On March 6, I left Ottawa on the adventure of a lifetime. I, and a few other people from North Grenville, were going to meet up in Nepal and India to practice yoga and go hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas.
When I left Canada, I knew about the Coronavirus and was intent on being cautious, especially during my travels. I packed extra antibacterial wipes, lots of hand sanitizer, and even a few face masks, just to be on the safe side. When I booked my flights, I purposefully chose not to go through mainland China in order to avoid the virus’ epicentre and questioning when I was trying to get into Nepal and India.
My travels to Nepal were relatively uneventful. There were lots of people wearing masks, but as long as you weren’t coming from countries where the virus was prevalent, there were very few delays. I had my temperature taken twice, but was quickly waved through when it was normal.
My first few days in Nepal were incredible. Every morning started out with sunrise yoga, a delicious breakfast and hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas. One morning we got up at 4:30am to go watch the sunrise over the mountains and trek back to the homestay, stopping for breakfast and a swim in a jungle waterfall. The whole experience was magical and one that I will never forget.
However, as time went on, we started getting more and more alarming messages from people back home. At first we laughed at the memes that were circulating on social media about the country running out of toilet paper. We rolled our eyes as we watched the western world go into panic mode, happy that we were removed from the mass hysteria that seemed to be taking over back home.
The first major hiccup in the trip happened about half-way through. We were supposed to spend a week in Nepal and then head to an ashram in India for the second half of our trip. Unfortunately, a couple days before we were supposed to go to India, they suspended all tourist visas due to COVID-19.
Our flights weren’t cancelled, but, if we went, we wouldn’t be able to enter the country. I was disappointed, but our hosts in Nepal were happy to have us stay another week. Our flights home were from Kathmandu anyway, so it looked like it would all work out. More yoga, hiking and delicious food surrounded by good friends was OK with me!
Unfortunately, as the days wore on, tensions back in Canada continued to climb. By the end of the first week, the first member of our group decided to head home. Not wanting to buy into the hysteria, the rest of us decided to stick to our original plan and stay another week. I wasn’t ready for my trip to be cut short, especially if it wasn’t necessary. But then it came. The message from the Prime Minister for all travellers to head home asap while there were “still commercial flights available.” I started getting messages from my family begging me to get a flight back as soon as I could.
I fought it at first, thinking they were being crazy. It was easy to discount what they were saying while I was living somewhat isolated from it all in a small town in Nepal. I was having such a wonderful time, and I didn’t want to give it all up for the uncertainty that came with travelling home during a pandemic. I felt safe in Nepal, while the rest of the world seemed to be going crazy.
In the end, I agreed to come home and my husband booked me a flight for that evening. I packed quickly and said goodbye to my host family and travel buddies. I cried all the way to the airport. I was so sad to leave, but also terrified that I would get stuck in transit. What if Canada closed its borders while I was on my long trip home? What if I got sick? There were so many unknowns, but I knew I just had to put one foot in front of the other and keep praying that I would make it home safely and in good health.
Luckily, my trip home was uneventful. I had a 12-hour layover in Hong Kong, where almost everyone was wearing masks. I had my temperature taken as soon as I got off the airplane and ventured into the main area where I had to wait for my flight to Toronto. I used almost a full bottle of hand sanitizer, and washed my hands thoroughly every time I went to the washroom. I watched as more and more flights got cancelled, hoping that mine wouldn’t be one of them.
In what seemed like a miracle, I got on my flight to Toronto. The only delay was when we got to Toronto and had to wait on the tarmac for two hours because they were only unloading one plane at a time so they could mitigate crowds. However, once I got off the plane, I was surprised at how little screening there was. Before we got to immigration there were two airport officials yelling at us, asking if we had a fever or cough, but there was no one there to take our temperature or assess us. We also had to answer questions about our health at the immigration kiosks, and we were handed a pamphlet by the border security agents to tell us what to do if we did start to feel sick. This seemed strange to me, as I was expecting much more scrutiny, especially as I was coming from Nepal via Hong Kong. I was relieved that it was as easy as it was, but it was also a bit unnerving. Hopefully, all my fellow travellers will be heeding the advice of the government and self isolating for 14 days to make sure they don’t have the virus.
I am now well into my second week of self quarantine. I’m trying to create a routine and keep busy to avoid going stir crazy, but staying home has not been easy. Thank goodness for the phone and internet that has allowed me to keep working and in contact with colleagues, family and friends. While I miss Nepal, I am happy to be home with my family during these strange and uncertain times. I am almost done my 14 days of quarantine, but who knows how long this period of social distancing will last? I am trying to keep my spirits up and take it one day at a time. I think that’s all any of us can do right now.