Pandemic Diary- San Cristobal: 16-18 March 2020

Day 1 (Monday):

We arrived on the island to news of uncertainty. Something was happening but no one knew what. We tried to book on a dive excursion and they told us to check back later. We checked into our AirBnB room behind a restaurant and in the owners home. The room was small and mustard coloured with no WiFi or AC but it would only be for a couple of days then we would get out. At dinner snip bits of overheard conversations brought travelers together of all different nationalities sharing stories of cancelled flights and new exit strategies. Our flight was not yet cancelled so we held onto hope the that we could make it until Thursday and get out. Later that night the dive shop told us that the government had closed all national parks, beaches, and the ferries between the islands have been stopped.

While we wait to leave it feels like we are in some sort of disaster movie as we watch all the world borders close down. On the islands themselves everything is closing up. People’s idea to stay here and wait it out may be ill advised as they will literally be confined to their hotel room. We are wishing away the time until we can get on a plane.

Day 2 (Tuesday):

Today started with the familiar sequence of trying to find WiFi, talking to people in the streets and trying to figure out what is going on. We ordered breakfast at a cafe. They would not let us come in so we stood outside waiting. It would be so much easier if we spoke better Spanish so we could make sense of things. 7 or 8 travelers stood outside the cafe to share information, rumors or info about what was happening. It is so difficult to figure out what is really going on. The police came by and asked us not to congregate and told us that from now on restaurants could only operate as take aways so we had to move on. We watched as they enforced the closure of shops and restaurants that had tried to stay open.

We walked down the main street by the seafront which had been bustling with tourists and vendors selling sightseeing tours just the day before but now the shutters were up, the streets were empty and everything was quiet. We found WiFi outside a closed cafe and sat down in the street to find out what was going on. The Ecuadorian government was stopping all internal flights on the 18th for 2 weeks and the country is effectively on lockdown. Our flight out was on the 19th so we missed it by a day. A few minutes later we got the official cancellation email from KLM. We were stuck. This made my stomach drop. We would not be able to make it back home to our families and we had to wait it out here. On the other hand it gave me relief not having the stress of uncertainty looming over us any longer.

We tried and failed to get hold of the British Embassy to ask for advice. Along with the help of mum and dad in the UK (as internet is so bad here) we set to finding somewhere to stay. We didn’t know how long this might go on for so booked an apartment with a kitchen then went food shopping for supplies. I tried to cheer myself up by buying the ingredients to make a cake. The locals dive for their masks when they see us coming and berate us for not wearing any. It lifted my spirits to be doing something and to know we would soon have a more comfortable space with AC and WiFi.

Later we walked the empty streets looking for any restaurants willing to do take-aways (many have just closed up completely) and avoided the sea lions that are reclaiming the streets and the people in HVAC suits spraying the ground.

Today a curfew was enforced from 9pm to 5am and flashing blue lights lit up our window as the police went about enforcing it.

Day 3 (Wednesday):

Adam went out early to gather information and came back with the morning bad news. Our AirBnB apartment had cancelled our stay. The excuse given was something to do with going into a phase 2 of lock down on the islands. There would be no cake now. Rumor spread from other trapped travelers that rescue flights may be sent to get us all off the island in the next few days. The advice was to put our names on a list at the airport and an online form with the Galapagos council. We set off on foot to the airport in the hot midday sun with our masks on now to avoid confrontations and registered with our Airline that we were stuck and awaiting news of flights. They said they would email us once they heard of any flights and to stay connected to the internet- not an easy task.

As we walked round the empty town other travelers would run up to us asking for news. We shared what we could and collected everyone’s phone number so we could add them to an ever growing WhatsApp group of stranded travelers on the islands (Coronaville). In the group were people collecting names and numbers of different nationalities to inform the respective government of how many people were stuck.

The people we met had so many interesting stories and differing attitudes to the situation. Sunny from Sweden was denied passage from one island to another once the harbors were shut but convinced locals to sneak her across in their boat so she could get to the airport. The French people we met were angry and fully convinced that their government would send a plane for them and were annoyed that they had not been informed of it as of yet. The Irish girls we met were worried but optimistic. The Americans were dramatic and complained about money. My favourite were the Ausies who were just so relaxed about the whole situation. One thing is for certain that no matter where they were from everyone banded together to help each other and share information. No one is alone in this and that’s nice.

We found a new hotel with AC (yay) and WiFi if we stand out in the hall. The manager has been great and fully understands our need to leave should the option become available.

Later in the day a message came on our WhatsApp group for all stranded travelers to meet at the town hall. Once there we found out from some helpful Americans that they had contacted their embassy and a flight was leaving on Friday to take them from Guayaquil to Miami. That could work. If we could just get to Miami we could potentially transfer to the UK or if we got stuck retreat to Salt Lake City. I felt like a spark of hope had ignited then we quickly realized that we still had the problem of getting off the island onto the mainland before we could make that flight. A representative at the city hall took all our contact details and said he would be working with the airlines to try and get us off the island. I’m not optimistic that that will happen before Friday.

We found a restaurant next to our hostel that was sneaking people in and sitting them outside behind wire gates covered with black bin bags. We had a lovely meal with a scrumptious chocolate and nutella milkshake feeling like we were in the war time eating eating contraband.

It feels like we are in some sort of diaster movie or it’s the end of the world. We are all just waiting for a flight out of here or for the zombies to arrive- whichever comes first.

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