Well, sometimes things happen very quickly… as did the decision, plan and execution of my return trip to Canada. Yes folks, I’m back on Canadian soil! In fact, on day nine of quarantine at my Vancouver Island home as I’m writing this.
Ever since the Canadian government announced further restrictions adding a hefty price tag to entering Canada, I had been mulling what to do. In addition to a Covid test within 72 hours of the flight, an additional test on arrival, plus a three day hotel stay (until test results come back) at an estimated cost of $2000. Plus cost of your tests on either end (about $350 each). I’ll spare you the details of what I was thinking… let’s just say that it made little sense other than as a strategy to discourage Canadians from travel (especially during March break) and letting folks know that at least the government is trying to do something…
So, when on Feb 10 my return flight, scheduled for end of March, was cancelled for the third time, and a Canadian friend told me that the new rules were not in effect yet, I took it as a nudge, got online and on the phone… just to find out that it can be really challenging to find information when new policies have been announced and not implemented yet. (Imagine a cross-eyed emoji here.) There was various information that appeared and then disappeared on the official web sites during my search. I also heard some stories of people disappearing in black vans upon arrival at the airport to unbeknown places that sounded like makeshift quarantine prisons, no information provided… argh. Not trusting the media. I called around, and finally succeeded in talking to a customs and boarder agent who confirmed that the measures were not in effect at Vancouver airport at the time of our talk (unless a test was false/inadmissible), and that yes, I could make my way to Vancouver Island for home quarantine using cabs and following the guidelines provided. Okay. Next a call to the airline – what flights can I actually reschedule to??? Very few choices and the majority above 30+ hours travel time with an overnight stay in Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc. – would your test still be valid??). Except for one flight on Valentine’s Day, with a 5-hour stopover at Tokyo Narita airport – leaving in four days! And it’s Lunar New Year in Taiwan, the biggest holiday when most places are closed!
Can I do it? Will it line up? It seems like the best chance. A flight so soon, least likely to be cancelled now. Of course, there is also the option of exchanging the flight for a travel voucher, unlimited time (if the airline still exists a year or two from now..) and booking a direct flight with Eva Air or China Air (Taiwanese companies) at the cost of $2000 for a one-way flight… Need I say more? What’s it with that $2000 number that gets me going??
I find a list of 82 hospitals in Taiwan conducting the self-paid test (thanks to Taiwan CDC) and it soon becomes apparent that most will be closed for tests during the 72 hours preceding Feb 14. Okay. Kaya and Luke help me find a place, but it’s already booked up. Okay. After calling a couple of hospitals I give up – no English, no Mandarin on my side. Who can I ask? My friend Ting speaks Mandarin and helps me find a hospital that will be open and offering this service during the holiday via their emergency department. Confirmed. Phew! Amazing. Not speaking the local language can be a huge impediment – thank you Ting! This wouldn’t have happened without you!
Okay, let’s do it. I’m ready to cancel all my Taiwan travel plans and book the flight. Oh yeah, btw, I’m in Tainan, had plans to meet Ting and Martin in Kaohsiung for New Years celebrations on a boat, a trip to Penghu Island for a week planned; I had wanted to visit Taroko Gorge again, Dulan and Taitung, Sun Moon Lake, and explore Green Island and Orchid Island in March… We’ll save it for another time. And some of these places I already visited a year ago. So I cancel everything already booked and am happy that most vendors are understanding and will issue refunds.
Here is another element that supported the decision – travel fatigue. And a deep wish for quiet time, clean air, and being able to communicate freely in my languages. As tempting as all the future travel itineraries were, I have been feeling more isolated travelling alone in more remote areas where people don’t speak English or German, the two languages I speak fluently. It just feels like time to go home… and rest.
The last few days in Taipei are lovely and sometimes sad… a Lunar New Year’s dinner with some of Kaya’s friends during which we all enjoy a massage chair; LOL. Packing my bags; meeting a couple of friends for farewells, others are away vacationing south. Taipei offers such a different experience during this holiday! You have to be there to understand – this city is on 24/7 and now most stores and restaurants are closed, only 7eleven and Starbucks open. But public transport is happening, and Kaya and I go for a hike on Elephant Mountain, walk a little further, try the least walked path and find this gem of a temple and shrines hidden away…
Friday morning I get the test done and can pick it up Saturday afternoon. Efficient. Of course, it’s negative. I’m spending the last night at a very nice hotel; Kaya and Luke join me for dinner and last farewells. I have checked into the flights online – yes, they are on schedule! Amazing! Kaya spends the night and sees me off in the morning. No tears, just quiet smiles. Roads are quiet at 6AM, the airport is equally quiet. It’s a quiet farewell.
I think I’m prepared and then, completely unexpected, a hurdle at the check-in counter for my Eva Air flight from Taipei to Tokyo. The Covid test paper had all the required information and was printed on proper Hospital letterhead with official stamps and the works… just one thing missing… the civic address of the hospital. Really – that’s an issue? Had I known this was required, I would have paid attention and made sure of it. Ground personnel was following instructions provided by (I’m guessing) Canada Customs which listed that a civic address had to be included. (Not in the info provided to travellers.)
They are doing things by the letter, and spend an hour trying to get clearance from Canada Customs, Canada CDC, and/or Air Canada to let me board the flight. I’m doing my best to stay calm, deep breath, pacing back and forth for a while. The clock is ticking. When it looks like I’m going to miss the flight, I speak up suggesting solutions. And eventually raise my voice. You’re kidding, right?! This is just some practical joke, isn’t it? Nope. How about we print out the address. It’s a public institution, easy to find on the web. Or, call the hospital and request additional confirmation from them? The address is in Chinese on the receipt for the test, why don’t you highlight and translate it? How about you let me board this flight to Tokyo and Air Canada can deal with it in Tokyo? Do you really they wouldn’t let me enter Canada because of this detail?! Is there anything I can do??? F#%&!!! No responses from Canadian authorities… In the end, Eva Air staff ask me to sign a release form, print out the address of the hospital, and allow me to proceed with just enough time to make it onto the plane. Phew!!! Thanks anyways.
I’m reminded – a year ago, when Kaya and I took an Eva Air flight to Borneo, and they turned her away because the photo in her passport was damaged. She rebooked with her German passport for the next day. Just saying – if you need to travel, you just never know these days, and especially in Taiwan with Eva Air… pay attention to details. They stick to the rules!
The flight to Tokyo is almost empty (I count 15 passengers, plus staff), but I watch the airplane being unloaded in Tokyo and its belly is full of cargo. That answers one of my questions.
At check-in in Tokyo and later arrival in Vancouver, no questions are asked about the “missing address” at all. Never comes up. The flight to Vancouver is about a third full. Comfortable. I have three seats to myself – could get used to this 🙂
The boarder agent is friendly, checks all my documents, yes, I have downloaded and completed the arriveCAN app. He welcomes me home and let’s me know that I am now under an official health order which I need to obey or face prosecution, prison time or fines up to a million dollars… (I ask him about the 1M and apparently that’s if someone dies because of me – now how the hell would they prove that with this elusive bug?). Okeydokey, thanks for letting me know. My chances of having or spreading Covid coming from Taiwan are practically nil, in fact, my chances of contracting Covid in Canada are considerably higher, but hey, we’re all playing along.
I share the incident about the missing address with a boarder agent asking him if he could pass it on to someone in administration so they can ensure that information provided to airlines and travellers is identical to avoid unnecessary stress for all parties…?! And while I’m doing that am wondering if cabs and ferries are operating as there’s a local weather warning with snowfall and high winds…
Luckily, the worst of the winter storm seems to be over. The rest of the journey home is easy – a cab from the airport to Tsawassen terminal. At the ferry terminal, answering their questions, I say Yes, indeed, I am under a health order, so am bound to receive special treatment. The terminal manager escorts me to my very own waiting area away from other passengers – she is super friendly and helpful in getting me some food and tea (bless you wonderful kind person with a sense of humour). Later escorts me onto the ferry where one of the stewards takes over and very kindly and with many explanations locks me into a lounge. I don’t object. I’m enjoying the “special treatment.” It’s the lounge that you usually have to pay for. LOL. Nobody else there with me. Has its own bathroom attached. But no coffee or newspaper service at this time. 🙂 I spent a sleepy two hours riding from Tsawassen to Duke Point (Nanaimo) from where I catch a ride home. Roads are clear, it’s cold, I’m tired, glad for this to be over and to disappear for a few days…
So far, quarantine has been spent sleeping, a little writing (see my last post), some heavy mindf#&%ing, some meditation, some reading, watching the snow melt, and binging movies – finally…
The phone is ringing. It’s 9:56 in the morning, day 4. The person on the other end asks if I’m Elsa something? Sorry, no. I’m about to hang up, remember being told to take phone calls from 1-888… say my name, he apologizes, says yes, he is looking for me too. Am I home? Yes. (You woke me up, dude!) There is a security officer at my front door… He has been ringing the door bell – could I go meet him please? He hangs up. Both the commissionaire and security officer want to make sure that I’m fulfilling my quarantine commitment and am actually home. I’m dazed, sleepy, still struggling with jet lag. He asks for ID. Then asks me some of the standard questions… He leaves. I go back to bed. Life goes on.
Generally, every morning there is an email to remind me to check in with the ArriveCAN app which I do sending off the no symptoms answer. Besides the visit of the security officer, today I received a phone call from the Province of BC, a woman rattling down questions and directives barely stopping for my answers and obviously reading off a script. Friends buy groceries for me, I ordered some frozen meals from a local caterer, the local Thrifty’s delivers some groceries. And luckily, there’s still plenty of dry goods in the pantry. Note to anyone who may have to do home quarantine – plan ahead, make sure you have friends who can help out, most places will take a few days to a week to deliver (if you’re in a small town).
So, as I’m finding my way back into life in Canada, I’m also taking time to digest and process everything I have experienced in the past five months. It’s been quite a ride!! Besides a few more posts to write about adventures in Taiwan, and way too many photos to sort through, there is also some healing and grounding to attend to, finding my feet, my heart and what my life stands for in these very strange times.
Looking forward to saying hello in person to some of my local friends soon… xox And feel free to give me a call if you have my number.