For a couple of years, I had earmarked February 2020 as the year I would finally go and visit my cousin and her family in Perth Australia – I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to experience – In short, EVERYTHING that could go wrong, WENT wrong during the trip – Don’t get me wrong, IT was a beautiful, lovely trip and I will NEVER forget it, but it’s almost like everything single terrible scenario you worry about happening before you travel seemed to come into fruition during this trip.
From the beginning, this Trip seemed to be JINXED. I prove that it was I swear to god. When I was booking my tickets from Perth to New Zealand, the travel agency cancelled my tickets and refunded me the money because i didn’t send them some documentation to proved that it was I indeed who has booked the tickets.
I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO THE UNIVERSE AT THAT POINT AND BEEN LIKE maybe i SHOULDN’T go to New Zealand but NO. I panicked and immediately rebooked the tickets in a hurry afraid that they would sell out or something..
A day before I was set to leave for Australia, my mom asked me to send her a copy of my tickets to Perth and to New zealand. I was at a shoot at the time and was very annoyed by my mom asking me to do all these things, but I took a screenshot and sent it to her anyway. I then got the following message from her:
I did a double take! WHAT?!?!?! HOW COULD I DO THIS AGAIN?! my tickets for New Zealand were supposed to be for the 8th -18th of MARCH and in my haste to re book the tickets I booked them for MAY AAAAARGH!!!! *PANIK* In the middle of the shoot, I tried to get in touch with the company through which i booked the tickets FREAKING OUT and hoping that rescheduling them wouldn’t cost a BOMB and hoping they would be able to do it in time since I was LEAVING THE NEXT MORNING AT 6 AM and I wouldn’t be able to coordinate payments or anything from abroad!
Luckily, they were able to change the tickets and the cost wasn’t PHENOMENAL (LOL LITTLE DID I KNOW WHAT WAITED FOR ME IN ABOUT A MONTH’S TIME) so I got the tickets changed and thanked my mom for being that annoying mom who asks for your tickets and cross checks everything. I can just imagine my face in AUSTRALIA when i printed the tickets and saw that they were slated for MAY 8th. I would have DIED.
ANYYYYWAY, cut to the actual trip – When i left for Australia, I think the only concern I had about Corona Virus was that I was potentially spending 12 hours in Bangkok which was reported to have quite a few cases but nothing more. The first couple of weeks I spent in Perth with my cousin were an absolute delight – Especially since the only thing I had on the agenda were spending time doing fuckall, hanging out with my family, eating a tonne and MAYBE making friends with some Qwakkas.
By the time March 8th rolled around, and I was on my way to New Zealand, Corona Virus had made an appearance in Australia, but immigration was still only concerned about if you had travelled to china or Iran – In the first few days our time there, we were being cautious and avoiding crowds, and since we LITERALLY drove to stay in a place called “Isolation Bay” where it was only us 10 we were essentially safe. We then made our way to Queenstown, which was a tourist town but still comparatively emptier than most other touristy places we had been in the world.
Now, 5 days in, we came to know that New Zealand got it’s first few cases of Corona Virus and was shutting it’s borders to travelers..around the same time, one of our group said she had some body ache and a sore throat and self isolated herself just in case it may have been COVID. From that point on, I think our group was on Red Alert and constantly checking the news and wondering whether we would get stuck in New Zealand or whether we would be able to get back into Australia (my flight back to india was out of Perth Australia). A day later, Australia stated that it too would soon be closing it’s borders to international travelers and those entering the country would be required to self isolate until they left.
During that time there was a lot of confusion – mainly I didn’t know whether I would be able to enter Australia, or whether ONCE entering Australia, would I be able to take my flight out from Perth on the 20th as planned, or would i have to stay in OZ for a period of 14 days before I could get out – Now, this was still BEFORE india announced it was sealing it’s borders.
BTW while this was happening, I DROPPED MY PHONE and the screen just died. So, I had to go and get a replacement phone so that I could use WhatsApp and Google Maps while traveling and stay in touch with people – because of this, I freaked out about how I may not have budgeted for this expense and on a WHIM transferred some more money into my Foreign Exchange Card (JUST IN CASE I WOULD NEED IT BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC SITUATION)
I think by 12th of March, everyone was literally just counting the days down to when we would be able to LEAVE new Zealand and hoping and praying we would not get stuck there as it was a stupidly expensive place to get stuck. We finally made it to 18th of March, with no more craziness – The person who had a sore throat recovered and was able to fly, and I got on my flight back to Perth (via Melbourne) Thanking my lucky stars once the plane left the runway.
Within 30 minutes of leaving the runway, the Pilot had taken 3 turns and the plane looked like it was heading back to CHRISTCHURCH AIRPORT and I was like EXCUSE ME.. BUT WHAT THE FUX?
The captain said they thought they hit the tail on the runway while taking off so they just wanted to go back and check to be on the safe side – good news was that they hadn’t hit themselves, bad news was that there was no protocol in place for the paperwork for NOT HITTING YOURSELF WHILE TAKE OFF and we were grounded for 3 hours before we could leave again, effectively making me miss my connecting flight to Perth. Luckily, They accommodated us on another flight and I got to Melbourne where immigration told me I would have to self isolate till I left the country a day later.
Now by this time, India had announced they would be sealing it’s borders on midnight on the 22nd of March – I was like cool cool coo cool cooll. I should be fine because my flight is scheduled to reach Delhi at 9AM on the 21st.. right? WRONG.
I get to the airport on the 20th, 3 hours before my flight is set to leave, aaaaaand I drop my NEW cheap replacement smartphone in the parking lot of the airport and the screen cracks – Luckily I can still use it and it’s not black screened – and I’m like FUCK IT, it’s FINE. I’m going home. I spend an hour waiting in line – only to be told at the counter that THEY CANNOT LET ME BOARD THE FLIGHT THAT I HAVE A CONFIRMED TICKET FOR. Why? Because My connecting flight back to Delhi had been pushed forward by 10 hours, leaving me with a layover of 18 hours. Thailand Airport REQUIRES you to collect your baggage if your layover is longer than 12 hours – which means you have to go through immigration in order to collect your baggage. Now here’s the KICKER. Thailand was not giving out any VISAS because of the COVID crisis which meant ME and indian with and INDIAN passport was not being allowed to board the flight.
I begged with the lady at the counter to put me on another flight, but because of what was happening, that flight that had the 18 layover later was THE ONLY flight out of Thailand to Delhi before the country sealed it’s borders. So I was told sorry, please cancel your flight and stay in Australia.
At this point I think I went into shock and was like so… I stay in Australia indefinitely? Luckily for me, I was with my cousin’s partner Hamish, who tried to cheer me up by saying we would figure out a solution, but at that moment I was just hearing white noise.. We get back to their home, and I’m still in shock. We start looking at tickets to Delhi from Perth reaching before the borders close – THERE ARE NONE. By this time, My brain starts working a little, and my cousin suggests that I should look at flights GETTING INTO INDIA before 12am on the 22nd. As long as I make it back into the country i should be fine.
I spy a ticket from Perth to Bangalore via Singapore – literally the best country to transit through during this sort of thing – I also happen to have family living there and I think if I get stranded i at least have a point of contact – after a few minutes of trying to figure out whether this ticket wont be cancelled last minute/ I would be wasting my money, I say a little prayer to the universe and i go with my gut and buy the ticket – It’s for 6AM the next day (12 hours) later.. I have a fitful sleep and make my way to the airport hoping I will be able to board my flight and make it back into the country in time and thankfully, the universe lets me leave Australia.
After everything that had happened over the last week, with my phone dying (twice) countries sealing their borders, updates being released hour by hour, I don’t think I relaxed until the flight from Singapore to Bangalore took off.
I couldn’t believe it, but I landed in Bangalore at 10:15PM on the 21st of March 2020 -an hour and a half before India sealed it’s borders. My sister was on standby wondering whether to come and pick me up from the airport but i told her not to bother and I would be trying to get a ticket back to Delhi as soon as I was done with immigration and screening – I got one leaving at 1AM and landing in Delhi at 4:30 AM on the 22nd Morning – the day of the “Bharat Bandh”. A few days later, they stopped ALL domestic flights.
As I write this blog post (a whole Month and a half later on may 9th 2020), India’s just about started with reparation flights to bring back the thousands of people stranded in different parts of the world – currently, Australia is not even on the list of places which have flight scheduled. Apart from this, there are Millions of migrant workers who have taken to walking back home – many dying in the process.. While I am so so grateful that I was able to come back in time and stay with my mother and father- there are so many others who are still separated from their loved ones and honestly the only thing that enabled me to make the deadline was the fact that I had the means to buy multiple last minute tickets even if I was stranded in Australia, I would have been staying with family – though i cannot even begin to understand how me being separated from my folks in the time they would probably need me the most would even feel.
Shoutout to the most amazing friends and family I could ever have btw – they kept me sane while I drove THEM insane with uncertainty of my situation!