That night I got to take a “hot” (it was only slightly not cold) shower and I slept like a baby! I was up bright and early; it was a lovely morning but at breakfast there was rumblings about airport closings due to the Corona virus. I attempted to use the wifi to find out more info before we headed out, but the signal was no good. Was I worried? Honestly at that moment no, I figured that I would either be able to leave, or I wouldn’t at this point there was nothing I could do so there was no point in worrying about it. So, I gathered my things and we started our short journey to the bus station. It took us no time to arrive, I threw my bags on the bus and sat outside chatting with Rajan about the trip, the virus, life, family and just about everything during the thirty minutes we had to wait for the bus to depart. Rajan was a very nice guy. He was a family man that owned a home with a farm in a village a few of hours outside of Kathmandu. During the season he usually rented a room in Kathmandu and worked the farm during the off season. This season he only had one client, me. Therefore, when my tour was over, he would be heading back to his village to be with his family on the farm. He was happy to have the time with his family but worried about how this seasons low turnout would impact his family economically. The virus was not only taking lives by invading bodies but also diminishing the lively hood of millions in towns and villages all over the world and Nepal. The same villages in Nepal that had just finished rebuilding and recovering from the earthquakes just a few years before. In these places where there is already little to be had this pandemic could become even more deadly sending economic aftershocks tearing thorough small towns one by one.
As we talked a few more passengers boarded the bus and the driver hit the horn to indicate that it was time to head out. I hopped on the bus for what I thought would be a pleasant and meditative ride down through the mountains. I was absolutely wrong! This was the most terrifying bus ride of my life. The road was unpaved and filled with potholes and large gravel. There was no railing on the “two lane” road that sheer death drop on one side at all times. All of those factors would have been ok had the driver not been training to be in the next Fast and Furious movie! He was just flying down the mountain bouncing though potholes and teetering at the roads edge! Eventually a few older people boarded, and he slowed down I was so relieved! Once we reached the bottom, we shuffled our things into a car and headed to our hotel in Pokhara. Once at the hotel I went online to check-in with the U.S. embassy and the Airlines. I was reassured that everything was still scheduled for me to depart in a few days. There was nothing to worry about. With that bit of info, I went and booked a paragliding flight for the next morning and planned to spend the evening taking a boat ride to the Tal Barahi temple. I figured I would have my last bit of adventure and finish my trip off with a bang. I wandered around looking for Tshirts for the kids and maybe a rug or something for myself, before grabbing something to eat. I was again the queen of this Nepalese ghost town; in every shop I was the only customer.
After shopping and grabbing a bite to eat I went back to my room and crashed. I was in a glorious sleep when I heard a knock at my door. It was Rajan, he had come to tell me that the news reported that America would not be allowing flights from foreign countries to land after the following day the 21st of March. My flight was scheduled for the 23rd. I immediately hopped on the phone contacting the embassy. There was nothing on the website and the information I could find was not clear. When I finally got through to a person, I was told that they didn’t know weather or not flights were going to be allowed to land in America. I hung up and called the air line they informed me that I would need a new flight, but they also informed me that they had NO other flights with space available. The agent then proceeded to tell me that he could get me a flight out with a different carrier for over six THOUSAND dollars! I said I would be staying where for that amount. He did some digging and patchworked me a way out. I would keep my original flight from Abu Dhabi and just take an earlier flight from Kathmandu. My layover would be LOOOOOOONG but I would get to go home. The cost of this flight was just around 1500.00$. I was told that they would refund me the portion of my unused flights (roughly 200.00$). Yeah! I bought the ticket and told Rajan that I needed to cancel the plans for the next day and head to the airport first thing in the morning. He arranged for a car and at four in the morning I loaded all my things and head out on a six-hour drive back to Kathmandu and straight to the airport.
I made it to the airport a few hours early. It was a mad house, with people scrambling to exchange tickets and find a way home. I was pretty chill, I already had a ticket, I just needed to wait for my boarding time, and I would be out! When they opened the check-in counter I hopped in line and calmly waited as panic-stricken travelers all around me screamed into their phones. I finally made it to the counter and was quickly told that I would not be allowed to fly! I was now one of the many! My new flight would cause me to be in Abu Dhabi airport for over twenty-four hours and new virus regulations did not allow for any non U.A.E. travelers to have a layover that long or leave the airport. I had to quickly buy another ticket proving that I would be leaving Abu Dhabi shortly after I arrived or stay in Kathmandu for who knows how long. WTF!! I was a tad pissed. See I didn’t mind staying when I was in the mountains or in Pokhara. Kathmandu was another story. I didn’t want to stay. In that moment a since of urgency hit me hard! I bought a new ticket (1300.00$) and got back in line, only to be told that I still could not fly because my tickets were on different airlines and were not linked all the way to the states. There was a small group of us pushed off to the side so that one of the agents could call the different airlines and attempt to link our rag tag patchwork flights so we could head home. Time was running short, but I held out hope we had over and hour before the flight was scheduled to take off. I even made a joke or two to ease the tension (I may have semi sang I Believe We Can Fly). Then we had thirty minutes. Next, we were down to fifteen minutes and one of the girls got their tickets approved! Then another, and another. Soon there was just me and this couple waiting. The couple was a flat-out NO they had bought a flight with a twenty-nine hour layover. They would be staying in Kathmandu. I was the last one and he had told me several times that I would not be allowed to fly I was taking a few deep breaths and preparing myself mentally when he suddenly waved me through! I was the las person allowed on the plane, which had been waiting for over an hour. I felt bad for the passengers that had to wait but I was filled with joy that I was actually on the plane and heading home. Deep breath!
My new flights were really all over the place. My itinerary was: Kathmandu to Muscat to Abu Dhabi, to New York, to Las Angeles, and finally to Dallas! I had a different carrier for each flight but, I didn’t care I was just happy to be heading home. When I touched down in Muscat, I was quickly told that I would not be allowed on my next flight! My tickets were still individual and so I missed my flight to Abu Dhabi. I was told that there was another flight that would be able to get me there in time for my next flight but that I would have to buy a new ticket. The problem was that I didn’t have the money to buy another ticket. Maybe I would just stay in Muscat, it’s a nice place. I was quickly informed that if I did not have a flight out of their country within the twenty-four-hour time frame I would be turn over to the authorities. I would not be allowed to leave the airport unless it was on a flight or in a police car. There were two other young girls in the same boat. One girl started crying and immediately bought a new ticket. The other girl called home crying and her family (I assume) got her a ticket. Then there was me looking straight faced when I explain again that I have NO ONE to call and I have no money to buy another ticket. I started to imagine what a jail cell in Muscat might be like. I didn’t imagine they would put me in general population and then I wondered how many women there were actually in jail and what types of crimes they may have committed. I was deep into my jail mind movie when I looked up and there was a new guy working on my issue, it was shift change. I have no idea what he was saying but there was lots of laughter and rapid-fire typing. I wanted to laugh but I didn’t know if he was laughing because I was about to be hauled off or because he had fixed the issue and was happy for me. After what appeared to be some very heated conversations between the few agents, he waved me over. He had fixed the issue in less than ten minutes! I had been there for hours. I grabbed my tickets and headed for the gate and made the flight. I was again relieved and actually had no more issues. It was super smooth! Sadly, kind of too smooth.
When we touched down in New York I was expecting it to be like the other countries I had entered. I anticipated people waiting as we disembarked to check our temperatures, no one checked. I figured we would have forms to fill out about where we had been, how long we had been there, where we were heading, and about our health; there were no forms. I believed that like in other airports we would be required to be in a specific area while waiting for our next flight, we were free to go anywhere we wanted including right out the airport into an Uber and beyond. The flight I was on from Abu Dhabi had people from all over the world on it, during a pandemic, and no one asked us anything. I flew to LA with no problems and it was the same as New York. And when I made it to Dallas, I grabbed my bag walked out of the airport and straight into and Uber. It felt unreal. All the forms, temperature checks, and passenger regulations at other airports were nonexistent in the states. I was happy to be home, but I also felt a little sick to my stomach. I didn’t have the virus but if I did have it, I could have simply strolled out the airport and spread it to hundreds of people within a short period of time. The thing that really made me feel sick is that the flight was nearly full. There were potentially hundreds of infected or exposed people from all over the world touching down in New York and not just on my flight, multiple flights and NOONE was paying attention.
Right now, as I am typing this there have been 214,648 total cases in New York and 11,586 deaths. That is more confirmed cases than any other individual country and there are only three countries in the world with more deaths than New York. America is by far the world leader in infections and deaths.
I was completely exhausted, I was disappointed with how we were handling travel during this pandemic, but I was so very happy to be home.