It’s Sunday morning 10:00 in Brazil. Usually I’m on a surfboard around this time of the week. This Sunday however I decide to spend my morning on my laptop in my favourite cafe. A lot of travellers have reached out to me with questions about travelling during a pandemic. Questions from frightened travellers that I also have no answer to.
A NEW LIFE IN BRAZIL
When the coronavirus broke out I was doing an internship at a tour operator in Recife in the Northeast of Brazil. The internship was six months. I didn’t have any plans about what would happen after this internship, but I did have my mindset on staying in South America for a few years. Before leaving I had sold most of my belongings and said goodbye to all my family and friends. I had started a new chapter in my life. A chapter that ended too soon.
THE FIRST SYMPTOMS
It didn’t take long for us to change our point of view. When governments in Europe took the first measures, suddenly no one dared to come to Brazil, despite the fact that at the time there were no known infections in Brazil. The last days only a few ‘daredevils’ booked a last-minute trip. Until the first infections flew in from Italy to Rio de Janeiro.
A week before my departure I had decided for myself to wait out corona in Brazil. At the time, I suspected it would take a few months for life to be ‘normal’ again. Pandemics happen all the time, is what I told myself. This one won’t be any different.
As we all know now, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That next Monday you could hear a pin drop in the office. The cancellations weren’t just for the next month anymore, but practically for the next six months. The fear was a direct response to the Brazilian government who announced that international airports would be closed within a week. But still my decision was clear: I wanted to stay.
This event finally changed my mind. The Brazilians knew how serious the pandemic was, and it was time for me to get realistic too. The following Tuesday I made the hardest decision I ever had to make. It took me a few hours, but I managed to get a ticket on the last flight to Amsterdam with KLM.
THE LAST WEEK
The Brazilian government’s response to the coronavirus was poor and late. At the regional level, the first measures were announced three days before my departure. The first measures in the Northeast were to be implemented the day of my flight.
I biked around my neighborhood one more time to take it all in. But nothing felt like it used to. That last week the streets were empty. People were scared and had more questions than answers. This was reflected by the awkward silence and lack of traffic jams.
The day before my departure was my last working day. I chose to keep working that week. It was a good distraction and I wanted to help my colleagues as much as possible. On my last day at work, my dearest colleagues purchased two pies. For me, but also to celebrate their last day of being together at the office. The following Monday everyone was working from home, like we already did for a month in Europe.
The last acquaintances I said goodbye to were the wonderful doormen and women in my flat. From day one they did everything to make my stay pleasant, even when I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese yet. To thank them for everything they did for me I got some sweets (Brazilians love sweets) and wrote a card, in Portuguese of course!
THE JOURNEY TO HOME
Ten hours later we landed at Schiphol. The plane had only just landed when everyone turned on their phones. A deafening noise echoed through the plane that I had never heard before. Later I learned this was an emergency signal. That afternoon the Dutch government had sent an emergency alert to the Dutch population urging them to stay at home as much as possible.
THE SITUATION IN BRAZIL
In Brazil, despite President Bolsonaro’s wild statements, there has been a lockdown. This can be compared to the first lockdown in The Netherlands. Unfortunately, there have also been many tragic incidents in Brazil involving overcrowded hospitals and excess deaths as a result of the coronavirus.