Are you interested in knowing what lockdown in Ecuador was like, then keep reading. But before you continue, above is one of my favourite photographs from my very short time in Ecuador. Admire its beauty because there are no other photographs in this post. I didn’t think our box of a hotel room would make for an attractive photo.
Sunday 15th March 2020
I feel exhausted and it’s not even midday. We haven’t even left our hostel in Baños yet. Instead we are deciding on our best route out of Ecuador. Our time in Ecuador is rapidly coming to a very real end. This virus, Covid 19, the one which is becoming a worldwide epidemic is about to potentially cut short our trip. The virus is spreading in Europe at what feels like just as quickly as the bushfires in Australia earlier this year. South America is taking early precautions.
As of last night the 14th of March (when we were freezing our arses off in the mountain village of Quilotoa – 3,914 metres above sea level – see photograph below, snuck in another one for you), the UK government updated the gov.uk website pages for Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to ‘all but essential travel’. Okay, not a good start but we are already here right, so we can continue to travel Ecuador for the next couple of weeks and re-evaluate after the situation.
En route to Baños…
Therefore today, 15th of March we arrive into the quaint town of Baños. Excited and looking forward to the next couple of days of adventures – bike riding to multiple waterfalls, visiting Pailon del Diablo (instagram it please), the famous swing that hangs over the edge of the mountain above Baños and the hot springs! Oh god the beautiful hot springs overlooking the town. However, it is not destined to be, this part of our adventure is snatched away from us. Like a sweet being taken from the hands of a child. Or more like in my family, my brother’s electrical drill being prised away from my nephew’s hulk like grasp.
All tourist attractions, the main ones, the ones you go for yeh – closed! Within seconds our plans are ruined. My first thought is ‘…if we can’t see what we want to in Ecuador is there any point being here anymore?’
Monday 16th March 2020
Within 24hrs everything has changed. The president of Ecuador released a public statement ordering that public transport will be restricted and can only be used for the following four reasons, to go and get food or medicine, to travel to and from work or to travel to an elderly person who you are caring for. A back up idea of ours was to grab taxis’, but soon enough we found out no taxi drivers will be driving from tomorrow onwards either. We need to get out of Baños today and fast. There are barely any other travellers at the hostel. There is a mixed vibe and different conversations going on. Some people have already gone back to Quito to catch a flight back to Europe. Some are thinking of heading to the beach to wait it out.
Casey has a flight booked on the 23rd of March back to the UK (what a holiday this has been), it’s been cancelled. She’s now been on the phone for hours trying to get through to KLM to rebook. Finally she manages to get on a flight from Guayaquil on 20th. There are no alternative options, as far as we can see, but to make sure we are on one of the last buses leaving Baños to Guayaquil. We don’t have time to book any accommodation. We barely have time to grab our belongings and shove them in our backpacks.
Although, to be honest I’m not all that comfortable with heading to Guayaquil. It is the worst effected area in Ecuador. Mainly because students from Guayaquil have returned from studying in Spain and haven’t listened to the government’s instructions – fantastic! We will need to isolate ourselves in a hotel for tonight and speak to no one. Which should be fine as Cat and I are already tired of the ‘traveller conversation’ – where have you been, where are you going, how long for…
We leave for Guayaquil…
At 14:30, more or less, this is South America remember, we board a bus and head off in the direction of Guayaquil. We will potentially have 4 days in a hotel room until Casey can get on a flight back to the UK. Needless to say Cat and I have no idea what we are going to do. Choices are slim and getting slimmer by the second. We need to think fast.
Fast forward 8 hours and some minutes later we arrive in Guayaquil. It’s dark and we’ve just been sat on a bus surrounded by people in a confined space – get me off this bus now! We grab our bags from under the bus and the bus drivers helpfully says ‘…you know you’re not getting out of here, you should have left yesterday’. Yehhh helpful – thanks mate. We walk through the terminal and grab a taxi with a Dutch girl, Joyce who was on our bus from Baños. We decide to go to her hotel and hope they have a spare room for tonight at least. I don’t know why we were worried they wouldn’t though – no one is here, of course they have rooms!
Tuesday 17th March 2020
We awake in our hotel room, one of the nicest rooms we have had in the last 4 months. Although somehow I can’t quite enjoy it in the same way I normally would. We need to go to the supermarket for food so we venture out into the warm Ecuadorian air. Feeling that heat on my skin makes me happy, but it cannot distract from the fact that Guayaquil is not quite right. The city is already in lockdown. No shops, pharmacies, library’s, parks, restaurants, cafes or banks are open. No one is on the streets just a few hopeful street vendors. Although even they know they won’t get any sales. The supermarkets are open, guarded by security armed with alcoholic hand gel. You have to queue up to enter the supermarket. We specifically, get a lot of unwanted looks in the supermarket for being Europeans.
In Guayaquil, it is a lot stricter than the rest of Ecuador. There is a curfew, no one is allowed outside on the streets after 9pm. Although today that has already changed to 4pm and tomorrow it will be 2pm. The city of Guayaquil accounts for 76% (at time of writing) of infected cases in the whole of Ecuador – Quito might have been a safer bet in hindsight.
There is also a strict transport ban which I have already mentioned, this now extends to cars. Depending on your number plate you can now only drive you car on certain days. If you are caught driving on the wrong day you will be fined and 9 points added to you licence.
The military are patrolling the streets, enforcing these restrictions.
For dinner we sit down and delve into chips and onion rings, a hearty meal when you are feeling delicate, I know. The curfew means the only option was to order from Burger King. It goes quite nicely with our two bottles of red wine we had brought from the supermarket.
Wednesday 18th March 2020
I wake up feeling pretty shit today, I genuinely want to go home now and I am worried we won’t actually be able to. Yesterday we had spent all day searching for flights. You’d find one and quickly rush to the airline website to book it and bam it doesn’t even exist. The flights you were seeing on skyscanner simply did not exist. Or you would find a flight and it was about £6,000 for a seat. I was furious. There were seats on the KLM flight on Friday. The same flight as Casey but they were selling the tickets in Business Class for this £6,000 mark. I screamed inside – people are desperate to get home and you have seats on a plane, selling them at a price many people won’t be able to afford!
We cannot stay in this room for 14 days or longer. Cabin fever was starting to set in after a day, doesn’t bode well does it? We spend all morning on the phone to KLM and the British Embassy desperate to talk to someone.
Speaking to the Embassy was frustrating. We had rung them on Sunday too. Desperate to get some advice on what we should do. They advised that if we wanted to leave Ecuador we could, but on your own accord. They didn’t take our names or location. I’m not sure if their lack of interest (from our point of view) was because the UK wasn’t in lockdown yet or that the situation in Ecuador wasn’t fully known about. It was as if they were unaware that we couldn’t move at all. The only way we can leave Ecuador is on a plane from Guayaquil airport…
Desperation starts to sets in…
I’m sat on the hotel reception floor refreshing the KLM website over and over. Suddenly I see a flight on Friday 20th March, 2 people, 722USD each – my fingers couldn’t navigate my phone quick enough. I press through to the payment page and press pay. The card was rejected, hadn’t been used in 4 months. Fuckkkk, next card. It wants authorisation though text message. Text never came through. Next card – don’t know why but this one does not work either…are you kidding me!!! Next card – works! Thank god. I have never been so happy to see that green box pop up on my screen – payment confirmed, flight booked! The flight was only to Amsterdam but at least it was out of Ecuador.
This afternoon we relax a tad knowing we were all booked on a flight in 48hrs.
At about 18:00, our emotions are again pushed to the limits. Joyce had already left for the airport today to catch her KLM flight this evening. We see a instagram post from her – my heart sinks, I nearly cry. The Mayor of Guayaquil has not permitted the KLM flight to land from Quito. The KLM flights always land in Quito first before carrying on to Guayaquil. Her post shows police all over the runway. KLM staff were apparently crying as they told Joyce and the other stranded passengers in Guayaquil that they will not be going home tonight. Will the Dutch embassy get involved now, order them to allow their citizens to leave? I now have no idea when and if the airport will open again.
Quito airport is still operating and allowing international flights to depart. However we cannot travel to Quito because of the transport ban, 2pm curfew and all domestic flights have been suspended. They want us to leave their country but they won’t allow us the means to do so!
We all go to bed and try to keep our thoughts positive, we chat about random stuff to keep our minds from going to a dark place.
We are also finding it very frustrating talking to people back at home. A lot of people are saying to us, ‘Wow you can have an extended holiday, what a place to be – have fun’. Or ‘…just go to the beach and chill out’ – are you actually joking! We have no running water, no endless supply of food and cannot leave our hotel room unless we want to gain the attention of the military.
I assume this is because the UK isn’t in lockdown at the moment and people are just unaware of anything happening outside the UK. Whilst people at home are still going about their daily lives, here in Ecuador they are trying to get ahead of the game. It has to be. The medical system in Ecuador will not be able to cope if a huge numbers of citizens contract this virus.
Thursday 19th March
Last nights’ runway scandal has already hit the headlines. I read the paper, which reports that the incident was an unauthorised order from the Mayor of Guayaquil. It effected two planes – an Iberia and KLM plane. The paper say it was a dangerous procedure which wasn’t thought through. It put people in danger and it was against every single protocol and had no clinical justification. The plane had arrived empty from Amsterdam, picking passengers up from Quito and then Guayaquil. No one was getting off that plane to enter Ecuador. The EU are not happy and are demanding answers from the Ecuadorian government.
However, because of yesterdays events, KLM are now unable to confirm this morning if the KLM flight tomorrow will go ahead. It’s now a sensitive waiting game. The receptionist kindly contacts her cousin who works for KLM in Quito airport. She will update us with any information when and IF she hears anything.
And so the the wait begins.
There are still rumours that the airport is closed until the 5th of April. A German guy tells us this, so we walk off. I’m not in the right state of mind to be having these conversations when it may not be true.
The curfew today is 2pm in Guayaquil so we order room service. Casey and I venture down to the roadside and sit in the sun for about 5 minutes before we are getting told to go back inside. It’s hot in our room, stuffy and feels like it’s getting smaller by the hour!
It’s 3pm and the phone rings! The receptionist has a message from her cousin, the KLM flight is confirmed for tomorrow!
The waiting game is slowly becoming justifiable. Just over 24 hours and we could be in the air heading home. Something I didn’t think I’d be happy to say. I didn’t expect to be heading back to England so soon and by no means am I thrilled about it.
Friday 20th March
Location: Guayaquil Airport
Exactly 4 months ago to the date, I was on a plane with no return ticket to Mexico. Today, exactly 4 months later, I will (hopefully) be on a plane with no return ticket but to the UK.
Today is the day we hopefully get the hell out of Ecuador! Not in a I hate it and want to leave way, but in a I can’t be stuck in a hotel room in the middle of a humid city for any longer. I had read in the newspapers that Wednesday’s incident was an extremely bad decision on the Mayor’s part, who coincidently has tested positive for the virus. Maybe this was the reason for her extreme actions.
We check out and head to the airport as we had no idea what to expect. We arrive and again the helpful driver, says ‘…there are no flights, you aren’t leaving!’ Just you watch! Needless to say there was a huge crowd outside. The airport was letting one person in at a time. A very warm 2 hour wait outside was waiting for us. People are getting agitated, others keep pushing in the queue, adding to the irritation. Finally we are at the front and waved through the doors into the cold air-con and very empty airport.. Greeted by free face masks.
It is a long wait in the airport, but at least we are in. At around 6pm, we hear it and then there it is, the sight we have all been waiting for. A blur of blue races past the windows, the KLM plane from Amsterdam lands in Guayaquil. The airport erupts, yes literally in screams and claps.
Within an hour we are on board and firmly sat in our seats for the next 11hrs. I am honestly quite sad to be heading back to Europe. This was far from the original plan.
As always when you return home after being away it always feels so familiar, somehow it feels as though you’ve never actually been away. You try and remember the people in Colombia for example, how their houses are made, what the roads are like. Suddenly home becomes all too familiar and you sink back into the luxury lifestyle you are blessed to have been born into. How can you get out of the familiarity of being home. The feeling as if nothing has changed or moved forward at home since you’ve been gone?