I left for a month of Spanish immersion in Ecuador on February 14, an idea I had contemplated for decades and could finally implement in my 60s. COVID was circling overhead, but oh so far away. To be safe, I registered with the Canadian embassy.
On the last Saturday of my trip, the concierge at the hotel urgently told me a rumour that the Ecuadorian government was closing the borders at midnight the next day. I quickly reserved flights for that same afternoon and canceled my original flight. There was just enough time to gather my things and take the one-hour trip to the airport. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the check-in kiosk would not accept my passport. In my haste, I had mistakenly booked for the following week.
The woman at the counter said she could get me as far as Bogota. No thanks. I took a seat in the lounge, and, on my phone, rebooked my original direct flight for Monday morning. No need to panic, I thought. Stick to the initial plan. I sheepishly returned to the hotel, and ran into a group of Canadians who were leaving immediately. Their contacts in Ottawa had told them to “get the hell out!” Only 1 seat left! quickly became no seats left as I scoured the internet to find another way to escape. Finally, I booked a trip from Quito to Panama City to Miami to Toronto on various airlines. With no precautions in place, and airports and planes packed, the 6-hour journey home took 20 hours. I was on the move with the entire world.
My son picked me up Monday morning, March 16. The WHO had declared the virus a pandemic a few days before, and the Ecuador border had closed about an hour earlier. Like a character in an adventure film who is running from danger, and slides under a quickly closing door with little room to spare, I had made it home just in time. After two weeks of quarantine and daily temperature taking, I was safe and unscathed. I do not know when I will be traveling next.
In our Aug. 10 issue, Editor Angela Reitsma Bick told the story of her family’s overseas bookshop adventure in “7 Tickets to Scotland Just Before the World Shut Down,” and invited CC readers to share interesting stories about the last trip they took before the pandemic. Here is one of our favourite responses.
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