As we enter into another week of social distancing, I think it’s worth noting that some days are better than others. My partner and I sometimes snap at each other over nothing, only to apologize for the other being collateral damage. We literally had an argument over how long was appropriate to be in the grocery store, while trying to grab our essential items so that we could go home and cook dinner. These are crazy times, and, unfortunately, I don’t foresee things ever going back to the “way they were”. I think there will be a before COVID-19 and an after COVID-19. Before COVID-19, we went for long hikes and dreamed of a future together. We haven’t reached the “after” period yet, but the pandemic has put our relationship into perspective. We’ve taken on trials that have tested who we are as people, but have also made us realize how serious we are about each other.
Spain was meant to be an exciting vacation, one booked months in advance by two people filled with wanderlust and a thirst for adventure. I think we had been dating two or three months when our plane tickets were bought, still thrilled to have gone from being friends to being more than that.
As COVID-19 began to creep around the world, we began to pay more attention to the CDC and their travel restrictions. More attention to any restrictions placed upon us by our work. I think we checked the news every five minutes on the day that we were supposed to fly to Spain. And, as we sat in the airport to board our plane, we were still confident that we had made the best decision based upon the provided information and support from our supervisors. If anything, we were more concerned about Spain letting us in because the US had more recorded cases at the time.
We left the US when everything was fine, only to arrive in Spain to the news that Europe had gone from a level 0 to a level 3 overnight. All of Europe. No one would be allowed back into the States. There were Americans literally on the floor crying because they couldn’t get home. We got our bags and checked in with our airline, all of the flights had been booked and we couldn’t change ours. There was nothing to do but get to our AirBnB and assess what was going on.
Despite the stress that now surrounded us, I can’t help but smile at the memory of boarding the yellow bus and seeing Madrid for the first time. Of getting lost because my sense of direction is terrible. Of dragging our suitcases through a beautiful bustling city. Everything was so green and full of life. At this point, it had been almost 24 hours since we had slept more than 3 hours (gotta love a cheap red-eye) and we were still going pretty strong. Our hosts let us in early, and I crashed as soon as my body hit the bed despite the strong cups of coffee.
Next came the conversation, what do we do? Flights back home had jumped from the normal amounts to $8,000 in the span of minutes. The soonest we could get home was in six days, $843 for the two of us. That was most of the money that I had set aside for the trip, but I didn’t think twice about buying the tickets. We were paying for safety, expecting that things were only going to get crazier and we needed to begin to aim for home. Once the tickets were bought there was nothing to do but shower and head out to enjoy the city. We were going to have to quarantine no matter what, so we might as well enjoy what we could.
It’s worth noting, at this point, that other than museums being closed we feel as though we were able to see and experience the tourist “go-to’s”. The crystal palace, the famous chocolate shops, the royal palace, the major plaza, etc etc. Our first two days were crammed with as much of Madrid as we could squeeze in, we covered over 30,000 steps every day. On the second day, we went grocery shopping because Spain entered a state of emergency and we started to worry about our ability to get food.
On our last day, though we didn’t know it was our last day at the time, we spent the day wandering the most beautiful parks. Taking pictures of how empty things were and selfishly enjoying the space to ourselves. The world around us felt as though it was falling apart, but we had each other and we were happy.
I woke up the next day to my partner telling me that he bought tickets to get us home that night. We agreed that it was in our best interest to get to the airport ASAP, just in case. The flight didn’t exist until that morning, and Spain was going to enter a new level of lockdown the next day. The fear of getting home had already been there, so we packed and cleaned up within the hour and headed to the airport, seven hours before our flight was scheduled to take off.
I remember that day as the never-ending day. We waited for the check-in line to open (at this point the airline we were flying was only flying this one flight). Then we waited to check-in. Waited to get through security. Waited to get through customs. Waited to board the plane. Waited to take off. Waited for the CDC to clear us. Waited for US customs to clear us. Got a rental car, drove through the night to board a bus. Got my car back and drove to pick up my dog. Got home and tried to stay awake until a reasonable hour so our bodies could readjust to the new time zone. All the while contacting our supervisors so that we could work remotely during quarantine instead of waste vacation time.
To this day, I don’t feel lucky that we didn’t get sick, I feel lucky that we were able to get home. I feel lucky that we didn’t face crazy lines trying to get through customs when we landed. I feel lucky to have gone through everything with my partner. I feel lucky that we were able to get my dog. That I’m someone who buys frozen veggies and freezes meat/bread. I watched one country lock itself down only to come home to another country beginning to. I still feel like we made the right decision to go with the information at hand, but I also feel like we made the right decision to spend a gross amount of money to get home when the information changed.
Spain was beautiful, perhaps someday we’ll have the opportunity to go back.