Colombia – Part 5

Sunday 15th March 

A frustrating day.

We have decided to try to get back to the UK as it looks like the UK is closing borders and Columbia has also started doing the same.

Ginette – Colombia has stopped all internal flights from Europe and anyone entering the country has to self isolate. At least 14 people have been deported already for not complying with the rules

We are pretty laid back as we can hold up here in a northern beach area if we can’t leave the country but would prefer to be home in case anything does go pear shaped at least we will be home to help.

Ginette – I had really hoped we’d end our adventure with a week on the beach, but if it means risking having to stay here for another month or longer I’m willing to forfeit the beach idea.

We had a frustrating day trying to arrange flights with the current demand causing a price hike that we were not comfortable paying. After a couple of hours we finally booked to fly back from Cali to Heathrow leaving on the 20th. We was helped by a lady from the Avianca airline that called us to ask if we still wanted a flight, we had tried to book earlier in the day but failed as our credit card was denied. She called another few times at our request to give us time to do a bit more research on what she was offering. In the end her deal was by far the best as she was holding the prices we had seen earlier in the day saving us £600 each.

The main problem had been our new credit card was not working but we couldn’t understand why.  When we finally got to speak to someone at the bank it turned out that although we had a new card, all other correspondence from the bank had been returned to them as our mail was no longer being re-directed to our son’s house.  As a safety precaution they’d put a hold on the card and notified us of this by mail. Fortunately as we had the card (well at least our son did) the bank simply had to take the ‘hold’ off the card. If the card had been returned we would have had to have a new one issued.

In the afternoon we went out for a walk to see the art work in the shape of cats by the Rio Cali. There is a short stretch of nice paved area with a line of cat statues near a gothic church, but this was the only pretty part. There were more cat statues along the river but the river was running brown and smelly from the city’s waste and the surrounding houses were just dull city architecture with rubbish and homeless sleeping all around.

We saw a homeless young lady bathing naked in the brown smelly water, she was probably not a lot cleaner than when she started.

The city was really quiet as it was Sunday, there were a few cars, very few pedestrians and hardly any shops open.

I filled the rest of the day with a gym workout, Spanish duo lingo sessions, ukulele practice and Salsa dance steps.

Ginette – I had hoped to buy a new top for a skype interview but nothing was open. It was really quite eery.  We later found out on line that all the museums, libraries, gyms etc had been forced to close along with schools and universities. 

16th March 

Quiet day.

Ginette had a Skype interview this morning so I spent the morning on the roof terrace practicing my ukulele.

Ginette – the interview seemed to go well, however we did lose the line half way through. 

We had a Salsa lesson at 11am and another at 3pm, splitting the sessions was much better as we had time to rest our brains and bodies between sets. We are now learning together in these classes and are trying to learn a routine instead of concentrating on all the different Salsa techniques, this seems to be working better for us.
When we have our lessons with the instructors we have someone to help us when we go wrong, when we practice on our own we seem to spend more time bickering than dancing. Possibly the close confinement we are experiencing is having an effect.

Ginette –  I had been looking forward to learning how to dance properly but to be honest it is turning out to be very stressful. The problem is we both have different learning styles and are learning the steps at different rates.

We are not in isolation here but whenever we step out on the streets there is usually at least one incident, yesterday we had a dark, skinned, down and out, hustle us for money and keep walking beside us, another local man had to help us move him on, nothing too serious but this city does feel a bit edgy.

We have collected some cycle boxes for the flight home, we had to use hand sanitiser as soon as we approached the man at the counter, so the Columbians are also starting to react to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Reading the worlds papers we feel like we are leaving an area of the world that has not yet been greatly effected into the UK which if you believe the papers is reaching a state of lockdown. Hopefully we will still be able to take the flight we have booked, we would prefer to be home while this pandemic is around.

Ginette – I may be a little paranoid but several people have shouted at us from passing vehicles and I feel we are being looked at differently. As Gary as said above it is an edgy city and it is a little unsettling walking around. We chose to come to Cali so that we could go dancing at night but that is not going to happen.  We have been warned that if we go to the clubs we need to take a taxi and we have to be careful that the taxi drivers don’t rip us off or take us somewhere other than our destination.  On top of this the clubs don’t really kick off until 10pm and to be honest we can’t be arsed to sit around and wait til 10pm before going out.

 

17th March 

Another quiet day.

I had a good gym session this morning and thoroughly cleaned everything I used afterwards.
We ventured out for fresh fish from a fishmongers and fruit and vegetables from the market.
We had two sessions of Salsa, one at 12 the other at 3pm. We are now trying a routine and getting a little better at it but we are still counting by numbers and are no where near winning the glitter ball. Our instructors attention wanders off and we often see the pair of them admiring themselves in the wall mirrors instead of helping us, although it must be frustrating to teach as it is taking me ages to pick this dance up.

We can’t help looking at the news and this epidemic is causing chaos everywhere. I am not really concerned for my health, I am pretty sure we could recover if we were infected. But we are seeing all the flights that are being cancelled and stories of people stranded in foreign lands.

In reality it is not being held up in Columbia that is a worry, we have been away from home over a year now and are seasoned travellers. We are more worried about
– Not being able to get home to loved ones when we want to go.
– Wondering if this country will react as poorly as some of the reports in the UK, leaving us struggling to find supplies, we can’t stock pile so need to shop regularly.
–  If we do fall ill will the medical teams here be able to help us?
– Will our flights be cancelled.

We will not know before we go to the airport so will have all the bikes packed away, if the flights are cancelled we need to decide what to do, possibly just unpack the bikes and set off on the road again. This could be more problematic than our previous trip as we may find supplies hard to come by and be turned away from hostels. Many areas already have curfews.

We also have a small concern that upon landing in the UK we may be required to self isolate, if this is the case our friend Mary has offered us her home in Richmond. We understand the need to isolate if you are ill, but how does self isolation work? When you are finished and you step outside, do you have to isolate again if you come in contact with a stranger?

Worrying will not help so we will just have to take it as it comes.

Ginette – Colombia is a very corrupt country, we are following the news here and in the rest of latin America and it is worrying how quickly they make decisions. Peru has already stopped all flights in and out, leaving many tourists stranded. Colombia has called a state of emergency so I fear it is only a matter of time before they stop flights. The local media are suggesting the reason the decision has been delayed is because the President’s sister is a senior executive at the main airline Avenica. 

18th March 

Packing bikes and more Salsa.

Packed the bikes into the boxes we collected yesterday along with some of the bedding in plastic bags as buffers.
The flights we have booked have great luggage allowances, the bikes are free and a max of 32 kg each plus we also have two 23kg bags each as standard allowance which should more than cover our stuff aa well as the extra supplies we are going to take back to the UK as requested form some family such as pasta and rice.

We are closer to getting the dance routine in the right order without too many mistakes but we are very mechanical and have a long way to go to make it look like a proper dance. This afternoon a couple of instructors did a demo dance, it was spectacular and there is no way we could ever achieve there grace and skill.

Our large black bags which we have been using for the whole trip have been repaired in a local suitcase repair shop for £5. We find searching for large hold baggage bags not so easy so these bags that we bought at Bovingdon market have spent the years journey with us, they wrap up to a tent size bundle and Ginette carries them on her rear panniers.

The news is all very depressing, the Coronavirus has left lots of other travellers stranded in locations like Bolivia and we have heard that the locals are giving Foreigners a hard time as they blame them for bringing the disease into their country. We don’t go out much here as the city is a bit edgy but we may have had a couple of instances of passing bikes/cars making snide comments, but we didn’t understand what it was they shouted as they went past.

The locals here are only just starting to wear face masks, the shops are still good with plenty on the shelves. The man that repaired the bags nearly gave me a hand shake but changed it to a fist pump with a big smile, so he was aware but not bothered and happy to deal with me.

Ginette – people are definitely starting to give us a wide berth when we walk pass them. Some locals are good humoured and cough as we walk by and smile but other look less sure of our presence. I am so glad we are leaving tomorrow.

20th March 

Going home.

We are in travel mode as we have two flights today, one from Cali to Bogota then to Heathrow. We are nervous that the flights will be cancelled, this is not an unrealistic worry because we have been checking flight statuses this week and a high percentage of flights have been cancelled.

Our booked taxi arrived it was a small Corsa hatchback but we had asked them to send a taxi grande. The driver tried to help but he was telling us we needed a bigger taxi and he didn’t have one, the conversation on the phone with his office was no better. In the end I just waived down another taxi that was passing which had roof bars. We had allowed plenty of time so this delay wasn’t a problem.

The Cali airport was really quiet, it looked like it could be a busy airport with 2 terminals but terminal 2 was empty and in terminal 1 it looked like only Avencia were flying. I had expected a bit of chaos but all was calm. The shops and duty free were all closed but a couple of cafes were open, for an airport setting it was eerie having such a quiet environment.

Ginette – each municipality has ordered a curfew from today until Monday, the president initially stated this was absurd but as the day progressed he seemed to endorse it. He didn’t really have a lot of choice. Even though there was going to be an imposed curfew, the shops during the day were fairly quiet, compared to the madness in the UK. The shelves were full and we didn’t have to queue at the check out. At some of the smaller supermarkets people were queuing outside but this was because the supermarkets only allow a certain number of customers in the store at one time. We also saw queues at pharmacies and banks but this is not unusual in South America. The pharmacist is used like a doctor and the stores are very small.


Bogota airport had a similar feel the baggage collection area was practically empty. The goods stores were closed and only a few of the cafes open, there were however far more people here, the majority with face masks on, in fact the only ones with no face masks were of European appearance.

Our flight obviously has a lot of other British on it, with the airports closing soon this is one of the last flight out. A gentleman was kicking up a fuss at the gate as he wasn’t being let on, from what we could gather he and 40 others had their earlier flight cancelled and had been waiting 10 hours in the lounge expecting to board this flight. Everyone was nervous that they too wouldn’t be able to board so it was a relief when we passed the desk and boarded. We don’t know if any of the waiting passengers managed to secure a seat.

There were lots of young travellers on board, some at the end of their journey whilst one couple had only been in Columbia for 7 days having to cut there trip short before it really started.

Ginette – this particular couple had arrived and had been forced to stay in their hostel for the full 7 days. We talked to others that once they’d moved from one area to another they were confined to their hostel. One young man had been put in self isolation for 3 weeks. We have been so lucky. We also heard some people had paid in excess of £1,500 for their flights which if purchased before the chaos had been listed as £250.  Others had booked this flight to London as they couldn’t fly home, one man lived in Australia but his flight had been cancelled and he decided he’d rather spend time in London than Colombia.  I can’t blame him the reason the Colombian’s have taken such drastic action even though they only have a handful of cases is because the health system is so poor, with very few intensive care beds. 
I am writing this 1 hour from Heathrow and must admit to being a little emotional, it is a huge relief to be getting back to the UK. I know we would have coped fine if we had to stay in Columbia but it would have been a very frustrating chapter of our trip. When we returned from our first major cycle tour getting home to normality and family was exiting and we had plans in place for the next trip. I can really remember looking out of the plane windows as we circled over London and the feelings of elation at arriving home after a year way. This time we are still excited to be getting home but have yet to experience first hand the changes that the Coronavirus is bringing to the UK. We have seen and read the news reports but are not sure how exaggerated the stories are so we are entering this time with joy and trepidation.

21st March

Back in good old Blighty.

Arriving at Heathrow it was another eerie experience,  having such a quiet environment it was like being in a disaster movie, we were just missing the zombies.

Passport control was empty, we had three people in the queue in front of us, and the only reason for a queue was because the numpties were trying to use the e-passport system while still wearing face masks.

Baggage collection area was practically empty and our bags were all already out so no waiting around. The goods stores were open and the cafes but there were hardly any people in the airport.

We are consoling ourselves with the fact that we have come from Columbia and at present there are very few cases there. Our main  contamination risk would have been from the actual flight we have just taken.

Ginette – interestingly we had our temperatures taken at the Colombian airports but other than being handed a leaflet we had no checks at all in the UK. We’re not sure if this was because we were arriving from a low risk country or whether that was the routine for all flights. 
We had considered shutting ourselves away on landing but we struggled to get our head round what would happen when we left isolation, would we have to isolate again if we made contact with a stranger, this could be a never ending task.

These are worrying times and you want to do your best to keep everyone safe, we are assessing the risks and hoping to make the best decisions but it is difficult for us to lock ourselves away as we have no permanent home at present.

After a lot of deliberation we arranged for our nephew Chris to pick us up in his van. We had reservations about this as he has a young family but we are going to stay with his mum, my sister for a couple of days and she regularly looks after her grandchildren so unless this also stopped any cross contamination if any would potentially be the same. 

We are staying at my Sister Tracy’s house for a couple of days. It is great to be back with family it’s not so great worrying about the risks we may be to others. 

Ginette – the plan is to cycle from Tracy’s to Shaun’s hopefully seeing my sister on route. We will then head to Weston super Mare to stay with Hayley. We are still hopeful we will get temporary jobs firstly to keep us sane and secondly for some additional money.

22nd – 24th March 

Ginette – We will continue to write a blog because these are interesting times.

We made it to Shaun’s however last night Boris Johnson asked us all to do our bit and self isolate so we have decided to stay put for 3 weeks (or until the ban has been lifted). Shaun has plenty of room so if we have to self isolate further we can do this without risking him or Kez.  We don’t like feeling like we are imposing ourselves on anyone but it seems selfish to cycle to Weston as it is not essential that we travel. 

On our cycle ride over to Shaun someone shouted abuse at us, I can only imagine we would experience more of this if we cycled a further 120 miles. 

To end this post on a good news story – I have been offered a new job in the NHS as a Senior Improvement Manager. 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Colombia – Part 5

  1. david dutson

    Hello good to hear that you bothe made it back safe and sound it is a shame you couldn’t have stayed on your tour longer but thare is always next time and good luck with the new job if you decide to take it I look forward to your next blog and stay safe
    from Dave Dutson

    Like

    Reply

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