On Christmas morning 2019 I woke up with the strong intention to go to Mexico. I spent a wonderful month in this colorful crazy country and met the best people. Beginning of March 2020 I headed towards Guatemala, to become a yoga teacher. The girls in the group, the mountain and the chef were stunning. We all grew in love, strength, trust and support.
It was a Sunday afternoon when we, Clara, Anna, Maddie, Christine, Eva, Sadie, Anali and I decided to leave Arco Isis Sanctuary and a chaotic yoga teacher training 2000 meters above sea level next to Lake Atitlan. For a week already our daily talks were on if we should go home and how to do so. One of the teachers and two girls did leave already, the chef put himself into quarantine and the crew had to decide daily if they even can come up to us to help or if it was too dangerous. But we decided every day new to stay on the mountain for an indefinite time. Not an easy thing, when nothing that's happening in the world is sure and how long things would take, and I was already getting tired of "If I would be you..."-messages There is no chance to tell how a third world country would react on such a crisis but for sure the boarders by air were closed. But until a Sunday evening we were sure we had food, guards, the opportunity to become a yogi teacher and a wonderful view, summarized we felt safe. Though suddenly it was not sure how long we still would have food for and that the crew would not come up the hill anymore. Rumors went around about Europeans who were put into quarantine just because of walking on the streets. In less than an hour, all of us called our families or friends, booked a flight and had packed our bags. The only way I've found to get home was over Mexico, the US and England cause all other borders were closed. So the plan was to go to Tapachula (Mexico) by land, fly to Mexico City, then from there to Los Angeles, San Francisco and then London and Geneva. No information about open or closed borders was official, so everything I booked was based on second, third or fourth hand information. I and four other girls booked our flight over or until San Francisco because we had the offer to stay in Anna’s friends' empty house in case we get stuck in America.
We went to bed early. In the middle of the night, I woke up covered in sweat, not sure what this was about. I hold very still and listened to the little panic in me that whispered: "Is my US Visa still valid?" I started to research and found an official paper. I texted or called some friends and posted the text in the Whatsapp chat of our teacher training, but the English of the official American visa website was so shitty that everyone me included understood something else. So I had to stay with the insecurity and as you probably can tell there was no chance to go back to sleep.
It was 5:40 Monday morning when we started to walk down the hill on our tiptoes, to make sure not to wake or get the attention of anyone and because before 6:00 there were no policemen on the streets yet. The sun was still hiding behind the volcanos. The carriers, or the boys how the Arco Isis people lovely call them, carried our luggage on the head, back or under their arms. At the edge of San Marcos we had to wait until one of them had checked the streets. I felt like in a bad movie. As the streets were safe we walked in pairs on a little hidden path through town to get where the tuk-tuks waited for us. We tipped the boys well and three people and at least five suitcases had to fit in one tuk-tuk. It brought us through all the towns over such a bumpy road, that we had to hold on to our luggage to make sure does not fall out. The sides of the tuk-tuk were covered with a blanket. Half an hour later and shaken we reached the place where taxis were waiting for us. For safety reason, we had one taxi for two. We had to say goodbye to Eva and Christy who decided to go to Antigua or Guatemala City to wait there until it's over or been picked up by a bring-home-flight.
The taxi driver brought us all the way through Guatemala to the Mexican border. By foot covered with masks and gloves, we crossed the border and got our temperature measured at least three times, fill out at least a thousand papers, had to check our luggage until we made it to the other side. Our next flight to Mexico City was the next day, stayed overnight in an Airbnb in Tapachula.
Mexico was still very straightforward about going out and opening hours. So we went to a restaurant and ruined our whole yogi diet by having tacos and alcohol. Maddie got a message from her mum who asked to come home. So she booked a new flight from Los Angeles directly to England instead of going to see her friends in America. Later in our Airbnb, her flight was still not confirmed, and she called Delta. At the same time, Clara made a call to ask if our flight the next day to Mexico City, LA and San Francisco was still on, cause flights got canceled one after another. Guess what, there was a volcano eruption just a few hours ago, and they told us our Mexican inland flight was canceled. We scream, cried and laugh at the same time, but there was no time to lose, so we tried to find another way to get to Mexico City the next day. There were not enough hours left to get there by taxi, the buses already left or were not available anymore. Luckily Maddie was still on the phone and ask again about our flight and the person in the first call gave us the wrong information and the flight was still on. Hands down. Unfortunately, they could not confirm Maddie's booking, and she had to book it again.
As we arrived at the airport the next day, Maddie and Sadie our English girls, got an email from the US embassy that their visa got canceled. So they did not even let them check in the Mexican inland flight, which was connected to the American flight. So they had to book a new flight and applied straight away for a new transit visa. The American girls were ok to check-in and so was I. While all this happened at the check-in counter Clara started to have doubts about her plan to go to San Francisco and stay at Annas Friends' house until the virus-thing was over and was thinking about going to her dad's place. Right before I wanted to go through the security check, I saw someone waving at me, it was the airport lady who forgot to give me my Mexican visa paperback, which I needed to leave Mexico at all. We finally made it all through the check-in and security check. Just before the plane took off, Sadie got an email from the embassy that her new visa was confirmed and likewise Maddies.
In Mexico City Clara made up her mind not to come to San Francisco and took another plane that left soon. While Maddie and Sadie had to the counter again to check in the other flight from Mexico to Los Angeles and England, which they couldn't before because of the visa thing. But as if things would not have been complicated enough they couldn't because they did not check it in in Tapachula to Mexico City, and they had to book this one again. Maddie's flight to England, which she tried to get confirmed the night before, was actually booked and now she had two bookings on the same flight. As this all was done we had to wait in the airport until our plane was leaving. Unfortunately, I caught some parasites a few weeks ago, which were still active sometimes. They mainly cause diarrhea and vomiting but sometimes you also get a fever from it. So I knew if I would get any fever now they would put me in quarantine straight away, I was sweating rivers under my mask. Now that none of the girls and I only if I got stuck in America, would go with Anna to her friends' house in San Francisco she didn't want to go there alone anymore. To go to her boyfriend's place was at this time also no option. So she finally booked in the last second a flight to her brother's place. The whole time of waiting, I did constantly check my flights, my visa, and the border information. I still did not know if they let me in the U.S.
I went through the immigration process without any problem. But as I waited for my luggage the man from the desk came up running to me, my heart slipped into my pants, but he only forgot to give the stamp in my passport so that I was allowed to be in the U.S. Now it was time to say goodbye. I was finally the only one left going to San Francisco to catch a flight the next day to London. The whole flight I was feeling to go in the wrong direction, but I was so tired, confused, and tensed that I did not trust my feelings anymore and didn't want to spend more money on a new flight from LA to London, to take the same flight as Maddie and Sadie. I arrived late and took a taxi. The driver was so cute and brought me to the cheapest hotel near the airport he knew. I was pretty hungry, we only ate Chips and Sweets at the Airport, cause guess what, all the Restaurants were closed. But there were also no Restaurants close to the place I stayed and the McDonalds was only a drive-through and it was also too late for Home delivery. So I went to the gas station and had another chip, chocolate and noodle soup. I did not even care about the shrimps anymore.
The next day I checked out and went to the airport with the shuttle bus around 11, although my flight was at 5:15. I walked unsuspecting and happy to get closer to my home, in the empty airport and stopped in front of the flight schedule screen. But there was no flight going to London, not a single one. As I walked up to the counter, they couldn't find my bookings, because this flight was already canceled days ago. That means Expedia sold me a flight that was already canceled when I booked it, and they did not tell me a single word about it. And because it was not booked with the flight company directly United is not responsible for that mistake. That was the first time I did not have any power anymore to hole back my tears and I cried all the water and potentially the virus over the desk. The girls and her boss behind the desk were quite helpless. So the lady Cheryl at the next desk took over. Together we spend 4 hours trying to find a way to go to London, even that it was not even their responsibility anymore. After a hundred calls she finally managed to rebook my flight over New York to London for the next day. But that meant I was missing my booked flight from London to Geneva. Expedia did not send me a flight code but only a reservation number, which means I couldn't find my booking on the British Airways website. I tried all possible ways online and Cheryl (the lovely Untied lady) called all the possible numbers to change my flight. No way. Seats on the new flight were selling fast and I didn't want to take the risk to get stuck in London Airport because the flight was booked out. So I had to book a new flight from London to Geneva. And as I waited in the airport to get a refund for the flight I would miss I got an email from the German embassy that they would pick me up in Guatemala City and bring me to Germany from where I could find a way to make it to Switzerland. I couldn't believe it and started to regret that I didn't stay on the peaceful mountain. As, a few hours later, the British Airways check-in opened they told me that this flight I actually booked was also canceled days ago and I have to get a refund online.
I took the shuttle bus, which should bring me back to the place I stayed the night before. I was the only one on the bus and the driver was so bored that he drove me to all possible hotels to check which one was the cheapest. But I finally ended up in Travelers Lodge again, even that they already raised the price overnight it was still the cheapest. Thai curry with home delivery was the first proper thing I ate for quite a bit of time. The next day I went to the airport early and had a coffee with Cheryl and gave her the little leopard figure I bought in the Mexican airport, and she named it Tapachula. Without any further problems, I took my flight to New York, waited a few hours with chips and chocolate - still no restaurant open and wonderful food for the parasites - and praying that England would let me pass through. They let me pass and I had a short night in the plane. I was in so many different time zones that I had no idea anymore what time it was and when I did sleep the last time. In London, I had to wait for 9h at the airport to catch my last flight. And I couldn't believe that I finally, after five days, I was sitting in an airplane that would bring me to Switzerland.
As I landed I got another email from the German embassy that it was a misunderstanding, and they would take all the Germans in Guatemala first and then eventually the Swiss people, but they couldn't tell me how long it would have taken. Two days later Cheryl (the airport fairy) texted me that she was exempted because her colleagues told the boss she was saying racist things about a Chinese man. I wrote United an email about how wonderful she was to me, that she still makes such a good job even that she was health issues and puts herself at high risk daily.
At the Geneva airport, my mum and my sister waited for me with a bag full of healthy, homemade food and I learned a whole new level of gratitude. My flat was been cleaned by the guy I subleased it to, he put clean bed sheets and my neighbor did go for groceries for me. I never ever was so glad and thankful to get to the place I call "my home" and to feel safe, to have clean food, a caring family and friends. To have so much support and meet the right people at the right time, to feel held and grounded.
As I was lying in my warm cozy bed I was thinking of all the people, who don't have a home or a destination, who are or got stuck and lost in a foreign place, who don't have a family around, or who are far away from their friends, trying to find a more peaceful place. And I sent all my love and respect to you, residents of the world, may you be home in your hearts and may you be guided by love and trust. I feel with you.
Thank you Anna, Christy, Eva, Maddie, Anali, Bénédicte, Sadie, Clara, Meredith, Lindsay, Adrianna, Travis and Chido for an incredible time full of teachings, love and support. And to my family and friends for all the messages and prayers. I love you, aho mitakuye oyasin.