- Posted: 6 April, 2020
- Category: Antartica
We’re Stuck On A Ship! #CoronaVirus
I’ve gone through 2 major incidents/serious situations in my life while traveling. Latest being with CoronaVirus in 2020, and in the past, Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Those two (so far and let’s hope it stays at two..) were the two unique situations where I felt the need to contact the Embassy of Kuwait, and say “Hey, I’m here and in case anything happens I might need your help”.
In some sort of trips, especially the ones that might have some risk to them such as hiking to Everest basecamp, it is important to let your embassy know of your whereabouts incase of an emergency.
This blog post is not just telling my stories, this blog post is also meant to give some assurance to those who are always afraid and worried to travel because of the ‘what ifs’ and the travel hiccups they might face during their trips.
Friends, things might ALWAYS happen along the way whether you’re traveling or at home! However, how to handle the lemons thrown at you, is the key to it all.
NEWEST – CORONAVIRUS!
ANTARCTICA – 2020!
Antarctica, the trip that was on top of my bucket list for 2020 .. had finally happened!
I was traveling in Argentina for 3 weeks prior to my scheduled Antarctica trip, leading a group trip around Argentina (early February). After visiting for the second time Iguazu Falls, ElCalafate and Buenos Aires, I then headed as preplanned to Ushuaia, also known as the end of the world, to start my journey (from the port in Ushuaia) and embark the vessel that will take us to the South Pole.
We’ve known about what’s happening regarding CoronaVirus before we left the country. We’ve also discussed again the matter and checked again the status of the disease in Argentina prior to departure to Ushuaia with the Embassy. The news about Corona at the time is that it only affected specific parts of the world only and mainly China & Italy, so we did not see the need to leave Latin America, which had no cases. As we were boarding the ship, we got checked by the vessel’s doctor and crew for any sickness or flu signs, fever or any. Everyone was good to go! Further, anyone who had been before to an infected country, was denied boarding.
The situation though had quickly and super fast escalated while we’re away and especially when we embarked on our journey to Antarctica (First two weeks of March).
The tricky (good and bad) thing was that we were completely disconnected from the outside world. We were in our own beautiful white bubble.
While we’re on the ship and 8 days into the trip we started receiving updates about CoronaVirus and how fast it had spread, affecting Argentina too (our country of return). The world started panicking and all countries started going on lock-down, closing international airports.
Since everyone on the ship (128 persons, 28 different nationalities) is eventually scheduled to leave back home at some point on an international flight from Argentina, the expedition team had given 250 MB WIFI access to see if any flights were cancelled, and if any changes need to be done.
From that point on, we were getting updates by the crew on the ship about the situation every few hours.
UPDATE 1: SOME FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS. We were told that some international flights were cancelled, and we were asked to check on our flights to try to re-arrange some things if necessary. We were provided with internet vouchers to check on our reservations – That’s when I found out about Kuwait Airport; Kuwait International Airport had shut down for 2 weeks and until further notice. Till date (3 weeks later), the airport is still closed.
Now, my thoughts at this point were as follows: I return to Argentina, stay there until I have more news on how to return back home. I also thought, that I would continue my trip in Central America, then go to Amsterdam and wait there until the airport opens. The latter plan was shortly then ruled out. A few hours later, we received news that the Netherlands, was one of the countries with high rates of Corona cases so we ruled it out of the plan too until things change.
Our situation on the ship in terms of activities and enjoying the Antarctic wildlife was fine and smooth. It seemed like we’re living in a completely different world.
We were given another internet voucher the next day, and as soon as I connected to the internet, I received endless number of messages and news about CoronaVirus status back home. I received messages from my family telling me to go back to Kuwait, and received messages from friends telling me NOT to go back home as the situation is only getting worse. Back home, panic mode was super on.
UPDATE 2: QUARANTINE ON THE SHIP FOR. 2 MORE DAYS, TOTAL 14 DAYS ON CRUISE. Later during the week and towards the end of our cruise, we had another announcement about Corona. Our departure/disembarkation date was extended for another day to complete our 14 days quarantine on ship as per instructions by the Argentinian government. Again, everybody was still ‘fine’ with the situation as long as we will all eventually disembark after that, and get to land in Ushuaia to sort out our future travel plans. I emailed our hotel in Ushuaia to move the date of my stay upon my return and they were ok with the changes.
UPDATE 3: TRAPPED ON THE SHIP. The last update we received changed everything in terms of vibes on the ship. An announcement was made one day before our last day on the ship (Day 10).. there has been a complication.. Ushuaia domestic airport has been shut down and all flights to and out from Ushuaia are cancelled. Not only the domestic airports are closed, but also the hotels are no longer allowed to have guests; I received an email from the hotel that changed my reservation 2 days before, that our booking is cancelled and they no longer are able to host us.
The update also included the decision of the crew on board and the expedition team, which in this case to sail directly to Buenos Aires rather than sailing to Ushuaia. The reason of this decision is because most of embassies and officials are in the capital; so it’ll be easier for those on board to sort out their travel out of Argentina.
What does this mean? One more week on the cruise!!
Many questions were on mind regarding food & medicine, but above all we were ALL happy that we are going to Buenos Aires rather than going back to Ushuaia.
Now, this was a real puzzle. We did not know what to do due to limited internet connectivity and whatever we decide on didn’t really matter because everything might change in a couple of days. Again, it was very important not to panic.
What was very comforting during the situation, is that we had our ambassador of Kuwait in Buenos Aires H.E. Abdullah AlYahya in contact with us the entire time. He kept on assuring us that everything will be ok, and that we will be taken care of the minute we disembark the ship. This was a major plus for myself and my fellow 2 Kuwaiti travelers.
UPDATE 4: LOCKDOWN. Yup, one more announcement came along. Argentina is on official lockdown. The Argentinian government was refusing our entry to the county since the ports were already shut too. Hence, we decided to disembark in Uruguay. Was that even going to happen? At that point, no one knew.
In the meantime, being stuck on board meant that more time to kill.. I must say, I liked that the staff and everyone on board was putting efforts together to find some entertainment on board to pass time. They were coming up with games like Murder, Liar Liar, Cards, Chess tournament and more.
We also were trying to get some workouts done, walk around the ship and find some useful things to do to actually be active on the ship.
UPDATE 5: DISEMBARK IN URUGAY: 5 days later (16 days on the ship), and after numerous trials communicating with the port in Uruguay, they finally allowed us to disembark the passengers and refuel the vessel. When the announcement was made that we are allowed to disembark, some stress kicked in. Uruguay had one condition for disembarkation which is to have a valid flight out of Uruguay to the next destination. No one was allowed to stay in Uruguay.
With all passengers trying to use the same Wi-Fi, this could be quite frustrating as the ships internet through satellite is not really equipped for such a massive data stream; the Wi-Fi crashed and wouldn’t work anymore. That was a HUGE struggle. I managed to reach out to my friends in Kuwait through WhatsApp and to our embassy in Argentina to find us tickets. The Embassy managed to connect us to Qatar embassy in Uruguay since we (Kuwait) didn’t have a representation in Uruguay, whom then went ahead to and sorted our tickets out of Uruguay. The situation was very tricky, there were no flights out as they keep on getting cancelled every minute; we were lucky! Very very grateful for the efforts of our Embassy and the help of Qatar Embassy in Uruguay.
We kept on hearing how everyone’s flight was cancelled. We were sitting around waiting to hear if we can leave or if our flight got cancelled too. Are we going to make it to our last destination on our 22 hours flight journey? Or will we be stuck in a place where we have no visa?
DAY OF DISEMBARKATION: Three days of disembarkations then followed. We were different groups disembarking each group depending on their flight date. Our flight was the first day of being at port, so luckily we were amongst the first ones leaving. We left the ship, walked down the gangway and were received by Uruguay government officials, checking our names, and double checking that our flight is operating. Ours, was still on.
All of us could feel the tension, is it going to work…? We moved to the bus while hearing the claps of the remaining passengers on the vessel happy that this was finally working out.
Some of our fellow passengers were not allowed to join us on the bus, because as the went off the ship, their flights got cancelled!
Total distance sailed on our voyage: 3047 Nautical Miles
Furthest South: 64°84’S / 62°52’W
Furthest North: 34°89’S / 56°19’W
The hard part was over, then came the reality check; the world with CoronaVirus! Gloves, masks, sanitizers and fear everywhere. The whole was changed. We carefully went through the airports experience, boarded our flight from Montevideo Uruguay to Sao Paulo Brazil, then to Atlanta to catch our final flight to Los Angeles.
Since our Kuwait Airport is closed, we were asked to go to the closest point to us, where Kuwaitis were waiting for repatriation flights.
I will be sure to update this post once things calm down, but for now, I’m in Los Angeles, and still waiting and hoping for the best in the upcoming days for us, and for the world!
PAST – HURRICANE IRMA
MIAMI – 2017!
I was booked on my first royal Caribbean cruise, super excited about the route and the experience ahead of me. The cruise was scheduled to leave from Miami to the Caribbean Islands. What made me want to be on this cruise is visiting Jamaica, this amazing country was on top of my list that year and it was my first time doing Caribbean island hopping hence a cruise sounded like a great option.
Prior to departing my flight from Kuwait, I got some alerts and messages about Hurricane Irma approaching Miami. Even though I received alert messages, I’ve also read that most hurricanes historically tend to shift at some point and don’t end up hitting Miami. With that in mind, I also never received any cancellation emails or any notifications that the cruise might be cancelled. Those reasons gave me hope and assurance that we will sail even though there’s a hurricane on the way. Of course, being me, I decided to go and take the flight to Miami! (cause nothing was cancelled.. so why not? Haha)
The hiccup happened when I was on the flight during my 14-16 hours flight. I decided to connect to the plane’s on-board wifi. As I connected, I started receiving emails and a particular one popped up: a cancellation email from our cruise! Yikes.
Good thing about being stuck on a plane, is that you have time to think. I started thinking about my backup plans and options; do I stay in Miami until the hurricane passes? Or do I try to leave? My priority at that point in terms of thinking was to ensure that I still have a hotel booking/a place to stay. Luckily, the hotel reservation was still confirmed. On top of that, the hotel welcomed us and extended an invitation to stay during the hurricane as they were staying and they are prepared.
Now, on our side of the world in Miami, things were ‘normal’-ish. People were getting ready for the Hurricane, some of them were evacuating, getting stuff from groceries etc. On the other side of the world, in Kuwait (home!) EVERYONE was freaking out and freaking us out too!!
Tip: try to avoid being affected by those who freak out from reading the news only.
I started receiving messages from EVEERRRYYYYOOONNNE that I know; which made us worry. I said okay, it’s time to contact the embassy and see what’s up.
In these situations its very important NOT TO PANIC. If you panic? Game over.
When we contacted the embassy, they instructed us to try to leave Miami. We started looking at flights, everything ofcourse was being cancelled. Prices were above the roof for the operating flights because the demand is super high and rental cars had no cars left to try to drive out of Miami.
Long story short, we managed to get a transportation to Georgia, and from there we flew to Costa Rica! New country, out of Hurricane route and we had a blast!!!
We then received an email from our cruise that the cruise is back on back ofcourse have changed its route due to the damage Hurricane Irma caused to the islands. We went back to Miami after Costa Rica, hopped on the cruise and went to the Bahamas.
Thanks to this trip and after what happened, I decided to visit the Caribbean at ease, book my own flights and own hotels to spend enough time or as little time as I wanted and not be attached to the ship’s schedule. Not that I didn’t like the idea of the cruise, I absolutely LOVED it.
On that note, when should you take a cruise?
- You want to see as many islands as possible in little time/not enough vacation days.
- You’d like to avoid the hassle of planning.
- You’d like to avoid the uncertainty of flights and flight cancellations in the Caribbean due to short vacation days.
- You’d like to save up by paying for an all inclusive rather than paying in every hotel and every meal you go to when you plan alone.
- Always get in touch with your embassy if you know/hear of something not so normal happening to a place you’re going to.
- Do not panic.