I’ve recently come back from a long weekend in Madeira and in many ways the entire trip was overshadowed by Coronavirus despite us having no issues on our trip. This post isn’t about how to travel whilst there’s a global pandemic, but is just to share some of my personal experiences in what has become a very strange time for many of us.
Our trip was booked back in 2019, well before the virus had spread worldwide and it had been deemed a pandemic. It was only in the week before we flew that I imagined we might have any problems at all. Italy had closed down, more countries were closing borders and there was widespread criticism of the UK’s approach. However I knew we were travelling to somewhere with no confirmed cases, nobody I was travelling with was displaying any symptoms and there wasn’t anything at the airport (other than lots of handwashing instructions and cancelled flights to Italy) to suggest that life wasn’t carrying on as normal.
The weekend we were away it appeared that everything changed. When we arrived in Madeira there was no sign of any concern at the airport and we each had to fill in a short survey at the hotel to say we hadn’t travelled from one of the worst effected areas. Cruise ships weren’t being allowed into port but other than that it appeared as though life was continuing as normal. By the Sunday, we had a letter from the hotel under our door telling us that all new arrivals would be quarantined for 14 days and that everyone should try to return home within that week (it turned out the airport was planning to close on the Saturday).
The first night we had been surprised that not many people were out too late, but put it down to the fact that it wasn’t the height of the tourist season and that most of the tourists were pretty old! By Saturday the bars were all closed by 11pm and by the Sunday all bars and restaurants had to be closed by 9pm which looked as though it was being enforced by the police. It was almost a relief to know we were returning home on the Monday before it became a ghost town.
Along with the early closures, other measures were being introduced such as having to stand a metre apart in queues (although this didn’t appear to be being enforced everywhere!). The other main thing I noticed was that the news was on everywhere. Everywhere we went there was a TV broadcasting the news which was dominated by Coronavirus and further measures being taken by different places. It was also dominating conversation. Not just our own, but the conversation of other tourists and of the hotel staff. It was really quite unnerving, especially knowing that changes were being made back at home but not knowing exactly what they were. In some ways we didn’t really know what we were going to be returning home to.
As we go ready to take our plane home, we watched a plane land which had only 11 people on board. Each of those people was made to use hand sanitizer, given a piece of paper and then made to wait, presumably for someone to come and instantly take them to somewhere to be quarantined. It was scary to watch and strange to know that our short break wouldn’t have gone ahead if we had been travelling just a few days later.
We were lucky our travel plans weren’t disrupted as I know that there are a great many people who haven’t been as fortunate. I have friends who have had to cut their 5 month trip of a lifetime short and we are waiting on tenterhooks to see if our honeymoon will have to cancelled or postponed. I’ve not been worried about the actual virus at all, but I’m concerned about how fast fear is spreading and how much it is currently dominating everyone’s lives, even if just in the background on the news or in conversation.
It’s been a very strange time to be away and even stranger returning home to a different place to the one I left. I didn’t know when I set my out of office at work that I potentially wouldn’t see my colleagues again for months. I have a pack of Madeiran biscuits that I had bought for them which they are unlikely to get to try. It’s a worrying time for everyone and I hope that the world can return to normal very soon.
Please note that this post was written on 16 March on my flight home, before travel restrictions were truly in force worldwide.