I’m already back in Portugal. Finally. But it was not easy to get here.
Not long after I arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, which entered a lockdown the day after my arrival, I receive an email saying that there will be a return flight to Germany the next day. A few days ago, the first thing I did when I woke up was to check the email, expecting this news. I was still opening my eyes when I saw that e-mail and didn’t even read it all on my cell phone. I hurry to turn on the computer, buy the ticket for the flight before I run out of it. At that time, I had no idea that there was an unalterable list of people assigned to the flight.
When I buy the ticket, I see that there are only 9 seats left and I’m so nervous that I already clicked on the arrows to finish the operation without reading anything else that was ahead. It was only after I had paid for the flight that I was able to read the email from beginning to end, calmly.
I can’t believe I have a flight to Europe. I was so excited that I couldn’t even handle myself. I hurried to think about the next step and see how I would get home. There are no direct flights from Frankfurt to Porto. I will have to go through Lisbon. What matters is to be in Portugal.
But then I thought that walking back and forth in Portugal would not be a good idea. I didn’t want to be riding trains or undergrounds and increasing the chances of contagion. So, I thought about going to France, since I have a sister there. I buy a flight to Paris, without thinking about anything else. Later I confirm that she cannot pick me up at the airport. In France, they need to have a paper to go out and this was not a valid reason, much less because I do not have a residence in the country. At this moment, my whole theory falls apart and it is clear that from France I will have to find a way to get home, which is in Esposende.
However, that same night, I receive an email saying that my seat has been canceled. They say they have to prioritize other people and apologize for the inconvenience. At that moment, everything collapses. I don’t even want to believe what I’m reading. I read the email consecutively to make sure I’m not delusional. It is true. I have no seat on the plane tomorrow. I start to despair and decide to send an email to the embassy to find out what was going on. None of the other 10 Portuguese on the list for that flight received such an email. It was just me. With all the excitement of that flight, I ended up buying another one and now? Who is responsible for this? I was in such stress that I couldn’t even think.
I find out that the email informing about the flight only circulated from official sources to certain contacts, but that these contacts told friends about the flight, and what happened was that people who were not on the list for that flight started to buy a seat. I am beginning to think that this is why I was canceled, but I received the flight information through the email from the German embassy, and not through friends. I think, then, that it may have been a mistake. It wasn’t long before I was told that my flight for tomorrow was okay. The cancellation email was an error. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought that these people must be trying to kill me.
The night before the flight from Laos to Frankfurt I barely sleep. I constantly wake up to check the time, the alarm clock won’t fail or I fall asleep. I have to be at the airport at 6 am and have booked the trip through the hotel. However, this one does not inspire me any confidence and I am nervous all night thinking about a solution if they have not scheduled what I asked for. It was just right. When I arrive at the reception, just before 6 am, to go to the airport, the receptionist does not know anything and there is no one with an appointment to pick me up. I start to get nervous and I think he noticed. After explaining what I wanted several times, after a phone call from him, I have a taxi at the door 5 minutes later. It wasn’t even bad, I had in mind a scenario far worse than a 5 minutes wait…
Vientiane airport will only operate one flight on that day, and it is the repatriation flight. All others on the information panel are canceled. Before entering we are given disinfectant gel which is also spread during the various stages of entry for this flight. We just need a passport and a signed declaration. On a table ahead is a list of names on paper. I see that some are crossed out with an orange marker, shortly after I got there, mine was crossed out too.
The flight would leave Vientiane at 8.30 am, but ended up leaving 2 hours later. I don’t care, all I want is to be out of here. The plane is full. They will have to make more trips of this kind because more people were waiting. When it will be, nobody knows.
This is not a normal flight. There are no hot meals, but at least there is food, sandwiches, cookies, and a delicious chocolate muffin. I sit next to two more Portuguese and complain that there are only 4 movies available for viewing. Until it is announced that no entertainment will be available throughout the flight. And, at that moment, the 4 movies finally became sufficient. I think those measures took place so there are no more costs associated with the flight other than the basics, but I cannot confirm.
12 hours later we arrived in Frankfurt, but my journey is far from over. The flight I had already bought for Paris is only the next day. I cannot enter Germany. They won’t let me cross the border. The solution for the Portuguese, Italians, and Spanish, who also came on this German flight, was to sleep at the airport, where only McDonald’s was open due to Coronavirus outbreak.
Before choosing one of the seats to sleep, I have to see how I go to Portugal and buy a flight from Paris to Lisbon, but not on the same day that I arrive in France. There are only flights to Portugal the next day.
I spent the night at Frankfurt airport with the two Portuguese people that I can now call friends. The night was not bad at all. The seat I chose was quite comfortable. The only problem was the cold. The next day, we have flights, myself to France, and the other two Portuguese to Lisbon. They are Lisboners, how lucky! Their journey will end soon and mine will have a few more steps ahead.
In Paris, as soon as I arrive, I choose the bench where I go to sleep and settle there. There is only one open store with food. They sell sandwiches and snacks and close in a short time. I stock up on four identical sandwiches. There is no other option available. Nor is there a free place where you can drink water.
Shortly after 10 pm, some ladies come to distribute blankets, water, and a snack to those who are sleeping there. Before the police passed to collect passport data and verify that we have a scheduled flight. There are not many people at the airport and we have no place to buy anything. However, sleeping here was much worse than in Frankfurt. Around the same time that the ladies came, they turned on the loudspeakers with recorded messages that did not shut up all holy night. I was awakened every half hour as the sound was too loud to let me sleep. Horrible!
But I was only astonished once I woke up. An airport, once ghostly, was now full of people. Where are all these people going and how are they traveling during Coronavirus outbreak? The plane to Portugal had a capacity of at least 80%. And I thought I was going to be the only one on that plane. I come from Asia and I don’t know how things are going around here, but I was surprised to see that so many people are still traveling at a time when everybody is supposed to stay at home. Upon arrival in Portugal, there is no questioning or control. As I saw this happen in Germany, I thought it was the same here. I was only given a pamphlet asking to contact the National Health Services as soon as I arrived. I’ve done it already.
When I arrive in Lisbon, the Portuguese friends, whom I made on the first flight, open the doors of their house for me to take a shower. Never had a shower felt so good, because I felt filthy. The Portuguese are known as very generous people and, once again, I was able to confirm it. Thanks to them!
After a shower in the Lisbon house and the first hot meal in days, I go to the train that leaves for Porto. Seats are reduced so that there is social distance. Although there were not many people on the train, they were at a distance. It was also amazing to see how empty the city was.
Arriving in Porto, I have to take the metro to Póvoa de Varzim. My father is not sure that he can pick me up since you can’t leave the house except for the essentials, so I decide to go by transport as close to home as possible. I don’t want to risk it. More than 4 hours after leaving Lisbon, I see my father, the last step until I get home! I can’t get close, even though I haven’t seen my father or the rest of the family for a year and a half. I’m already at home in isolation and I just hope I haven’t contracted Coronavirus, or infect anyone.