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March 20, 2020
The Long Journey Home

The Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle

Russell writes…

We spent last night at a hotel in Fremantle. Our original plan (“Plan A”) was to stay here for a week until Gail finished her treatment of antibiotics. Her thought was that she wanted to be completely symptom-free before stepping on a plane. One, she wanted to be allowed onto the plane. Two, she didn’t want to be glared at by other passengers for the duration of the flight.

Over the past few days, however, Gail has been feeling much better. So we decided to stay in Fremantle for one night only. Our revised plan (“Plan B”) was to take a ferry today over to nearby Rottnest Island. Rottnest is the home to Australia’s cutest animal. The quokka looks like a tiny baby kangaroo, and always seems to be smiling. We booked two nights’ stay and bicycle rentals.

Upon our return from Rottnest Island, our “Plan B” then involved us renting a car and driving south to Margaret River. Here, we would join the Martinis, another cruise family, in a rented home on the beach.

Well, onto “Plan C”…

The Esplanade Hotel told us they have received over 700 cancellations in the past week

At 4:30 am this morning, Gail was awoken by numerous chirps on her phone. Deb, a travel agent friend, was warning us that the US State Department was about to enact a Global Level 4 Health Advisory: “Do Not Travel.”

“US citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

Within the next half hour, numerous other friends and family notified us that the Advisory had indeed been enacted.

We had another decision point: Do we stay in Australia, or do we try to go home? Up until now, Gail has followed Russell’s lead that we are on an “adventure” that we should continue as long as possible. However, one word in today’s advisory gave us pause: “indefinite.” We would have no problem staying in Australia for one or two months. But we could possibly be here for six months or more. We finally decided to err on the side of caution… and to return home.

We had reservations on an Emirates flight to San Francisco on March 26. Or so we thought. Deb informed us that Emirates cancelled the flight. We spent the early morning on two PCs and the phone trying to find an immediate flight home.

Nippon Airways via Tokyo? What happens if we get stranded in Tokyo? We decided we needed either a non-stop flight, or a flight that would layover in a familiar, English-speaking culture. The best we could come up with was a flight to Sydney at 10:35 am this morning, followed by a non-stop to San Francisco at 5:55 pm tomorrow. On two different airlines.

By now, we barely had enough time to throw our things into suitcases, check out of our hotel and grab an Uber to the Perth airport. We also tried to cancel our Rottnest reservations. We don’t know yet if we will get any of that money back.

When we arrived at the Perth airport, we had the option to upgrade the four-hour flight to business class. We did so, giving us the opportunity to go to the business lounge and have breakfast. We were astounded by the quality of business class on Virgin Air.

Gail has breakfast at the Virgin Air business lounge in Perth

Russell in business class (just so you know he’s still healthy and smiling)

We arrived at Sydney Airport at 5:45 pm. After claiming our luggage, we immediately headed over to the Qantas desk to see:

The good news is that our flight is (as of now) not cancelled. The bad news is that there is no earlier flight home than tomorrow. The other bad news is that because we booked the flight through American Airlines, Qantas can’t do anything to upgrade our tickets.

With almost 24 hours to kill, we have checked into the local Rydges Airport hotel at the international terminal. They are so tight on rooms, they have given us a handicap-access room. But all we need is a bed for the night. We plan to stay put, gather our senses, and calm down some of our adrenaline.

We knew that once we left Western Australia, we would not be able to go back. Australia is also on the verge of implementing a countrywide lockdown. The Martini family is willing to shelter-in-place in Margaret River for months if need be. Gail prefers for us to get home to our family.

At the airport terminal, people were wearing masks and gloves. There were long lines of Americans trying to get home. A man at baggage claim was carrying a 24-pack of toilet paper.

Our adventure continues. But it looks like the next chapter will take place on American soil.

We were supposed to meet the Martinis on Rottnest Island today. They went without us, and sent us this photo of a quokka

The closest *we* got to a quokka was in the airport gift store. (That’s Happy the Hedgehog, also still healthy and smiling.)

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