Riding a rollercoaster is the only way I can describe the last week of my life in Chile, as I made the decision to leave and head home to New Zealand.
One moment I was booking an extra month’s accommodation and settling in to the beautiful Pucon, awaiting the crazy rain that they were all telling me was coming and the next, anxiously deciding if I would stay in Chile over this time or go back to New Zealand, I mean was this virus as bad as what it was starting to look like we just didn’t know?
Making this kind of decision wasn’t on my to do list when planning to travel slowly and explore South America for a year or so, and then see if I would move back to New Zealand. I can’t begin to explain just how hard it was to make the decision, but I’m glad I did as I’ve since watched friends get stuck in other countries around the world as options to get home ran out, and I was relieved that I came home as quickly as I did.
Now for my decision making… My initial thought was, I’m fine! I’m in Pucon, it’s quietened down now the tourists have gone, I have a beautiful apartment and new friends to pass the time with - all very logical! However, that gut feeling of ‘I think I should go’ started to creep in, and the thoughts of ‘do I want to be in a country that isn’t my own whilst this happens’ and ‘am I prepared for all the unknown that will come with it’, turns out that was a no and especially with my limited Spanish making it hard to understand what was going on.
I can say that the decision was almost taken out of my hands, and frankly it was thanks to some very calm, level headed friends talking to me logically - now normally I’m very logical, but not in this situation, that got me to buy the first ticket. Once I had done this the New Zealand Government then told all their citizens to come home, so that cemented that I had made the right decision as that isn’t a call they make lightly.
It means that March 16th 2020 will go down as the day I made the hardest decision to date, to put my dream on hold and head back to the safety of my homeland, this was made through tears, oh so many tears, grieving for the dreams that were being put on hold and the life I had begun.
This is where the fun began…
Plan A had me leaving Pucon on the 21st of March and two days later being in Queenstown to quarantine… Turns out that no that wasn’t going to happen…
As we know changes were happening so quickly and the President announced a ‘State of Catastrophe’ which turned into who knows what he was going to do on the 19th, so I quickly booked a flight up to Santiago for the 19th and the plan was that I would stay at a hotel for 3 days and wait for Sundays flight…
Notice came through of closing regional and provincial borders on the 19th, which means I wouldn’t get to the airport!
Talking to my friend who was in Buenos Aires, we decided I would take an overnight bus that night the 18th, and if you’ve been in South America you know these aren’t fun. At the same time a friend in New Zealand messaged to say that Air New Zealand was no longer flying out of Argentina from the 18th which meant my Sunday flight wouldn’t be going ahead...
By now I’m now up to about Plan D with all the changes and about to get on an overnight bus so I have to make yet another decision.
This is where some beautiful moments kick in, from friends in Australia talking through my options, to Trudy, a stranger to me, in Blenheim who owns the House of Travel, finding me flights back and said to me “I’m booking, pay me when you’re back home and settled”, along with this we had a beautiful Airbnb host in Queenstown let us have her apartment and said the same thing, pay me when you’re home safe.
By this time the anxiety was high, the decision had been made and I just wanted to be at Santiago airport boarding that plane, as I knew so much could still happen before that moment, and until we were up in the air on that Latam flight I couldn’t relax.
Thankfully, once I got on the bus at 9pm all ran smoothly, bar two blown tyres at 4am, and I made it to Santiago, where I attempted a sleep at a hotel before heading to check-in. Turns out I was slightly impatient and only turned up for check-in 4 hours early, a record even for me. But I knew that I wouldn’t feel secure until I had my boarding passes which I was grateful the Latam girls could see and checked me in but said come back in a few hours for bag drop.
Now, I could sit and enjoy some Chilean Red and eat my first meal in about 3 days that wasn’t a cinnamon scroll or empanada, and partially relax. I reflected on how grateful I was for the 3 months I had had in South America as others around me had arrived, started their adventures and were soon back to fly back to their respective countries, sure I hadn’t continued on and had my 3-6 months in each country as planned, but I had seen a lot, experienced beautiful life changing moments and promised myself that I would be back.
The trip back was smooth sailing, once they decided what gate we would board from, the Latam, Qantas and Air New Zealand flights all ran perfectly, it was strange though arriving through Melbourne Airport and it was completely closed up, sights that I know not many will ever experience, but then landing in Christchurch and that feeling of being home was a relief, so much so when two lovely Policemen said ‘Welcome home, it’s great to have you here’ I started crying.
The emotions I’m sure will continue to come in waves, but for now the universe wants me back in New Zealand, where there are plenty of adventures to be had and I’m already planning some epic hikes!
And in times like this of unprecedented uncertainty, to be home around family was the right decision to make. I know we will be back out there exploring the world again and it might look different to how we've been doing it to date, and we don’t know what it will look like, but we are a resilient bunch and maybe this is the reset we’ve been needing to reflect on life, priorities and the future, I know for me it has been.
Kia Kaha, Stay Strong