentally exhausted but had calmed down and just focused on talking to family and friends and getting through this ordeal. I was being fed well and I had people come to the door who I gave my rubbish to and who gave me toiletries and clean towels.

I think considering the whole situation I was keeping vague sanity because at the end of the day I was not the only person going through a weird situation, most of the world was, which was weirdly comforting at a time like this. After what felt like many days, there were rumours circulating that there was going to be a plane to come and save us. There had been several tweets from the embassy hinting at potential repatriation and were all just waiting for that special email to come through to our inbox.

The WhatsApp chat with many people in the hotel had everyone discussing when or if they had any potential flights out. People were slowly leaving in drips and drabs but there had been some problems with getting people out due to the high-risk hotel I was in.

We had a group of doctors come to visit us whilst the hotel had a major disinfecting effort with more people in Monsters Inc suits. It was quite a mixed reaction from everyone, but we all listened to what they had to say and then had inspections of our temperatures and oxygen saturation levels. Amusingly one of the hotel guests spoke Spanish and English so became the translator mediator between the hotel guests and doctors, and hence had to sit in on all our individual evaluations, which made for amusing awkward conversations for him to translate. The day the doctors came we were all forced outside our rooms for most of the day whilst the hotel was disinfected.  It was nice to get sunlight and properly chat to everyone even though we were wearing masks.

The biggest hurdle to come at us next was to be able to leave the hotel if we got a repatriation flight home. Due to the hotel being high-risk, the road the building was located in was behind a police line and no one was able to just walk out. We needed the doctors to come and give us documentation to show to the police that we were ok to leave and make our way to the airport. A few guests did initially have issues leaving as the doctors wouldn’t give them permission. The next day they were able to leave with the right paperwork, but it was extremely disheartening to see them go to the door and be turned away from their potential flight.

The hotel told us that the moment we heard about a flight home we would have to tell them so they could ring the doctor and they could come immediately to give us the all clear. The issue was that the doctor would never pick up the call or would take a long time to. Problems arose when you get the email late in the evening telling you to meet at the airport very early the next morning, giving no opportunity for the doctors to come.

After what felt like a VERY LONG TIME I did get my email. I was ecstatic, along with some very relieved parents. I went to the front desk to ask for the doctor as I was leaving at 6am the next morning and it was already around 5:30pm. After quite a few hours of waiting no doctor turned up. I called the front desk who reported to me that the doctor will meet us at the meeting point and that the police should let us through. This had gone against everything they had told us at the time, but I wasn’t going to question it.

A moment of anxiety

I woke up after little sleep with great anxiety about the day ahead. I met the two other Brits who I had become quite friendly with after all this time. We were all feeling quite nervous. A staff member came to meet us and let us out of the building, but only after a good spray of disinfectant all over us. The police by the hotel didn’t bother us and we left the police line behind.

I definitely felt quite emotional leaving and walking outside. It was an odd sensation seeing Brits all walking the street early in the morning, like some kind of exodus. We walked to the meeting point and there must’ve been around 200-300 people all there in masks and most of us in gloves too. After being so long in isolation suddenly being in a big group felt very wrong. There was a big British flag indicating the meeting point and many coaches to take us to the airport to start to make the long journey home.

We reached the airport long before it opened to ensure everything ran smoothly. We queued outside the gates, all trying to keep to one floor-tile per person in a vague attempt at social distancing. As time passed more countries turned up and queued too. We saw other people from our hotel who had also left, which was great to see.

After around two hours it was finally time to pass the gates into the entrance of the airport. Everyone got their temperatures checked by an official in a hazmat suit. The only word I can describe the whole airport experience was rather apocalyptic. The mood wasn’t sad as everyone was pleased to be leaving but everyone was rather quiet on the whole. We formed lines that snaked outside for check-in and eventually reached the front desk where we were handed a ticket for a flight to Lima.

For security the line was again formed from outside and snaked its way in. Once through security it was directly onto the plane. Nothing was open, unsurprisingly, to have a browse. When getting on the flight it was a sit-anywhere situation. We waited a while for everyone to get on the flight and then it was time to leave. I was quite emotional looking at the window during the flight, thinking about the past few days and leaving behind what I thought was going to be a long time travelling. I think I was also experiencing a lot of relief on that first flight and knowing I would at least be home to deal with this unworldly situation.

It was a strange site flying over Lima, you could just see very empty roads, excluding some lorries and trucks. Maybe it was because I was looking for the weirdness, but I really felt like you could tell how quiet it was from up there. When landing I could see two British Airways flights waiting on the tarmac for us. It felt very patriotic seeing the BA planes, kind of amusingly so. We had to wait a while on the smaller plane before being escorted on a bus towards the big plane for the long flight home. We never went inside Lima airport, simply taken from one flight to the next. All of our luggage was laid out on the floor and after getting off the bus we had to indicate to staff which was ours before getting on the larger plane.

It was a sit anywhere situation again, although they tried to get us to fill up from the back. The staff were all very helpful and friendly with the pilot walking through to chat and even the UK ambassador popping in on the speaker to say a few words. As with most of the day we had to wait a few hours before leaving as we had to wait for other groups of people to make it on this larger plane from around the country, and we were one of the first groups to arrive.

Whilst waiting on this plane I did see the other one take-off towards home which was exciting to see. After quite a few hours of being close together people had let down their guards a bit and started to remove masks and gloves as considering you are going to be on a 12-hour flight together it’s not going to make a huge difference. The flight itself was rather normal, maybe with less staff and not the normal hot food. Other than that the entertainment worked and we were given mini-meals, which is all I could ask for.

Up, up and away..

The flight went quick and when we landed, we did give a little cheer. I’m not usually one for clapping when the plane lands, but for this experience I was all for it. We landed in Terminal 5, Heathrow which was a much more normal experience compared to Cusco and Lima Airport. Much less masks and hazmat suits. Heathrow was oddly quiet, with us as the only flight at the baggage hall but it wasn’t the weirdest of experiences compared to the last few days.

I met my dad at the airport which was one of the best sights to see. It felt nice to be home, and not too strange. The roads were quiet, but nothing completely crazy. It was heart-warming to see the NHS signs. The best thing of all though was to see my dog’s amazing reaction to be being home. My dog’s reaction was definitely worth and much better than my family as my mum wasn’t sure whether to touch me or not, which was quite amusing. After a half-hearted hug she immediately sent me to the shower, which I guess was fair enough.

I’ve now been back for 2 weeks. The first week I really felt out of my own body and didn’t feel like I was home. I’ve now started to come into my self this week, actually leaving the house for dog walks and attempting some form of exercise when I can bring myself to. I feel much more myself this week, which is great. Being home is definitely the best thing in this weird time, spending lots of time with family and pets isn’t so bad compared to a confined room in a foreign country.

I completely understand I didn’t have it bad compared to others, I know there are still people stuck abroad who are hopefully on their way out soon. I’m also aware that I’m lucky that I made it home quite simply in the end, even if it did take a while. Just thought it would be interesting to share this completely crazy situation, as I don’t think I will ever experience anything quite like it again.

Hope everyone is keeping safe and doing well.