Back to writing…last time I wrote I was quarantined at my parent’s house in Italy for another virus.
Well this time I’m writing still from quarantine, but in a totally different scenario. I’m in Pipa, a small beach town 90km south of Natal, North-East of Brazil. I came here 2 weeks ago with the intent of keeping travelling in the North of Brazil, then to head to Manaus in the middle of the Amazon where I was going to get a 4 days boat to Colombia on the Amazon river. Finally I was going to stay there in Colombia for a couple of months. Was gonna get back to Europe in time for the summer, to watch the Euro Cup and keep my tan.
I don’t need to explain why my plans changed. Now as per the rest of the world my objectives are much more primordial: survive and don’t kill.
When I started my trip I really didn’t know how it was going to end. I could think of different options, but I didn’t even want to consider them, as I wanted to keep all doors open and let life decide.
I didn’t know whether I was gonna go back to London, to stay in South America, to go to live in another country, to keep travelling…but well I really couldn’t imagine the scenario “your trip will be interrupted by a deadly pandemic which will involve all the countries of world and will hit your country the most”.
As for most of the people, for me it’s still difficult to realise this is really happening.
It’s awful, it’s dramatic, but still there is a part of me (maybe a little sadist) which doesn’t completely dislike this. I like changes. I like news. I like to restart and have a new game. I like to experience new things and that’s the risk of experiencing new things, not all of them are good. But this is just the bright side of what is coming after, after what is probably gonna be the worst experience of my and many other people’s lives.
The truth is that I’m scared. I’m scared for my family in the first place, unfortunately most of them are in the delicate age-range and they’re in Italy…
Then I’m scared for myself too, I’m young, yes, but I’m afraid to be in the “at risk category” too, having had asthma when I was kid and still need an inhaler sometimes to breathe better. Please let me know if you know anything about this!
In all this I’m really unsure of what to do now. Pretty much all the backpackers I’ve met have flown back to their home countries. Even the ones who were snubbing the virus only a few days ago. The ones who were laughing in my face when I was worried about all this already at the end of February. “It’s just a flu, why are you so worried?” and now all their Instagram stories are the same “a picture of them in the airport or on a plane” accompanied by some half-ironic quote, like “Thank you Corona” or shits like that..
All this experience reminds me a little of Brexit. With Brexit I realised the gravity of the situation before many others, not because I’m a genius, just because I was reading the news. And I remember 6-8 months before the vote going around very worried about Brexit and then many people were laughing at me, snubbing me that I was worrying too much. Saying “hahah it’s never gonna happen”. Well, I remember the day it happened, I think I’ve got something like 15 messages saying “oh man, you were right”. Fucking idiots.
For me it all started the day I went to Itacaré in Bahia. To get there I took a long bus ride and I decided to read a bit of news, since between Carnival and post-carnival in an island with pretty much no internet I was completely out of the loop. It was the 29th of February, I don’t remember exactly what happened then, but when I saw that they were cancelling football games I realised that things were going out of control in Europe. Plus when I saw that there were the first cases in Brazil and Ecuador I really didn’t feel safe in South America anymore either. I was hoping the continent was gonna stay untouched.
In Itacaré I was in a room with 7 people, 5 from Israel and one from Canada and they were all a bit sick and tired, they were saying from Carnival as there they had a lot of parties and smoked a lot. I mean I was feeling pretty tired from Carnival too, so all good.
That night I didn’t sleep though.
I thought about the life I do travelling, I meet a lot of people from all over the world, which are constantly moving. They are all travellers. I normally sleep in 6 or 8 beds dorms, with roomates often changing every night. I take long bus rides, crowded vans and boats. I visit all sorts of terminals. I’m always surrounded by people, many people. If any backpacker got the virus it would take no time to infect a lot of other people. Considering that there were cases in Brazil and everyday there were new people coming from Europe, the situation was risky. I started thinking that maybe I had to avoid hostels, but hostels are the most fun bit of travelling! What’s the point of travelling if I cannot meet people, go to events, parties, experience life…
I realised then that it was the end of it, but I didn’t want to give up that thought yet. It was not said, I tried to convince myself that I was just worrying too much, as I always do.
So in the morning I got ready and went with 3 friends who had rented a car to explore some local beaches. Meeting at 8am, I get to the meeting point and my friend Fazli is there, he looks at me and with a nervous smile he went “So…apparently, apparently…3 Israelis have brought Coronavirus to Itacaré”
AAAAAAAAAAHHHH I freaked out. I was in the room with 5 Israelis, they all looked half sick. FFS…why Itacaré? It’s such a small place and Brazil is so huge!
I spent the rest of the day in shock and the next day I just left Itacaré, even though it was the place with probably the best beaches I’ve ever seen. I will go back there.
Since then I started slowly to realise that my trip was probably going to end up earlier than expected, so I moved quickly staying in places 1 or 2 night max. I was saying to everyone that it was just because I wanted to go a bit quicker after staying a long time in Rio for pre Carnival and Salvador for Carnival. The truth is that I was feeling the clock was ticking.
Then I arrived in Pipa. In a beautiful hostel right on the beach and from day 1 I was already saying that it could have been a good place to stay put for a while if the virus was going to expand in Brazil. With the days passing by, that became always more a concrete idea, there was no way I was going to keep travelling. Too risky and it wouldn’t make sense. You’d get to the next town, in a new hostel, sit down with new people and then you’d be talking about Coronavirus anyway. So what’s the point? Plus things would start to close soon.
Thinking of going back to Europe was just making me feel sick. I was planning to travel 3 more months and then to go back but maybe without renting a room, as I did last summer, just for the summer. In truth I had no idea what I was going to do, but the thought of going to the winter from one day to another was oppressing. Then thinking that I had to go in that state of fear..
MONDAY 16TH MARCH
I woke up in the morning after another night of almost no sleep. I started freaking out for the fact that this situation was going completely out of control.
In Italy it was looking like a war, the rest of Europe was catching up, Boris Johnson was speaking of heard immunity and The Guardian was reporting articles like “A close look at numbers: how many people are going to die”, all the other countries in South America were closing borders, schools and taking measures, but in Brazil it was still all regular, despite being the country with most cases in South America.
Then I also didn’t feel safe for the location. Pipa is a small village in one of the poorest states of Brazil. I mean it’s not even a village, there is nothing else than restaurants, bars and hotels. Not even a hospital or a clinic…the closest one is in Natal which is an hour and half away.
Well I had breakfast in super paranoia and checked where I could have gone. All countries in SA had already closed their borders, but Costa Rica was still open and my friend David just that morning contact me saying that I could go there.
Alternatively I checked a flight to Lisbon from Natal and from Lisbon I would have gone to London with another flight (not bought together).
So I decided to leave, checked out and headed to Recife Airport. For that I had to take a bus, a Blabla Car and probably a taxi. While I was on the bus I started to get anxious looking at how many people were crowded in there and looking how they all looked relaxed and unimpressed. All squeezed in that little van. Not right!
Then I started to think about a story which I was told a few days before by a backpacker. She said that a friend of hers flew to Vietnam and as he arrived they found out that one person on his plane tested positive for Coronavirus, so all the plane was put in quarantine. I’ve seen the video of the guy in quarantine in Vietnam. He was in a bathroom, with two beds as he was with another person, for 2 weeks.
I didn’t want to end up like that. To go to Costa Rica I would have had to take two planes. So potentially being in the plane with 400 people, in these times…at least one of them had to have the virus.
So the other option was going back to Lisbon and then taking a flight to London, but just while I was on the bus I got a message on the family Whatsapp group from my brother: his flight to Italy for Easter had been cancelled. Almost at the same time I get a notification from The Guardian, the EU closed its borders. Perfect. No Lisbon-London then.
So I decided, fuck that. I go back to the hostel, take the risk and quarantine there.
On the way back to the hostel I even got a message from David saying that Costa Rica had just closed the borders to all non nationals.
CASA DE JACK
Casa de Jack is the name of the hostel where I’m staying. Last week we were in 20. But for 4 days in a row somebody left. It was always the same, as it happened to me: somebody coming down for breakfast in full paranoia, after a night of no sleep and heading to the airport to catch the first flight they could find to their home country..
The problem for everyone was that all countries were closing the borders so either we were leaving soon or being stuck in Brazil for as long as it would last.
We had four days of exodus, in which the hostel looked like a reality show. Everyday somebody was leaving and I was betting on who would be the next one out.
After that, the quarantine team was done, it’s 10 of us. I will write maybe another post about them, or do something creative. We’ve a bit of time.
To be honest I cannot think of a better place to be in quarantine. I’m inside a house, but the house has no walls. We’re right on the beach, the noise of the waves is the standard background, the air is pure (I hope), there is always a little breeze since we are in a point of the gulf, but the temperature never goes below 27 degrees even at night. And apparently it’s like that all year round. We’ve a lot of hammocks and hooks all over the place so you can be creative on where to put your hammock. We have palm trees, a private access to the beach and we also have a few pets: 2 iguanas, 3 tarantulas, 2 monkeys and a snake (I hope it’s only one). Plus a few oversized insects now and then.
We also tend to cook and eat all together…I know, we have to keep the distance, but we’re sure that if one of us gets this shit, we’re all taking it. We just try to stay all safe. We’re staying in, we only go to the supermarket (we’re trying to reduce that as much as possible) and to the beach since the hostel is right on the beach and all the beaches have been completely empty since last week anyway.
So all good, quarantine in paradise, but for how long more. Honestly I don’t know what to do. All the world is staying “Stay at home”, the little problem here is that I don’t have a home. So no easy choice to start.
The options which I can see now are:
- Stay where I am. To get to this town there is only one road. It’s a village which only lives on tourism and now all tourism is obviously forbidden, so the town is quite empty. Therefore it should be a safe place. They also seem to be reducing the local transport more and more everyday, so we’re kind of cut off from society. The risk should be minimum, unless the virus is already here. Furthermore, I don’t know if it’s still valid the hot weather theory, but it is very hot here, so the virus should have a difficult life. We all hope this. The downside is obviously the health system here, the government is already saying that by April the sanitary system will collapse and as I mentioned the area where I am is not wealthy. So if things get worse, it’s really worrying.
Plus, two things scare me about staying in Brazil. Firstly, Bolsonaro who defined the virus as a “little-flu” and doesn’t want to take serious measures, despite governors are taking them, but it could be an obstacle when more drastic measures and solutions need to be taken.
Secondly, yesterday I briefly spoke with a Brazilian guy (from a distance) who said “I’m not gonna get the virus, I’m Brazilian. You’re going to get it! Gringo!” That doesn’t offend me, that scares me. If that’s how they think it, things are gonna go out of control here, badly.
- Go to the UK. There the numbers are not that scary as in Italy (yet), but the government is facing this crisis horribly. I mean what to expect from BoJo..for his Great Britain we’re still too many. Anyway in the UK I don’t have a house in London anymore and it really wouldn’t make sense to go to London and pay a hefty rent to stay in a shared house. So an option would be to go to my brother’s place who lives in a small village in Mid-Wales. There are more sheep than men, so it should be safe. Before doing that I would anyway rent a house for a couple of weeks to put myself in quarantine. Can’t risk infecting my brother and his flatmates. If I do that, I need to do it now. Last time news is that Britain are about to close the borders.
- The third option would be to go to Italy. In the eye of the storm. The flights to Italy are officially suspended, but the Italian embassy is still organising repatriation for theItalians abroad. This is officially my escape plan if things get worse here and a little better in Italy.
I would fly to Rome, rent a car, get to Campobasso (my hometown), go to pick up my car which my mother will fill with food for 2 weeks. Then I would go to Termoli, on the coast, to my summer house where I would self-isolate for two weeks. Sounds like a good plan, but it’s difficult. The flight would be from São Paulo, so it would be already a mission to get there. Just to understand the distance, it is like from Copenhagen to Lisbon. Actually not, from a remote little town an hour and half from Copenhagen to Lisbon. Downside of this is that the last two times I went back home I ended up in the hospital. I’m not superstitious, but you know…Anyway I just got the news this morning that I probably can’t do that.
- Go to China. I’ve no idea if I can get in, what are the conditions and to do what. But maybe that’s the safest place to be at the moment. Flights are annoyingly super expensive though.
When I wake up in the morning at the sight of the sea and think about my situation I feel like some wanted boss who fled to a tropical island. I have to be always careful not to be catched (in my case by the virus of course) and I already know that if I go back to my country I will be arrested. Which is what I’m imagining, meaning the police or doctors testing me at the airport and then putting me in quarantine…the quarantine looked like a jail just a week ago, now it seems the most normal thing to do. So I’m everyday thinking when and if I’ll do that move to give up and hand over to the police.