Follow three stories of veteran globetrotters as they navigate closures, shutdowns and changing travel restrictions. You’ll see how COVID-19 affects travelers. CONTACT TRACING, is a day-by-day chronicle of how Coronavirus affects travelers. Even the pros.
CONTACT TRACING: PART I
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Sunday, March 1, Tisha Cazel leaves Flagstaff, Arizona, for Lisbon, Portugal. She plans to walk the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon to Santiago in western Spain. The walking journey would take 25 to 26 days. Afterward, she’ll volunteer as a hospitalera, one who welcomes Camino pilgrims and tends their lodgings. She’s scheduled her return flight back to the US on May 14. But fate will have it otherwise.
As Tisha crosses the Atlantic Ocean on her eastbound Delta flight, Donnie Schumann meets with clients in Marrakech. Donnie lives in sunny Morocco while on business since early February. “At that point, COVID-19 was not as real as it is today,” explains the San Francisco-based business consultant. “Morocco was at low risk.” Still, that was soon to change.
In the meantime, Carla Rupp is in her NYC apartment, packing bags for a travel blogger’s conference in Catania, Italy. She will meet her adult son, Jason Rupp, a YouTube video blogger who is flying into Italy from Indonesia. Jason, who travels the world and films his adventures, had been in Wuhan, China, in December. The travel blogging duo looks forward to hanging out in southern Italy. Unfortunately, their time together will be cut short.
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Saturday, March 7, 2020
Tisha carrying her pilgrim backpack carefully provisioned with food, water and sleeping bag, walks out of Lisbon, calling its numerous paved sections “brutal.” On Saturday, March 7, she reports meeting Giacomo, an Italian chef living in Lisbon. Portuguese hospitaleros denied him entry to pilgrim accommodations because he is Italian. By now, the news is full of the pandemic raging through northern Italy. Tisha starts to experience how COVID-19 affects travel even in rural areas.
Carla deplaned in southern Italy just two days earlier. By Monday, March 9, she and Jason hook up with fellow bloggers, including Alex Kallimanis, to tour Catania and its nearby charming Sicilian towns. That night, fifteen international bloggers gather for dinner at Be Quiet, one of Catania’s finest restaurants. During the pasta course, news of Italy’s nationwide shutdown sends shockwaves around the table. “It was a surreal moment staring at piles of delicious seafood and pasta, after a beautiful day of exploring the area. We all scrambled [on smartphones] during dinner to book flights out of Italy ASAP,” says Alex, co-founder of WanderlustMarriage.com.
Caught Up in Italy’s Virtual Quarantine of 60 Million
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Alex makes it out of Italy, but Carla and Jason get caught up in the virtual quarantine of 60 million people in that country. Jason snags the attention of Nightline ABC-TV News with his “Live! Another Day in Lockdown Italy,” YouTube videos. ABC News Report broadcasts interviews with both Rupps.
“We will survive,” Carla proclaims Wednesday, March 11, in the first of three ABC News Reports broadcast internationally. The news story shows Carla and Jason holed up in a Catanian Airbnb. How fast everything shutdown surprises Carla. “We had gelato, espresso and amazing pastries one day. The next day that place on the piazza was completely closed.”
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In downtown Marrakesh, Donnie enjoys a rooftop dinner party with friends Wednesday evening. “All of a sudden, all our phones starting going off,” he later recounts. All around the table, smartphones begin pinging. The Moroccan government has banned flights to and from France and Spain because of escalating COVID-19 cases and deaths. Many at the dinner have connecting flights through those countries.
“We were worried because we knew that in Africa, changes and shutdowns could happen fast–within an hour,” reveals Donnie who was starting to experience How COVID-19 affects travel.
Later, Donnie’s pinging phone wakes him at 3:30 am as friends from the US alert him to another setback. That night in Washington DC, President Trump is announcing sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries. The limits will go into effect on Friday, March 13 at midnight (GMT.)
Clogged Airlines Customer Service Lines – How Coronavirus Affects Travel
“On Thursday, I couldn’t get ahold of American Airlines,” says Donnie, who keeps calling his American Platinum Service Desk. As a frequent flier, he knows how to use the airline’s website to research his flight options. “I learned that American Airlines had a new partner, Royal Air Maroc, and there was a Sunday flight from Casablanca to Miami.” If he could get a seat on the three-hour train ride through the desert from Marrakesh to Casablanca, he could make that flight. However, a customer service agent needed to book the trip, and he just couldn’t get through to one.
The next day, after being on hold for six hours, he finally gets an American Airlines live voice. “She had no idea of Royal Air Maroc, but fortunately, I made a note of all the flight numbers, and she was able to find it in her system,” explains Donnie.
Racing to Get Out
Sunday, March 15, 2020
As Donnie races for his flight, on Sunday, March 15, the US Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco, issues this notice:
The government of Morocco has announced the closure of all international travel in and out of Morocco. The US Embassy and Consulate General understand the challenges the rapidly evolving international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused US citizens seeking to return to the United States.
Morocco is closing down all its borders and airspace. Would Donnie be able to get out, even if he could get to the Casablanca airport on time?
How COVID-19 Affects Travelers: Pilgrimage Stopped
In Portugal, Tisha’s pilgrimage had been stopped at the request of hospitaleros in Porto. While staying at pilgrim lodgings in Porto, she tries to contact Delta Airlines to change her flight. “I went to their website; it said ‘call this number.’ The number didn’t work,” she says. “The albergue [pilgrim’s refuge] had a big garden, so I bought groceries, cooked dinners and stayed a couple of days.”
“I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but that’s not unfamiliar to me,” articulates Tisha, who is a certified nurse-midwife. “It’s not unfamiliar to me to not know what’s going to happen next.”
In Catania and under quarantine, Carla and Jason aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. “The traveler in me wanted to see things. Yet there was the danger,” Carla confesses. “We saw some life in the piazza with an accordion player singing his Sicilian-style songs. But a few days later, after quarantine, we saw him from the airport shuttle to the Catania airport alone on a sidewalk. It was no longer essential for him to be at the Duomo Piazza square.”
To be continued…
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