13 of March 2020,
This is it, we are going back to France in a week, we are happy to imagine a future there. Emotions mix between the apprehension of the return, the joy and the desire to see our families and friends again. The question of our personal and professional projects arises immediately after our return. All these thoughts came back a thousand times in our minds when we were pedaling long hours in these green landscapes. But first we take advantage of our last moments of happiness, camping by the beach of Santa Catalina.
Except that… all this plan is deconstructed little by little and the dream of returning becomes complicated. The health crisis of the Orient is spreading, the more the days pass in Panama the more the vice tightens. The wave first arrives in Europe through Italy, Spain, France and then gradually over the countries of the American continent.
On March 14, 2020, we are 4 days far by bicycle from Panama City. The new measures in France are increasing according to the information we listen to in radio podcast. The concern rises and the casualness of the French also apparently …
Panama closed its borders to European flights on March 14 at midnight, but we didn’t know until later. Still no flight cancellation emails.
On March 15, it was rumored that President Macron was going to give a speech and announce lock down. It all happens so quickly and so slowly as if time was stretching. We are not surprised or panicked, either thanks to a kind of calm that we would have acquired during this trip, or as if, unconsciously, we already suspected what was going to happen.
On March 16 at dawn, the ball in the belly, not knowing exactly what is happening, we decide to leave as quickly as possible for Panama City in a bus, then another, then by taxi to the airport, mechanically loading our bikes in the little space available in each transport.
We are for the 13th time, in one year, in an unknown country. But there, it’s a little different. We may have to stay longer if border closings are confirmed and multiplied. The climate in Panama is changing, it is not very favorable for Europeans in these times. Indeed, the media inform the countries of America that the wave of coronavirus is moving and is now raging in Europe.
Arrived at the airport, the company’s offices are closed. All their flights are canceled, including ours for March 23. Still no cancellation email in our mailboxes … We can contact them by email precisely to ask them for a compensation solution. They answer us after 24 hours that we have the possibility of a “re-routing” by La Havana, which we will have to pay from our pocket. With bicycles, there will be additional costs.
Our faithful beloved bicycles become a bit cumbersome. The material detachment will not prevail this time, and we will bring them back home.
We decide to give ourselves some time tothink and to contact the embassy. This one informs us that no repatriation is planned for the moment and that we must favor the commercial solutions offered. It will be the same until the end of the repatriation crisis for French nationals abroad: no flights will be created. Only commercial flights will be made available … therefore only for people who can afford its.
In Panama, fortunately, we are staying in an inexpensive hotel not far from the airport. To get there we had to go by expressways with, as before each trip by plane + bicycles, large boxes of packaging on the luggage rack. At least we have almost everything necessary to pack the bikes and set sail for Europe as soon as possible. We are therefore safe with all our things to store and sort, and wifi access to stay informed.
After 1 and a half days of reflection and research of all existing flights to France, we decide to accept the offer of “re-routing” from the company. The company’s offices in downtown Panama are open, and we have to go there to change the flight. We are therefore offered a flight on March 21 from La Havana to Madrid and then on March 22 from Madrid to Brussels, the connections for Paris being full. We take the opportunity.
We now have to buy a flight from Panama to La Havana with our special luggage, the bicycles. After two hours of waiting in the company offices, we finally have all the necessary information (price, flights, baggage dimensions, special baggage prices).
The cost of tickets is 10% higher at the counter, we will buy its online.
Tickets in our pocket, we return to the hotel to wait before our departure and pack the luggage. Direction Cuba.
From there, questions in our heads multiply.
Where are we going to land? Madrid as originally? We should thus arrive there and then go back to France by bicycles except that there, we risk a quarantine as soon as we arrive at Barajas airport… Supported by whom? Under what conditions
A last minute modification on the reservation seems welcome to us: the flight to Brussels is canceled but we are put back on a flight to Paris.
Impossible to understand … It was complete some days before. Determined to return home, despite the uncertainties, we pack the bicycles in large patched boxes and prepare the luggage.
Unfortunately, the events did not go as planned. Arrived in Havana, the reservation of our two flights to Paris was canceled by the company.
At the very least we will arrive in Madrid, once we reach Europe we may return by land perhaps (train, bicycle if it is still possible). So we fly to Madrid, a little reassured to reach Europe.
Arrival in Madrid: the airport is almost empty. Few travelers are in transit, and most are in uncertain transit. The country’s means of transport are slowing down, Spain is already badly affected by the virus. So there is no train running to the Franco-Spanish border. All car rental agencies are closed. We wonder how we are going to be able to get in France… Cycling becomes a very tempting solution. It would allow us to avoid contact with anyone and to return without having to pay yet more train tickets, taxis, or extra luggage.
But we learn that it is forbidden in France to travel by bicycle except forprofessional trip or to do shopping.
Flights to France are offered by two companies, the first with high prices and the second much more accessible but on the waiting list.
We try to hit the waiting list, since everyone is confined, a lot of people will probably not show up, we were told.
So we buy the next flight to Lyon the next day. And let’s go buy some food outside the airport, inside we can only find sandwiches at 10 €. We picnic, we phone and we sit warm in sleeping bags for a little night on this top comfort airport tiling!
Woken up at 6am by a security agent who tells us that it is not possible to sleep in the airport, we will have to sit still 10h to wait for our flight.
The day goes by and our flight is getting closer, standing up, we fix the bulletin board
during the last hour before the flight. People are gathering outside the door, everyone seems to be on the waiting list. We call names to allocate places, phew we are called. Then another 30 minutes later, we finally embark.
At this moment, we are on a small cloud, relieved to return where we will have a refuge. An hour and a half flight later, we are at Lyon airport, empty, the bicycles come out last, we are patient.
Then we head to the Rhône Express to return to the city center and our quarantine mark.
Last stop Gare de Lyon Part Dieu, we find a known setting surrounded
by an unknown context: lock down.
There are only 1.5 km to reach our friends place with two pieces of luggage of 17 and 18 kg and two boxes of bikes of 18 and 20 kg. It will be the longest kilometer of the whole trip, despite the nice surprise of the applause at 8pm…
We arrive tired but very happy to see our friends again, who “decontaminate” us outside their door and push us into the shower with a broom (or almost)!
Thanks to them for their confidence, their good humor, and their serenity in this
lock down. Thanks to the “informers” who sent us live information from France about the development of the situation.