I was volunteering in Laos during the COVID pandemic in a jewelry shop named “Garden of Eden”. I was there before COVID hit the country, the moment Laos had the first case, and the days after when consequences were starting to show up.
Volunteering before COVID hit Laos
I remember clearly being at the shop and collecting travelers’ opinions about the COVID situation around the globe, and how were they feeling about it. In Luang Prabang, everything was normal even when the news about Italy started to show up. I remember clearly receiving some Portuguese clients at the shop and making jokes about COVID and how the Portugueses press was desperately looking for a COVID infected person in the country. Not so many days later the situation was already very different.
When I started this volunteering experience in Luang Prabang the virus was mainly in China. There were a few cases around Asian countries but nothing to worry about. Then when news from the scaling COVID situation in Europe broke out, things started to feel different. In my second week volunteering, Italians couldn’t go home easily and all of a sudden the foreigners started to fade away… Governments were asking people to go back home and day after day Luang Prabang was emptying out. Every single tourist that I was meeting at the shop was about to leave or would leave very soon. This was also stressful for me because I started to see that everyone is going back home and I’m feeling like I’m the only one staying. Me and Cobie… haha
Still having fun during the pandemic
Once we started to notice a lower flow of visitors at the Garden of Eden, I and Cobie went outside on a marketing mission. We were spreading flyers about the shop in hostels, restaurants, everywhere it made sense to do so. It was weird to see locals happy mood when they saw our foreign faces, but soon they were disappointed as we were not the very expected clients. Many places were facing the same problem as our jewelry shop: no customers on sight.
This day was fun because Cobie and I were together on a bicycle. Our hosters provide a bicycle, but only one, but we are two volunteers, so I had the idea of doing as locals do. One person cycles and the other sits on the back. The first time we attempted to do this was hilarious! I had a laugh attack as I wasn’t handling the situation. I have never done such a thing in my life so it was difficult to start and gain balance, and meanwhile, all the laughs in between weren’t helping at all. 5 minutes later we managed to do the thing right and we were happily cycling around Luang Prabang’s streets that luckily are very flat. From that moment on, we enjoyed many rides to many places in town. We made trips on our bicycle up to 4km away from the bungalow. So many exhausting times were spent. It was fun to see the locals’ reactions to the way we found to move around town. They looked surprised and smiley! Those were times with a constant smile on my face.
The last international flights
Everything happened very fast and just when we decided that we would stay in Laos 1 more month, Thailand announces its borders closure and the last flights to Europe operated in a matter of 2 days. Making a decision was super frightening as we had no idea what to expect… Some say that this virus will stay as far as August. The idea of staying there for so many months was scaring me. That was why I decided to go back home, mostly cause I had no idea how long this whole situation would last. Now I know it was the best option. My partner Cobie is still stranded in Laos and this is October already. She would never guess this would last so long, neither would I.
Volunteering in an inspiring place
But this volunteering was part of my inspiration for a bungalow that I’m willing to build in the future. A few months ago I would have no idea of making this special bungalow made with pompons on the inside. The whole idea was born during the many days I spent in this marvelous bungalow in Luang Prabang.
The first coronavirus case in Laos
Life in Luang Prabang and Laos, in general, was happening normally even with the terrifying news from the other side of the world. Europe was now the center of the pandemic but here everything was ok until they found the first case in Laos. All of a sudden our hosters were crazy worried and scared stating that they would move to the jungle so no virus would reach them. Luckily they didn’t, and we all stayed isolated in their house. Even not being able to volunteer anymore as they decided to close the shops because there were no costumers and COVID was out there, they allowed me and Cobie to stay in the bungalow. We were helping with the expenses. It was so awesome that they let us spend our days in the bungalow. That was all I wanted because I wasn’t feeling like moving to a hostel with the virus out there, and here I would be happy with the view. I thought I would stay there for 1 month, but my quarantine in the bungalow lasted 1 week. We prepared for the quarantine period by going to shop for things we thought would be enough to handle for a while in the bungalow without needing to go outside. We were making sandcastles by the river and enjoying this bungalow amazing view every day. We had the company of each other which was fantastic, and that place was the paradise for a quarantine. Everybody in the western world was annoyed by a quarantine inside 4 walls, but we were enjoying it much more on a building that would not catch up with western standards…
After that week of isolation, and not volunteering any longer, I decided that I will take the chance to fly home on a repatriation flight. And that was the end of my stay in this awesome place. I had to leave this awesome view and Cobie behind. I thought I would spend my days with her in there, but I’m glad I left otherwise things would turn complicated if I was still in there. I felt sorry for her that was counting on me to go through this together. We decided to stay longer together… But my heart told me it was the right thing to do, so once I could, I left Laos and have been in Portugal ever since.
It was so hard to make a decision, but now I’m sure it was the best thing to do.
Here is a video of my stay in Luang Prabang. The things I saw and moments I lived with joy, even during quarantine in the bungalow: