On day 5 of what was supposed to be a nine-day EF Tours trip to Spain, our group found ourselves returning to the U.S. unexpectedly and without warning.
But let me back up.
I’d been planning for a year for this trip to Spain in March of 2020. The itinerary was to include:
The Coronavirus was a looming threat in the news, but still at bay and only in pockets in China, Japan, Italy, and Iran. It was not yet a pandemic. Spain was not on the CDC’s travel advisory list, and our group leader was in constant communication with EF and was assured we were good to go. People were getting nervous though, and the other college group we were combining with pulled out. We were left with just the ten of us, but since there wasn’t much concern then and the WHO and CDC had no advisories, we boarded our plane and headed off for Barcelona!
If day one through day four were any indication, this was to be a fantastic trip. We toured Barcelona, Valencia, and the beautiful Alhambra in Granada. We drank Sangria. We watched flamenco dancers in a traditional gypsy cave. We danced with them, then walked up the mountain to see the Alhambra at night before touring the inside the next morning.
From there we headed on to Malaga, on the beautiful Costa Del Sol, where we were to take an excursion to Gibraltar the next morning. We planned to view Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar and enjoy the local monkeys. The monkeys are part of the local scene and typically try to engage with tourists, so we were excited. We had a beautiful dinner together in the old section of Malaga and headed to our hotel to rise early the next day.
That evening while we all slept, the US President announced that a ban for all travel from the EU to the US was being put into place Friday evening at midnight due to the Coronavirus.
We awoke to chaos.
Unfortunately, the President did not mention that US citizens were not subject to the ban. Homeland Security issued a press release shortly after the announcement clarifying the ban, but the panic had already begun. Frightened parents began calling EF Tours, tying up the phone lines for hours, wanting to get their students back home. In order to calm the situation and the parents, and to attempt to comply with what had been announced, EF began the difficult task of arranging flights home for ALL groups in Europe, including ours. Instead of heading to Gibraltar, we were to stay close to our hotel in Malaga and wait for further instructions.
Those instructions came a few hours later in the form of flights to Paris, then on to Cincinnati. EF also arranged a hotel stay close to Charles De Gaulle airport, so we could be transported there the next morning. Our EF tour director in Spain, Pilar, was wonderful about arranging everything we needed, including plans to have another EF Tour Director meet us at the Paris airport. That director arranged transportation to and from the airport and escorted us through the airport to the ticket gate.
Here’s what the airport looked like at Charles De Gaulle that morning.
News crews were on-site reporting about the chaos.
Our group was approached by a news crew; however, our group leader declined and so they moved onto a group from Alaska next to us. We walked by just as they were shooting the footage. The next morning I saw that footage on the Today Show. We had made national news.
The day after we returned home the CDC added Spain as a level III travel advisory, so most likely our trip would have ended shortly after the President’s announcement anyway. As I write this we are seeing price gouging on airline tickets back to the US ($20,000), hand sanitizer ($895.00) and toilet paper is unavailable. I’m advised to stay home for 14 days and practice social distancing.
I’d like to thank EF Tours for their professional and quick arrangement of our unexpected trip back home, and for the care we received throughout the trip. They were wonderful. I plan to use them in the future for travel when it becomes safe again.