OPINION: Rejoining society to face oncoming challenges

THERE are times in life when you wake on a Monday morning and if you knew the challenges and dramas that might lie ahead in the coming week, chances are you would go straight back to bed.

Often when you look back on a hectic week you might say to yourself, “how did I survive all that drama?”

But we all do and I guess that sums up our aborted holiday to the United States.

It was to be the holiday of a lifetime and while it was not quite a nightmare, there were some interesting challenges and road blocks which my wife B’Shanna and I had to face before arriving home safely.

We always enjoyed travelling through different countries by train so the original plan was to travel on the Orient Express but planned to start in Shanghai, travel by train to Istanbul, link up with the Orient Express and travel through Europe.

This would have meant only travelling for about 10 days and we were seeking something about 34 days so we dodged a bullet by dropping the idea, given China’s early problems with COVID-19.

The plan was to fly to Los Angeles, then by train to New Orleans, New York, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City and returning to LA, spending between four to six days in each city.

When we left Australia on March 1 the virus was not a problem in the US, a fact supported by medical and Australian Government travel advice.

At the time of our departure the US had only 35 cases but yesterday passed 215,000.

The train trip to New Orleans was enthralling and took 50 hours, including about 32 hours to get through the huge state of Texas and when we pulled into El Paso station from our cabin we witnessed a drug bust on the platform by undercover agents with sniffer dogs.

Maybe that was the first sign it would be an eventful holiday.

On the first morning in New Orleans we were walking to the French Quarter on the edge of the Mississippi when we heard sirens and an ambulance pulled up alongside as we walked past a small driveway a police officer walked out pulling his finger across his throat in a signal to the paramedic.

There was a body lying in the enclosure – welcome to New Orleans.

A highlight was the Bayou swamp tour where we saw numerous alligators and were told that alligator farms release 50,000 into the swamps each year as three-year-olds.

The reason is despite the numerous eggs females lay, only 12pc survive to three years of age because adult alligators eat their young.

At that stage life was completely normal and there was no sign or fear over the virus.

By the time we reached New York, after a 48 hour train trip, the crisis was beginning.

On our previous trip to New York we were a little off-colour and missed Broadway and seeing Grand Central Station so they were at the top of our list.

We were accommodated in West 47th Street, in the heart of Broadway and after our arrival we walked two doors down from the hotel to the first theatre to see a sign that all Broadway shows had been cancelled until the end of April.

In the following days, cinemas, museums, schools, bars and restaurants would close and by day four in NY the only takeaway food was available from cafes and restaurants.

It was so different – the normal hustle and bustle of NY was gone and walking around Times Square there were few people on the streets as most chose to work from home.

We finally got to Grand Central Station and as we entered we saw smoke as two police officers held up their hands warning us to go back to the street.

For the next three hours we were entertained, if that is the right word, as 11 fire appliances and five ambulances went to work to contain what was causing the smoke.

By Tuesday, March 17 advice from the NY Australian Embassy was to get home ASAP and we flew from NY to LA and then home.

As we sat on the tarmac in LA waiting to fly home the Virgin captain told passengers there was a delayed Delta flight containing numerous Aussies which was connecting with our aircraft.

He said given the seriousness of the situation he decided to wait and after two hours the Aussies boarded amid cheering from other passengers and a round of applause for the captain who showed great understanding in a difficult time.
Now safely home and so far in good health, our 14-day self-isolation ends tonight.

Finally, a big thank you to the many friends who contacted us, concerned about our well-being and a massive thank you to our travel agent Narissa who got us home.

It was a challenge and we survived – now we rejoin society in facing the oncoming challenges.

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