Travel During a Pandemic
Updated: Mar 6
Why We Travel
With our two offspring leaving the nest in 2012, we decided the time was ripe to focus on escaping the dreaded Great Canadian Winter.
While most people dream of the day they retire to embark on extended vacations, as small business owners running a publishing company, our dream was to take long vacations while continuing to write and publish books. Thanks to the internet, we knew we could take our work with us. So we thought, why not spend four months a year in a tropical clime, and then return to our home in Canada for 8 months?
Having travelled extensively in SE Asia, we felt this region had all the attributes we desired: amazing people, beautiful beaches, top-notch dining options, and affordability – in fact, we discovered it wasn't much more expensive than staying at home.
Don't think you could live like this?
For eight years we did just that: we lived two lives—one at our home in Walkerville, (Windsor) Ontario, writing and publishing our well-received local history books while helping other authors self-publish, and the other life we spent as independent travellers seeking adventure in exotic locales, while still managing our business.
Since 2013, our preferred haunts included Bali and Thailand, but we also explored numerous other countries, including several circle-pacific trips and three round-the-world tours. We organized everything ourselves, becoming expert at finding off-the-beaten track and popular places.
We aren’t country collectors; for example, we've visited Bangkok—one of our favourite cities (but only for four days!) almost 20 times. Bali – despite drawing millions of tourists a year – still beguiled us with her charms and deep religious culture. We managed to tour Europe twice as well—as they say, Paris is always a good idea.
Whispers of a Pandemic
After a very frenetic Christmas book-selling season, we were off once again in January 2020. Our first destination was Hanoi. When we'd visited Vietnam in 2016, we hadn't immediately fall in love with it. But, after re-watching the late Anthony Bourdain’s Vietnam travelogues, especially when we saw how much he loved the country, we decided to give it another shot.
One of the most brutal parts of getting to S. East Asia is the Trans-Pacific flight. This time, we flew from Toronto to Hanoi through Taipei; we departed at 1am on Tuesday and arrived at noon the following day.
We immediately fell in love with Hanoi, particularly the old city where we stayed at a very quaint boutique hotel staffed by the most caring and devoted staff—a theme that would be repeated throughout our travels in Vietnam.
After a few days of taking in the sights in Hanoi, we flew down to Hue. That's when we started hearing some rumblings about a virus that had begun to spread in Wuhan, China. A cursory glance at a map indicated China bordered Vietnam.
Like many, we thought this "Corona Virus" was nothing more than a bad flu. When Chinese officials locked down the city of Wuhan, and the death count started to climb, we began to pay more attention to the headlines, although we weren't yet overly worried, even as Chinese New Year, known as Tet in Vietnam, approached.
Considered the largest human migration on the planet, Chunyun, the 40-day period when Chinese people head home to celebrate the Lunar New Year Spring Festival with their families, 2020's began on January 10, and would end on February 18.
What could go wrong?
Onward to the charming and extremely popular city of Hoi An, favoured by Chinese tourist for its UNESCO-listed preserved heritage buildings, reminiscent of an ancient Chinese trading post from a 1000 years ago. On our first day in town, we were shocked by how packed the streets were with predominantly Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean tourists; hordes of tour buses arriving from nearby Danang were also jammed with holidayers.
Since the streets were chock a block with people during the day, we decided it would be better to visit old town after dusk. While nighttime did bring some crowd relief, the quaint bridges were clogged with photo-taking tourists and difficult to cross as a result.
And then, wham! The Chinese government ordered all its citizens to return home. Turns out there was a particularly large contingent from Wuhan vacationing in the Hoi An region. Virtually overnight the tourist population in Hoi An was reduced by more than half! We were able to comfortably enjoy a festive Tet Celebration at midnight replete with fireworks and dancing in the street.
And then, onto Nah Trang we went—the coastal tourist town favoured by Chinese, with numerous direct flights from Wuhan. The streets were eerily empty, but we thought this was due to Tet, when everything in Vietnam closed.
Next stop for us was the hill resort of Dalat; the government had begun to hand out masks to everyone and we saw people on the street giving them out to passerby. The headlines by this point were pretty bleak, but the virus still seemed contained to China.
We flew to Bangkok in early February, amidst more rumblings about the virus' impact on the Chinese economy. We found the country was almost completely shut down. Having been to Thailand many times before, we found this very bizarre. We were keeping track of the number of cases in both Thailand and Vietnam and were relieved to see that they were still very low, but we couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the actual numbers weren't being released.
The flight to Bangkok was half full, quite unusual as passengers on the discount carriers are usually packed in like sardines. Once we landed in Bangkok, normally one of the busiest airports in the world, we rushed to get ahead of the line at Customs and Immigration, which was usually a madhouse with very long queues. After our race through the long corridors of the airport terminal, we were amazed to discover that no one was in line. A first for us!
After a couple of days in a somewhat less crowded Bangkok, another popular destination during the Lunar New Year, we carried on to the idyllic island of Koh Kut near the Cambodian border. We spent three weeks in paradise on postcard-perfect beaches.
Our winter life seemed to be doing just fine.
But doom and gloom headlines kept appearing on our news feeds. As a result, I was hesitant to book a flight to Bali. Things were starting to unravel as the virus had spread into Europe.
Eventually we decided to fly to Bali, as we love the place so much – it is one of our preferred destinations for a wide variety of reasons. We missed our Balinese families, we loved Ubud and we were scheduled to hang out with the Goldmans, great folks from Cape Cod.
That Time The World Changed
The situation regarding the Corona virus began to change from bad to worse. At some point, it hit us that this wasn’t just like the flu: this was a real deal pandemic, the stuff of science-fiction.
We'd moved on to Bali's east coast resort area known as Amed and booked into a magnificent hotel set into steep cliffs overlooking an infinity pool and incredible vistas across the Lombok Strait. The weather was perfect, the seas calm, and we were hanging with travel friends from Cape Cod and Saskatchewan and going to fantastic restaurants ... life was good.
But the same couldn’t be said for the news.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau pleaded for all Canadians travelling abroad to return home; the World health Organization had declared the now-renamed Corvid-19 virus a global pandemic. We had previously booked tickets to travel by fast boat to the idyllic Gili Islands for a week and then onto to Flores to see the Komodo dragons, which we had finally decided to visit as they were quiet this year without the Chinese tourists. We adored the Gillis and had traveled to these charming tropical islands three times in the past ... they were an easy side trip from Bali.
We realized that if we travelled back to Canada at that point, the jets and airports would be packed—not a smart move during a pandemic. The American government announced the closure of its airports to European travellers. Other countries soon followed suit. Nevertheless, we made the decision to carry on to the Gillis, figuring it was a safe place to monitor developments.
It was a perfect day for catching a fast boat across the Lombok Strait. Mount Rinjani, an often active volcano which forms part of the Ring of Fire, loomed large on the horizon (in 2019, when we visited the Gilis, we'd experienced a 5.9 earthquake, a jarring follow up to the devastating Lombok earthquake of 2018 when 563 people were killed, more than 1,000 were injured, and over 417,000 people were displaced.)
Instead of heading straight the Gili Islands, the boat was redirected to the small port of Bangsai on Lombok. Health officials came on board and took everyone's temperature; we were given the all-clear and proceeded to our destination: Gili Air.
As we pulled into the dock we noticed a myriad of boats moored at the main pier, so many that we had to queue for a slip. When we finally disembarked, we were surprised to see that the dock was packed with Western tourists leaving the island.
"Wow!" said Elaine. "Must be a big tour group. I see a lot of orange lanyards."
"Could be," I said. "I wonder if anyone's left on the island?"
We didn't perceive a sense of panic at this point, but there was an unmistakable feeling of something in the air.
We pulled our small wheelie suitcases along the familiar main road up to the beautiful small resort we had booked. As we checked in, the manager smiled and said, "Don't worry. We will take good care of you."
"Thanks!" I said, but I couldn't help but wonder why he'd said, 'don't worry'.
"The island is now closed to fast boats," he continued.
"What?' said Elaine. "Will we be able to get off?"
He smiled again and said, "Oh yes, but there are slow boats, still."
Hm, I thought. The slow boats take forever and they cross one of the deepest trenches of water on the planet. Not fun. We always avoided them as a result.
So now we knew why the port was so full – everyone was leaving due to the COVID-19 virus, even though there were no cases in the Gilis. The islands were going into lock down (one of many new 2020 buzzwords) to keep the virus from coming in.
We then realized that we could take a local slow boat to Bangsai in Lombok then take a taxi to the Lombok airport in order to fly back to Bali. That is, if the officials on Lombok would allow us to travel.
On March 16th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a rather pointed announcement. He urged all Canadians abroad to return, stating “let me be clear, if you’re abroad, it is time to come home.”
We were torn. Should we immediately head across to Lombok, fly to Bali and try to arrange passage back to Canada? Once again we thought about the crowds and how if we could wait a while, we could avoid them.
I was really torn, but then Elaine said, "It's so beautiful, let's go snorkelling. We'll feel better afterwards and then we can figure out what to do."
The conditions were absolutely ideal. I felt a lot better afterwards and we decided to wait at least another day before leaving the island.
"After all," reasoned Elaine, "What better place to be in a pandemic than on what is basically a deserted island where there are no cases. There's lots of great food here still and a beautiful resort to stay in, so ..."
Many people dream of getting stranded on a tropical island. We decided to walk around the tiny island to see who was still here; by our count there were less than 100 foreigners remaining on Gili Air when the numbers at this time of the year typically run into the thousands. In the seven years since we'd been coming to this island, numerous resorts had sprung up on all four shores.
But suddenly, the streets, resorts and cafes were empty. If we did encounter another traveller, we would smile and sometimes chat with them about how it felt like were were casted in the TV show, "Survivor".
We procrastinated. Staff waited on us hand and foot; they were so grateful for the business. The weather was perfect (the previous year it had been rainy during our stay).
And so another day went by.
Then a headline got my attention: Qantas Airlines, one of the biggest international carriers, was shutting down its entire operation.
On March 20th, we plotted our escape from the Gilis. We booked a private boat from our resort to Lombok with a connection to the airport. A Dutch couple who abruptly departed the day after we'd arrived on the Gilis provided us with the contact on Lombok they had used. We gave him a call and he agreed to pick us up in a private launch at our resort’s beach restaurant.
It was a perfect day in paradise as the motor boat pulled up to the beach on time at 8:30am. We had convinced a young British couple who'd checked into our resort that we felt that is was time to get off the island.
They decided to tag along.
I was stressed about the boat possibly not arriving and was so relieved when it landed. We boarded and had one last look at our beloved Gili Air as we pulled away. Would we ever return?
Instead of turning toward Bangsai Harbour, where we would be screened by officials, the boat set a northwest course to an isolated beach along Lombok’s northwest coast. As we pulled in, we spotted a lone taxi parked by the shore.
If felt like a movie escape scene.
We thought the taxi might be a tight fit for four people plus the driver, but all our luggage fit in the trunk—we were travelling light! But imagine our surprise when the driver indicated his brother was with him, so there'd be six of us in the compact car. Definitely a tight squeeze for Elaine, Jess and Callum, and the driver in the backseat!
What a view as we rolled along Lombok’s magnificent coastline. The driver explained that most of the beautiful resorts we passed were closed due to virus.
Would they ever open again? And if so, when?
After about an hour and half we were deposited at Lombok Airport. This would be our first glimpse of what would become the new norm – seats marked for something called "social distancing," areas taped off to ensure proper queuing, and masks in use everywhere.
What a big jet for such a short (25-minute) flight to Bali! It was one of the quickest flights we’d ever had on a commercial jet. It was full, and included Balinese getting off Lombok. (Our other option back to Bali had been a five-hour slow ferry packed with locals, which did not seem like a good idea for various reasons.)
Once at Bali’s Ngurai Airport, we were met by our smiling friend Agung who was waiting to take us to his family compound where he had rooms available for travellers to rent. But first we needed to rebook our Eva Airlines flight back to Canada asap. Google map indicated the Eva Airlines office was located outside the terminal. We drove around in circles until we realized it was a wild goose chase. A security guard indicated the Eva Air office was back at the main terminal!
We hightailed it back to the international terminal and I got out to go look for the Eva Air office. There was a huge line to enter the pre-security clearance just to get to the ticket counter; not good. I was getting that sinking feeling that if I ever did find the office, it would be packed. Then I noticed an Information Counter. I asked for the Eva Air office and was told one floor below.
Walking past the Emirates’ Customer Service Office, I noted a long line of traveller’s trying to rearrange their tickets. Emirates cancelled all flights the next day, then abruptly changed their minds and reopen. Things were devolving into chaos.
I was hoping the line wouldn’t be as long at Eva Air, as they were also cancelling flights left right and centre. There was only about six people ahead of me, but it took more than an hour and a half before I could speak to an agent. The folks in line—mostly Canadians—were extremely helpful with travel information; the crisis forced us to band together.
Eventually we rearranged our tickets: Bali connecting through Taipei to Vancouver, but in four days time. At least it would only be 17 hours travel time. Eva Air waived the change ticket fee but required $800 for the difference in the ticket price – a shameful act. As fate would have it, their credit card machine wasn’t functioning; they told me to come back in four days time without waiting in line.
I stood in the office until the new reservation was emailed to me – just in case.
As stated, our plan had been to return from the Gillis in Bali on the 28th, then fly to Flores to visit the Komodo dragons. We'd pre-paid for the flight and hotel in Labuan Bajo, as it is so popular. (We never did receive compensation for that side trip which we had to cancel; the owner of the hotel in LBJ refused to give us a refund. What a prick.)
We headed to our friend Agung's beautiful apartment in his family's compound on the outskirts of Ubud. As we drove back to Ubud from the airport, we noted that the streets were very quiet as compared to the insane traffic that normally marked southern Bali.
It was going to be a very long four days waiting for our flight, but at least we had a great place to stay and it wouldn't break our budget.
On the 21st we received an email from friends we'd met in Hoi An. The Taiwan government had announced it was closing its airport to all transit at midnight Tuesday the 24th. We were booked to depart through Taiwan at 22:00 on the 24th to Vancouver. It seemed we would be flying on one of the last flights out of Taipei—we'd cut it very close.
Time seemed to move slowly as we waited for the appointed hour to head to the airport. The weather in Ubud was insufferably hot as the island was in the grip of a drought. Thankfully, we had a pool to cool off in.
After four days passed, we said our goodbyes to Agung's wonderful family and he drove us back to the airport – normally at least an hour trip, but often longer due to traffic jams. We were surprised to find that roads were deserted; we hadn't seen Bali this quiet since our first visit in 1986. It was evident most tourists had departed; Bali’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, was headed for a major disaster.
We retrieved our luggage from Agung's van and bid adieu to our gracious host, then made our way to the Eva Air Office. There was a small line of people but I barged ahead into the office as I'd been told I could walk in to pay.
The service rep told me our flight was indeed departing, but we would not be on it. To my horror, I learned that Taipei had closed its airport to transit at 00:01 am Tuesday (today) - not tonight at midnight, as we'd been led to believe!
What a shock to the system. At first I couldn’t absorb the bad news; it was a worst case scenario. Eventually, reality took hold and we began making new plans to get back to Canada. We discussed options with fellow travellers who were also stranded by this development and had interpreted the departure time the same way we had.
Nyepi Day of Silence
I called Agung straight away; he said he would turn around and pick us up. Fortunately no one was going to be taking the apartment so at least we had a place to stay.
The bigger problem was that the following day was Nyepi – Bali’s Day of Silence, which occurs every March after the new moon. It is a day of compulsory silence that is reserved for self-contemplation. Anything that interferes with that purpose is restricted – all stores, shops, restaurants are closed, the airport is closed, and even phone service and internet would go down for the day.
The days surrounding Nyepi are anything but silent - several rituals of offering and cleansing take place before and after Balinese New Year's Day, to rid worshipers of past evils and bestow good fortune in the year ahead.
Devotees create huge demonic effigies, which they parade through the streets the night before Nyepi, often burning them later in the evening, and they give prayers and offerings. It is quite the scene! Below are images from Nyepi rituals in Bali and other parts of Indonesia we've witnessed over the past few years.
In 2020, most ceremonies were cancelled, including the processions of giant effigies.
Since restaurants and grocery stores would be closed, we knew we had to purchase food before the lockdown. We'd been through Nyepi many times, and normally enjoyed the solitude during the Day of Silence.
When we arrived at the Delta Dewati grocery store, it was packed nearly to overflowing with locals and westerners shopping for Nyepi (Ubud has a huge expat and "mind-body" community due to the book and movie, "Eat, Pray, Love").
While we were able to purchase enough food to last us, it was a nightmare being amongst so many westerners in close proximity. Pretty scary stuff in the time of a pandemic. Fortunately we had masks, but these provided small comfort.
Our return to the family compound was surreal after having just said our farewells. I immediately fired up the laptop and went on Expedia to study our options. There weren’t many flights available out of Bali back to Canada as we’d lost almost a week with the Eva Airways fiasco. Airports were shutting down—only Jakarta, Tokyo and Seoul remained open in SE Asia, and it seemed they might also close at any time. Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei were all closed. Friends met on Thailand's Koh Kut had caught one of the last flights out of Bangkok before it closed.
I found a flight with ANA Air, as a fellow stranded traveller at Bali Airport had mentioned it was a good option. But it wasn’t leaving until the 29th, and was over 60 hours travel time through Jakarta, and would only get us as far as Vancouver. Somehow we would have to figure out how to get to eventually get to Windsor, but at least we'd be back in Canada. (Our two kids had been frequently messaging us that we had to get home ASAP – they were especially worried about us as we were supposedly in the most vulnerable age-range for contracting the virus.) The 29th seemed like a long way off, especially with the world locking down faster than anytime in living memory.
Would the virus spread like wildfire through Bali? The headlines coming out of Italy, the UK and elsewhere were alarming.
We went into the annual Nyepi lockdown on the 25th. Observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection, and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The main restrictions are no lighting fires (and lights must be kept low); no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; no walking about, and, for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali's usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, limited access to Internet and few signs of activity even inside homes. The only people to be spotted outdoors are the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.
But to us, all this meant that Ubud was soothingly quiet and a pleasure to experience. No locals burning garbage (often mostly plastic), no buzz saws on construction sites, no honking vehicles; it was so peaceful even as the world was falling apart. That night we went up on the roof to gaze at the stars unimpeded by lights... very magical.
The next day, Agung announced that the Nyepi lockdown was to be extended for at least one more day through the 26th, or even longer, although the internet would be turned back on. More stress for us; apparently people were also being prevented from getting to the airport, according to reports online. The heat and humidity seemed even more stifling; we only had air in the bedroom, and I found it insufferably hot.
Time seemed to move slowly. After a fitful unplanned second night of Nyepi, I awoke before dawn and climbed up to the fourth floor. I could see Mount Agung—the island's giant "mother" volcano off in the distance. Lightning bolts danced around its perimeter; it looked just like a science fiction movie. Mother Earth was angry!
When I looked down, I noticed locals were once again on the move, and were out riding their motorbikes; the lockdown was over! Only three more days until we flew out.
We'd signed up for alerts from the Canadian Embassy in Jakarta; we received a list of all flights departing from Jakarta to Canada. There weren't any connections from Bali back to Canada, so we realized all roads led to Jakarta, only an hour and a half from Bali by air.
Then we received the following note from the Canadian Embassy in Jakarta:
The COVID19 situation is Indonesia is very serious and getting worse quickly. As of today the number of confirmed cases is relatively low at 790, but a credible United Kingdom-based study estimates as few as 2% of Indonesia’s COVID cases are reported. Based on consultations with public health experts, the Embassy assesses that the situation in Indonesia will get considerably worse over the coming weeks and months. Access to professional health care for any issue, related to COVID or not, is already very limited. The health care system in Indonesia will soon be overwhelmed. The ultimate number of fatalities will be very high.
That last line got my attention.
I decided it was prudent not to wait another day in Bali and instead get the hell out of Dodge ASAP. I realized we would forgo our ticket on the 29th, but nevertheless booked a flight: Bali-Jakarta-Tokyo-Vancouver on the 28th.
Total travel time: 42 hours, including two long layovers in Jakarta and Tokyo. The cancelled flight on Eva Airlines had only been 17 hours travel time!
So be it….
While we love Bali, I was very anxious to leave. After a very long night tossing and turning, (at least for me; Elaine seemed to be taking things a lot more calmly) the next morning we were ready to roll, and were soon off to the airport, and I was trying not to panic about everything that could go wrong.
The airport was eerily quiet; it seemed everyone had departed, no one was arriving. We were forced to fill out health cards that were never collected, suffer through temperature screenings, eventually boarding a Garuda flight to Jakarta—an Airbus 330 less than 10% full, yet complete with meal service and very gracious staff.
Our memories of Jakarta in 1986 were not very pleasant; it is often referred as a "hell hole" and that's exactly what we remembered from our time there. We did not look forward to the possibility of being stranded in that city.
When we touched down, we found Jakarta airport almost deserted. We met some fellow Canadians who were also headed back to Canada, and were very well stocked with food, masks, hand sanitizer that they were willing to share. We spent the layover in Jakarta (8 hours) and Tokyo (12 hours) hanging with them. We were in it together.
According to news reports coming from Canada, we would be forced to quarantine at a hotel for 14 days. The Canadian government would provide transport to the hotel, and pay for lodging.
When we finally (!) landed in Vancouver, we were surprised at how lax things were at Canada Border Services. As usual we inputted our passport information on a computer monitor, then answered questions on the screen related to Covid.
We were handed a flyer about our next steps, which suggested we quarantine for 14 days. But we were free to go. I asked the Border agent about transport; no, it was not being provided.
Would we be able to go for walks during our 14 days?
Would anyone be checking up on us? No, quarantine was compulsory at this point, but no one would be checking. If we were caught out it would result in a $750,000 fine!
Meanwhile, our fellow travellers told us they had grabbed a cab to a hotel, stayed overnight then flew on to Saskatoon. We also heard this from other folks we'd met that they didn't quarantine until they got home, which usually required flying.
Restrictions were even more lax in America. Small wonder the virus spread so fast.
We were fortunate; my niece had a North Vancouver condo she used as her business office, as it was cheaper than commercial space, but with the pandemic restrictions, she and her staff were not allowed to work together; it was available for us as everyone had to work at home. The condo was completely furnished and included a full kitchen, plus a washer and dryer. My sister Maggie had stocked us up on food, and we were well prepared to spend the full 14 days respecting the quarantine.
The first thing we did was pass out. Jet lag. Suddenly, we were jarred awake by a god awful noise.
"What the hell's that?" I croaked.
Elaine jumped out of bed and ran to the window, then dashed into the kitchen to grab a pot and a metal spatula. Next thing I knew she was out on the balcony, adding to the cacophony coming from condo dwellers all around us. She had read that at 6 o'clock every day, people all over North Vancouver were banging pots and pans in support of first responders (doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, ambulance drivers, firefighters, etc.) who were doing their best to battle the virus; we were amazed by the noise and the number of condo dwellers that would come of their balconies. As the days passed, we eagerly looked forward to participating in this ritual, as being cooped up, we barely saw anyone and it allowed us to let off some steam and feel like we were actually doing something positive.
Normally, the weather in North Vancouver can be counted on to rain in April. In 2020, each day was better than the previous one, although still cool and windy. When we finally excited our quarantine abode, we took a reviving and lengthy walk along the ocean.
LONG WAY HOME
Canada is one massive country; we were still a long way from our home in Windsor, Ontario. We hoped to fly back on a discount carrier that would take us direct to Hamilton for only $79 each, and and then we were to drive the three hours home, but that carrier had ceased flying during our quarantine and the flight was cancelled. So we were left with no option but to fly home on WestJet, which was going to be a lot more expensive ($1100 for the two of us!!) and would require a stop in Calgary.
Then, to make things a little more frustrating, we received notice that our route had been changed: we now had to stop in Calgary and Toronto and then on to London – the closest we could get to Windsor, some two hours away. (Windsor's airport had closed months earlier.) Also, our wake up time would now be 4 o'clock in the morning in order to catch the 6 am flight. We knew there would be no waiting at the airport since there were so few people flying, which meant we didn't have to get there as early as in normal times.
The jets were empty flying out on our mid-April booking: mostly crew repositioning. At Calgary Airport, the runways and side lanes where jets taxi were jammed with idle aircraft. We had to circumnavigate the airport to get to the runway aboard a brand new Airbus that was built to fly passengers to Europe. There were perhaps about 40 passengers aboard, about one eighth capacity. For some reason, the flight attendants wanted everyone to sit together in one section. Likely it was so serving the passengers would be easier, but hello? It's a pandemic so we probably shouldn't sit close to each other; Elaine and I made a bee-line for the empty section in the back.
Fortunately we arrived in London without incident (the new world record shortest flight for us – only 20 minutes in the air from Toronto!). We had made arrangements with my sister and brother-in-law to drive our vehicle up from Windsor and park it in the airport lot with the keys hidden on the tire. We couldn't just drive the two hours home with them, because of potential virus infection.
After landing at the nearly deserted airport, we collected our luggage and fought our way through the cold and wind to our rig that was waiting patiently for us in the virtually deserted lot. The sense of relief when we climbed in and I turned on the ignition was palpable. We pulled out onto the 401 heading southwest, found a good ole Tim Horton's to fuel up on tea and muffins, and then made our way to home, sweet home.
What a long strange trip it had been. Basically, 28 days in total to get from the Gili Islands, Indonesia to Windsor, Ontario. Whew.
Side Note: One year later, March 2021, the pandemic is still raging and more contagious variants of the virus are threatening the planet, but several vaccines have been developed and approved, immunizations are occurring around the world with herd immunity as the goal. Until then, travel is still off limits and we don't expect to resume our Vanishing Act until winter of 2022.
If we're lucky.