The impact of COVID-19 on our Indonesia trip: Immediately going home!

Updated: Apr 5

Last Updated on April 2, 2020 by Martin Vogt

Dear friends,

I hope that this blogpost finds you in good spirits in these difficult times.

We’re back. Back in Switzerland. We landed at Zürich Airport last Friday, after a hectic 34-hour journey. We left Indonesia in a rush due to COVID-19. One week earlier than planned, we’re back home and safe. For the next 14 days, we’ll stay in self isolation, aka quarantine. Wow, we really didn’t seen this coming.

We’re still missing Indonesia: There’s no shortage of natural beauty in Indonesia, so you won’t have to venture far to see it. Whether you’re a beach addict or feel at home in the jungle, you’ll certainly be spoiled for choice. Those in search of soft shores and sea will enjoy the beautiful beaches, which boast stretches of white sand and gentle waves that are perfect for snorkeling. Travelers seeking more active adventure can trek on one of many of the volcanoes to enjoy sulphuric panoramic views or hike around emerald green rice paddies. We’ve done all of those things!

Thursday, March 19, around 5:30am, in a guest house on Flores Island, Indonesia

Sleepily I rub my eyes. The first rays of sunlight slip through the windows. Just like every day for the past few days, the first word that comes to mind when I wake up is ‘coronavirus’. As usual, I grabbed my phone and read a message from my brother: “Are you awake?”. I responded in a sleepy manner.

“The Swiss government advised all of its citizens to return immediately back home. You should make a choice whether you want to stay in Indonesia with the risk that you will not be able to return in the near future (with any support) or that you will the trip ends earlier and come directly to the Switzerland.”

Shit, what a nasty choice. If we stay in Indonesia we don’t know whether the country will go on lockdown and what that means for us as travelers. What we know is that Indonesia’s health system compares poorly with those in other countries that have been hit hard by the virus. Indonesia has a significant deficit in terms of hospital beds, medical staff and intensive care facilities, as we learned from many locals who we met.

Three hours later, it was clear to me what to do, as Singapore Airlines announced a reduction in its capacity and cancelled our flights back home for April 3, while other major airlines announced that they would ground their entire fleet for at least a month. 

In times like this, you activate your personal emergency plan (if you have one ready) or act rather quickly, rationally and without many emotions.

Once those over-priced and rare tickets were booked (with three mobile phones at the same time, as the servers of most airlines were at their limits), it was evident that many other travelers were in a rush to get home immediately. We shared the bad news with our incredibly friendly and capable driver/guide Sipri.

Directly after booking the tickets, we had to redraw our entire plans to route back to Bali in due time, as there are no international flights from/to Flores.

At every bar or restaurant with WiFi, we continuously read the news, checked for flight updates and were in contact with friends who are also abroad. More borders were closing completely, and entry at the Schengen external borders is locked with a few exceptions, and the flights of other travelers are cancelled. We were constantly refreshing our mailbox, terrified of a message that the rebooked flights might have also been cancelled.

Tuesday, March 25, 5pm: Nyepi, the day of silence, an unplanned “one-day” lockdown

Our flight from Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport was scheduled for Thursday March 26 2020 at 4:05pm, yet we are still in Ubud. At any other time, this would be no big deal. However, the day before on Wednesday March 25 2020, beginning at 6am and finishing 24 hours later at 6am, Bali celebrated Nyepi – the “Day of Silence” – the most magical and unique date on the Balinese calendar. It is found nowhere else in the world other than on this enchanting little island, and it can interrupt some of your vacation plans and you won’t be able to hit the beaches, shops, national parks, restaurants nor check-in/out at hotels for 24 hours.

The whole island shuts down for a full 24 hours, and the streets are off limits to everyone. Even the airport closes for a full day, with international planes being rerouted above to avoid disturbing the silence below. Everyone must remain inside their homes, villas or hotels without any disturbances: this means the closure of all transport hubs and banning of internet and phone use, sound, or even light. In short, it’s pure bliss, unless you find yourself forced to leave the country in due time!

Shortly after our check-in on March 25, the situation became even more critical as the local government announced a ‘one-day’ lockdown due to Covid-19 for the day after Nyepi (our departure day). This was just one of many unforeseeable measures in the time of coronavirus.

We were kindly advised to either leave the hotel or extend for another night, which was obviously not an option for us. I was able to convince the reception crew with some print screens of our pricey business class flight tickets, the advisory letter of the Swiss Embassy and the necessity of their support. We felt extremely pleased when we were informed that our transfer to the airport was approved under certain conditions, such as an approval letter and a guarantee that the transfer would be escorted by an official (police).

Thursday, March 26, 11am: Escort from hotel to the airport, empty streets

Finally it’s Thursday, our day of departure. Time to get ready and proceed with the check-out at the reception. Off to the airport!

Fortunately, a retired district chief police officer is designated for our ‘safe’ transfer to the airport. In his proudly-worn black uniform, he cheers to his former colleagues at each checkpoint. This may sound slightly exaggerated, but for once I feel extremely relaxed, conditioned with anti-inflammatory medicine and pain killers after having another piercing pain in my lower back due to a slipped disc while packing this morning.

On Ngembak Geni, the day after silence day, the Balinese would usually descend on beaches, tourist areas and shopping malls, causing traffic jams across the island. But today they are largely heeding the government’s call to remain inside.

Only ambulance and emergency vehicles are allowed on the streets, as well as our escorted hotel van!

Pecalang – local village security staff – are also deployed to stop people on the streets and send them home as part of a day-long lockdown of the island.

Some roads have been blocked off by police and authorities are continuing to spray disinfectant around streets and public areas.

In record time, our driver arrived at the airport and we are ready to go through security.

That was the plan, at least, until security officers decked with face masks pointed a temperature gun at our foreheads to measure our body temperature prior to entering the airport. The officer struck a poker face as he read out my temperature: 35.3 degrees Celsius. We both passed the check and then finally took off four hours later.

Yes, the first flight continued as usual, but I’m anxious about that guy with a nervous cough in front of us.

Thursday, March 26, 8pm: Stopover in Jakarta!

Two hours later, we arrive at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Indonesia’s largest airport. Everyone is being full-body sprayed with disinfectant and having their temperature checked after arrivals and further transfer.

My eyes are burning with fatigue (short night and stress), but I see the red letters for Amsterdam, Singapore, etc. on the departure board. Almost all flights have been cancelled. Luckily, the flight to Doha is still indicated as “on time” and therefore our adventure seems to continue just after midnight, with a stopover in Doha!

Friday, March 26, 4pm (Swiss time): Finally back home and in quarantine to prevent a possible coronavirus spread!

Here we are, back home. Enforcement of social distancing by police after arrival at Zürich airport. Shops closed, hallways empty, half empty train from Zürich Airport to Basel.

It’s so surreal to suddenly be at home but unable to hug or shake hands with each other... really bizarre! But did we end up getting the coronavirus? No idea, possibly.

Besides the fatigue, a slight headache and a dry throat, we feel fine. Above all, we don’t want to run the risk of infecting neighbors, friends, family, vulnerable grandfathers and grandmothers, as well as other people who we do not know.

I am relieved and convinced about having done the right thing. It’s really a pity that we had to end our journey through Indonesia. All of the messages and news about fellow travelers who are stuck or experiencing resentments against foreigners will live in uncertainty for days and maybe weeks. Those messages make sure that we never regretted our ‘forced’ departure a minute. We’ve already decided to go back once the situation is back to normal

Friday, March 26, 11:30pm: Living on less than €5 a day in Indonesia, there is no plan B

I’m tired, but I can’t fall asleep. I’m very worried about everything and the effects of all this on people, our lives, the economy… When I open my phone/inbox, I am flooded with kind messages from people all over the world, including our drivers in Indonesia.

“People in Bali, we don't complain. If we have a problem, we try to see a way through it,” one of our driver said while we were still in Bali.

But for the 170,000 Balinese living on less than €5 a day, there is no plan B.

“Many people will lose their jobs because there will be no tourists. But it will impact the poorest people most,” he said.

I hope that over the coming weeks many countries will indeed be arriving at positive turning points in their fight against coronavirus.

© 2020

When I scroll through my social media timelines, I see positive initiatives to make this world a better place, analyzing COVID-19 figures/trends and drafting own best practices. People are becoming more altruistic these days and that behavior is also contagious!

Coronavirus has already affected the world on a large scale, and probably the coming weeks will get worse. However, if we all follow, maintain and practice basic protective measures, ensure the care of our own health and protect others, I’m sure we can all overcome this!

As many of you well know, photography is an important tool in periods of turmoil, as it serves to document upheaval and change as well as offering inspiration and release. I will continue to share insights from my travel journey and work through regular updates on Instagram Stories.

I’m sure that everyone will travel again when all of this is over. Let’s try to stay positive and hope that everyone stays healthy and safe during these sometimes, lonely and isolated days.

Please take care of yourselves.

Martin Vogt

✭Explore. Dream. Discover.✭

Amazing sunrise at Kawah Ijen crater/acid lake, East Java, Indonesia

Do you have a question or do you want to share your travel experience in times of the coronavirus? Let me know! You can do this via a comment below!

#Indonesia #COVID19 #corona #coronavirus #stayhome


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All Photographs © 2014-2020 by MARTIN VOGT 

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Martin Vogt's body of work spans vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike – yet always retains a human and nature element.

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