COVID-19, which started in China, is spreading across Europe. I had flown into the UK to get the Yellow Donkey and ferry to Spain. We had purchased one-way tickets into the UK. Melanie had to purchase another set of tickets to meet me several days later in Porto, Portugal because of her macula surgery. Our ride was to take off through Spain and Portugal, on to Morocco, ferry to Italy and ride through Corsica and Sardinia and leave the bike somewhere in Eastern Europe with a loose return date in May.
As the virus spread, we were continually adding contingency plans. By the time I arrived in Spain, Italy was becoming a hot spot with the number of cases exploding and taxing their care systems. Morocco was also talking about possibly closing the ports for a period of time. Melanie would be in Portugal in two days now as I rode through the Picos de Europa on the way to Porto.
11/3: It is 2am GMT when Melanie calls and wakes me. I am camped in Northern Portugal but have a good internet signal. Trump is cancelling all travel in and out of Europe for 30 days. She is in Miami now starting the third of four legs of her flight. This section will take her from Miami to Madrid. It is mass confusion and pandemonium at the airport as people are deciding not to fly in fear of not being able to get back from a short vacation. Melanie decides to go because it is better to be together during this than apart.
She has finally inched her way to the check in and it’s her turn. All she needs is her ticket to continue her travel. Two legs are already down. They ask her for her return tick. She explains that we are riding a motorcycle and we have no idea where or when we will be returning. She is told that without a return ticket she will not be able to get on the plane. She is in tears as we are talking.
By now, Morocco is talking of closing its borders. The northern portion of Italy is bad, and Italy has shut its borders, meaning travel to Italy will now not happen. I get on the American Airlines website while Melanie stands at the counter with a very understanding man helping her. I quickly book a flight out of Madrid back to the US for the end of April which satisfies the agent at the counter and he gives Melanie her next two boarding passes.
By afternoon I have arrived in Porto and checked into the hotel. Melanie is on her last leg of her flight into Porto, so I walk to the market to get some supplies because restaurants are closing, stay-at-home orders have been issued and grocery stores have long lines standing outside the stores. Already! I get some supplies and it takes more time than I would have thought. I get a message from Melanie, “Where are you”? Sorry babe. I thought I would be back before you got in from the airport. That evening the hotel restaurant is still open, so we head down to grab a bite and are the only ones there. It’s starting to really get a weird feel to it.
By morning Morocco has announced that it will be closing all ports by the end of the day. We cannot make it to the port by then so we decide we will just hang out in southern Portugal and Spain, on the beach. We have our tent so should be OK. As we chat with people in the hotel there is an eerie calm in the population. Quite different to the panic and obsession of the people of the US. They are buying toilet paper until the selves are empty. But the interesting part is how they don’t believe or understand what is happening over here. They aren’t watching what has happened in Italy. They are preparing for the worse by still out and not doing anything to keep the virus from spreading when it finally hits the states.
13/3: Melanie and I want to go into Porto to explore the city but decide not to, we need to stay safe and not unintentionally spread the virus if we get contaminated. In the morning the news is out that Spain in locking down and closing almost everything with enforced borders and stay-at-home orders, Martial Law. We still think it may be possible to just hang out on a beach in southern Portugal. Then we start hearing news through Horizons Unlimited from travelers that are stuck in Spain. Most lodging and campgrounds have closed. Restaurants are closing. Travelers have been told to leave where they are staying. They have no place to go. Some, lucky enough to have camping gear, are just in the woods and struggling to find food. We start to worry this is what will happen in Portugal. What do we do? We can’t get to Spain now to get our flight out in April. We check on the American Airlines website and our flight out of Madrid in April has already disappeared. Not even there! Our connecting flight is still there in Dallas, but how do we get there. We can’t even reach anyone there as phone lines are full.
14/3: We are told that this will happen in Portugal very soon and we should leave if we can. I start looking for flights out and a place to secure the motorcycle. I find a flight out of Lisbon in three days back to the US. We now must fly through one of 13 screening airports. We are rerouted through Miami. We find an AirBnB near the airport and start looking for a storage unit or another option to leave the bike. Thanks to all the travelers on Horizons Unlimited, someone in Lisbon steps forward and volunteers his garage to help me. A total stranger, at the time but soon to become a good friend.
15/3: We ride directly to Lisbon on deserted roads. The gas/convenience stations have shut the convenience portions down, just pay at the pump fuel. Most restaurants have closed. We have some peanuts from the panniers for lunch. After we find the lodging, we are told that everything will be closing in two days as Portugal goes into lockdown. I go out looking for food and find long lines at stores, if they are open. We eat noodles and a can of tuna for supper from our stock, the last we have. The guy that will be storing my bike asks if we need anything. He has a family, so I keep my distance from him. I say we just need a little food to get us through. He gives me a good supply of canned goods and noodles. Later he tells me his wife said he should have given me a bottle of wine also. Such good people. He rides me back to our lodging on the back of his GS, giving me a little tour of the closed and empty beautiful city. When we return, we will do all this properly.
16-17/3: We just stay put and wait. The news and photos from the US make us think we would be better off staying in Portugal. Store shelves are empty and public opinion is all over the place, still very politically motivated. If it gets bad in the US it will be a mess. We hear most federal campgrounds are closing along with all private lodging. We know we need to fly back because we don’t want to be an additional burden on this country. Since we are still homeless, we will have to camp, somewhere. Tensions in the US are high.
18/3: Our plane is leaving at 7:20am. Our friends checked on the airport and it is still open. It is closing sometime that day and Portugal goes into lockdown similar to Spain’s. Many flights are cancelled or cancelling by the minute. We get to the airport and most flights on the board are cancelled. There are two flights out to the UK, then back to the US, one to Gatwick and one to Heathrow. The one to Gatwick cancels leaving just ours to Heathrow. The airport is fairly empty. People are concerned, but not panicked. We finally board our flight out to Heathrow, last flight out before lockdown. Heathrow is empty. It seems our flight is the only one to have come in. Very strange again. I look around desperately trying to see a zombie standing in the shadows. We are safe. We board out of Heathrow on a flight where we each have a row to ourselves. Time to reenter the US and the craziness and uncertainty that will follow.
My hope everyone is to safe and well wherever you are is the world.