Five Days in Transit, Six Airports, Seven Temperature Guns: Returning to Canada in March 2020 Was An Adventure Like No Other

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March 25th 2020
Published: March 26th 2020
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Our return flight to Canada from Bali was originally booked for April 28th, but we moved it ahead to March 21st in light of our Canadian Government’s calls for its citizens to return home, combined with those of our son and his partner - both highly trained nurses - strongly encouraging us to get on a flight home while we still had that option. But let’s backup a bit, to convey a sense of how quickly things were changing in our world, just as they were everywhere else.

Wednesday, March 11th: Conversation with my niece and her husband in Vancouver.

Me: “Bali is so chill. If you didn’t listen to the news or other tourists talking about the news, you would not even be aware that anything was wrong. It is totally calm here. No one is wearing masks, no one is in panic mode, everything is quite normal.“

My Niece: “Well, it’s crazy here. Stay where you are. It sounds far more pleasant over there.”

Saturday, March 14th: (3 days later) All schools are closed in Indonesia until April 1st. The bubble has burst.

Wednesday, March 18th: The Indonesian government announces that Bali will be
Indonesian Government Declaration, March 18thIndonesian Government Declaration, March 18thIndonesian Government Declaration, March 18th

The declaration was much more lengthy and comprehensive. But this section was of most relevance. Bali is now closed. Effective 00:00 March 20th.
closed to all foreigners effective midnight, March 20th, for one month at least. Our flight does not leave until March 21st.

We become aware of this information at around 8 pm on March 18th. We are not sure if this means that flights out will be cancelled, if foreigners will be allowed to leave, or if the entire airport will be closed. But if foreigners are no longer allowed into Bali, why would the planes keep flying in? We have no way to verify this information, as our airline has been unavailable to take calls for three days. And even if we could contact them, we could not be entirely sure their information would be accurate, as this is a government ruling. But we know that we are definitely not willing to risk waiting until after the March 20th deadline to find out the airport has in fact closed, or our flight has been cancelled, leaving us stranded on this island for at least one month, while COVID19 events are unfolding at exponential speeds worldwide.

We spend the next three hours searching the internet for a flight to Bangkok ASAP, and finally book one for the next morning. We will be leaving our hotel at 6 a.m. Of course we still need to finish packing, which takes until about 2 pm. And just as I am finally ready to call it a day, Bali presents us with an earthquake - not a major quake - but one which had the bed shaking, and the doors and windows rattling. It was unsettling, to say the least. More like I freaked out, taking this as a definite affirmation that Bali is telling us it is time for us to leave. We sleep a total of two hours this night.

March 19th 6 a.m. We depart for the airport, long before anyone is awake or the staff we know and love have arrived at work. In effect, we leave our “Balinese family” of many years without even having a chance to say good bye. If feels very much like we are running, as we are in fact doing: running in a race against time, against anticipated closures of airports, against rapidly disappearing opportunities to return home. We have to get off the island, even though at the time we have no idea how, or if, we will get to Taipei for our overseas flight connection to Vancouver. We are fully prepared to purchase a new return ticket from Bangkok if need be.

March 19th 7 a.m. We arrive at Bali‘s International Airport three hours before our flight, so are relatively near the front of the eventual long line up. But it is moving so slowly. When we finally get to the ticket agent after about an hour, we are told that our connecting flight from Singapore to Bangkok is cancelled, but soon are booked on another later flight to Bangkok. Now we understand why the line is moving so slowly, as many passengers are facing this same situation.

We have a six hour layover in Singapore, during which another traveller informs us that if your layover in Singapore exceeds twelve hours you will not be allowed to enter Thailand 🤷🏻‍♀️ . Such is the type of information that is floating around. Nor do we know if we will be quarantined upon arrival in Singapore - another rumour floating around. But eventually we fly on to Bangkok, no quarantines or rejections upon arrival. We are greeted with temperature guns to our heads both at the airport in Bali, as
 Bangkok International Flights, March 23rd Bangkok International Flights, March 23rd Bangkok International Flights, March 23rd

A friend of ours was travelling through Bangkok International on March 23rd, two days after we passed through that airport. He sent us this flight board showing that the majority of flights had been cancelled, indicating just how rapidly flight options were disappearing, as this was a vast change from our experience on March 21st in the same airport.
well as before boarding our flight in Singapore. We arrive at our hotel in Bangkok at 11 pm, tired but very relieved to be there. Transit time - 18 hours.

March 20th 7:30 a.m. As we still have no idea of how we are getting to our overseas flight connection in Taipei, or whether we need to find an alternate way to get home, I am on the phone to EVA Air as soon as I awake. This airline company is typically very responsive, but in the current conditions they have been overwhelmed and I have not been successful getting through all week. I try again this morning, when I need them desperately, and I am able to get through for the first time in four days. This is a definite good start to the day! Within a half hour, a wonderful agent books us our much needed connecting flight to Taipei the next day. We have been gifted a means of transport to make our connecting flight from Taipei to Vancouver, as well as a full day of rest in Bangkok. We repack, rest, and do not leave our hotel, maintaining social distancing at all times. Bangkok, this bustling, vibrant city of 12 plus million that we have come to love, where life is lived in the streets, is a ghost town.

March 21st, 8 a.m. We leave our hotel to catch our 12:00 flight from Bangkok to Taipei. Temperature guns to the head again in Bangkok. Ten hour layover in Taipei. It is indeed long, but not all bad, as we find a lounge where we eat well, rest, and even have wonderful showers, compliments of my bank card. The ten hour layover exhaustion is effectively washed away with the shower water, and we are fresh and ready for the overseas leg of this journey.

March 21st, 11:55 p.m. We pick up our 10 hour EVA flight back to Canada. More temperature guns to the head, but the flight is not totally full, and our strategy of booking a window and an aisle seat has worked, as no one booked the middle seat in between us on our economy flight. It makes the adjustment from our Business Class luxury experience in December (remember that story?) slightly easier to take. And we are going home!

March 21st, 7:40 p.m. Vancouver time. We arrive Vancouver. No temp guns, but a signed declaration with customs upon entry that we will self quarantine for 14 days upon arrival home. Yes, of course we will! We overnight in an airport hotel, where there are perhaps four other guests. The streets are totally vacant. Vancouver is also a ghost town.

March 22nd, 8:55 a.m. We depart Vancouver.

March 22, 12:25 p.m. We arrive Regina.

We are now in full quarantine, adjusting to this new COVID19 reality. Five days in transit, six uncharacteristically empty airports, seven temperature guns, and countless unknowns, it was indeed an adventure like no other. We were running home with a sense of urgency because our country, and our family, wanted us home.

This experience provided us with a great deal of empathy for those persons who have no choice but to flee their country because it is no longer safe, yet are not welcomed anywhere. How incredibly difficult a journey that must be, and what unimaginable commitment and courage that must take to undergo. Our journey, arriving home to a country, family, and friends awaiting our arrival, to groceries purchased for us, and to a warm and comfortable home, was a piece of cake in comparison.

Thank you for your interest in our travels.

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