Should we really go?
To be honest we were not thinking of not going to Vancouver and we didn’t realise how serious it was until the borders started closing. And that was not the day before the travel.
My boyfriend left to Frankfurt one day earlier and stayed with my friend Sarah, who was really nice to host him, while I had to pack a small bag and the morning after fly to Frankfurt as well. It was 11th March 2020 and that is a national bank holiday in Lithuania so our insurance office was closed. I had not yet received any answers from them about the insurance the day before. My mind was still calm, I thought I could fix it on the way while I am waiting in Frankfurt.
It was while waiting in the Frankfurt airport that the scary thoughts slowly started creeping in as the insurance company (I am trying hard to avoid mentioning their name; that is because I feel the insurance companies are all the same) notified us they cannot give us travel insurance if we had already crossed the national border. We don’t have insurance. Our EU blue card does not work in Canada. I am still coughing, what if they don’t let me take off or get into Canada? Trump announces USA’s lock-down and no flights from Europe to USA allowed. Those were very worrying thoughts and the news kept dropping in, changing from hour to hour. We tried keeping our spirits up and we made some photos that I posted on Instagram. I received quite a backlash from my followers, being shocked that I travel and if it is really necessary. What is necessary? I was so happy to go to Canada, why are you spoiling my joy now? What can we do now, half-way there?
The flight attendant sat in front of us for the takeoff, looking worried.
“How are you?” I asked. “I am good, just worried. We were supposed to fly to Miami next week but Trump closed the borders for flights from Europe. Things change from one hour to the next. Nobody knows what will happen.” The conversation continued in a more relaxed tone during the travel, she was really nice and helpful, gave us some pieces of advice on where to go, but that it’s her first time in Vancouver too. And how nice the life of a flight attendant is. That we should not feel guilty to travel now, things are uncertain, but Canada really doesn’t have many confirmed cases and they are more relaxed than the USA.
It was exciting to be in Vancouver airport, it was my first time in either of the Americas and I heard so many nice things, I planned so many sights to see. It is going to be great, nonetheless.
We were picked up from the airport by the organizers of the goalball tournament, which was very comfortable and soon we checked in our Sheraton hotel. I know, right, Sheraton.
The only event in British Columbia
Many other people’s flights were delayed – who knows if Corona made this mess?! So we postponed our technical meetings until everyone arrived. But before that we met with the lovely team of referees that I’d not met yet before. When the good goalball people meet, the energy becomes better immediately – so did that evening (and later on). It felt like being at home again.
On the other hand the organizer Ahmad was out of his mind, in fact I had never seen him like that before. He kept getting messages, emails and calls. It turned out that on the morning when the 3 day-tournament was supposed to begin and all the participants were already there, the local authorities were suggesting to cancel it. Even though we had planned to follow stricter precautions than on any normal tournament before. While the advertising of the tournament was not their top priority even beforehand, but rather a great event in these conditions, we were facing cancellation. So Ahmad tried to ensure the tournament goes on uninterrupted, and that meant cutting one day of games, which nobody seemed to mind. Referees had to wear latex gloves, no handshakes were allowed, no touching the players, disinfect our hands each time we entered the halls, disinfect the ball and team benches. Never before did we do anything similar, but to ensure nobody gets infected with this mysterious virus that can presumably spread so fast, those were the measures. And we were allowed to do it anyway, with no spectators. While events all over the world got cancelled, no NBA games, no football, hockey or any other sport. Our Vancouver Goalball Grandslam was probably the only sports event in British Columbia if not Canada as a whole. We were not even sure if we should take photos. But we did and those photos turned out amazing; special times – special photos. We were, after all, proud of the meaning our sport had, especially during these crazy difficult times. And why is it that the I always find Japanese photographers the most amazing? There was this amazing photographer Manto Nakamura, whose photos I will mainly post here. He documented the event and every emotion with such subtle perfection, it tells you more than words.
“Yesterday, as I was going to a theatre performance after the games, it got cancelled half way there,” said Doug.
Goalball events got cancelled for months ahead, messages didn’t even stop raining in. Now, we understood that anything can be cancelled any minute, and “social distancing” was the new popular term used in almost every sentence. The only thing that was still not clear were the Olympics and Paralympics.
As the tournament went on with the determination, solidarity, friendship and a lot of humour from everybody participating, I learnt about cultural differences in referring styles and how my voice is not very strong in a big hall. There I was thinking to myself: I will tell this to my boyfriend next time he thinks I am screaming at him – my voice is not loud enough!
It ended with a small evening closing ceremony at the hotel. Many words of thanks were dedicated to a special man, a long time coach and promoter of goalball, mister Danny Snow, who’d passed away in 2019. Really it was quite moving. We felt his presence in these difficult times we were facing and him cheering us on.
Come home immediately!
If there’s anything I hated more than this phrase as a child, that was actually coming home from a very fulfilling journey. And no, I still didn’t like to be told to come home. The actual order from my parents (when I was a child) was: Come home immediately or don’t come back at all – exactly as the countries’ governments warned now. We kept getting messages of borders in Europe closing down. Italy was clear, but now Germany was closing, Slovenia, Lithuania (honestly, I wasn’t even able to follow the rest) and our flight back was going through Germany. Probably also due to jet lag I woke up in the middle of the night, reading my friends’ messages and posts on Facebook – they warned me to get home as fast as possible. I even reinstalled the Facebook app back to my phone – a thing I had not missed until then, because it made me anxious and depressed – just to join a group about travel tickets and how to get a change of flight without paying for a new ticket. That I would delete it as soon as I get back home safely. I got useful information there – no use calling the airlines, you’ll wait for hours, you better go to the airport as soon as possible and fly home. Or stay where you are. And honestly, we would just stay – but the only thing was that we didn’t have health insurance and in case we get the virus, we’d probably have to spend thousands of dollars to stay in the hospital – that was just a risk too much to take.
Special times call for special measures
I’ve always been good at making the best out of a very limited time. Don’t get me wrong – the way how it works is, I procrastinate for 80 percent of the time and then in 20 percent of the remaining time I do everything. That’s how my master thesis was written, that’s how our trip to Estonia was done in 4 hours a few years ago. The difference in Canada, was, however, substantial; we didn’t have a ‘premature’ deadline and we didn’t even know there would be one four days earlier. But we were tired of being inside, tired of listening to corona news, tired of winter – and there was sun! And sun in Canada must be different!
So we went out and did the only sightseeing (as it turned out later) of the city. Many sights were closed, schools were closing their doors, but it was Sunday, and schools don’t work then anyway. It’s a wonderful city, situated between mountains and the sea, a wet dream of every Slovenian, probably.
We took the Sky train to Waterfront and as we got out the sun shone so bright, my eyes were watering for a while, but mostly I just enjoyed. We just walked along Waterfront. No particular goal in mind, just to soak in the beauty, the cherry trees in full bloom, the boats and water planes ( I think that’s what they’re called?), the nature. People coming towards us in shorts, while we are covered up to our eyes. I was never afraid of cold, in fact I love it. But corona times changed me. There was a seal swimming randomly in the port – I’d never seen that before. We walked towards Stanley park and we spontaneously decided to go to the aquarium. The cashier lady warned us we only have 1,5 hours to see and that she would prolong our stay intul the next day. Good that we decided to go in anyway. The cutest thing you can see is sea otter feeding and them making somersaults. And sea lions roar. And blue frogs, just because – who’s ever seen blue frogs?
And strolling back, we stopped by at a Japanese restaurant for a ramen. And we thought how we could rent a bike next day and just ride around. Canadian geese munching on grass, always in couples, never alone. Day well spent. Positive energy all around. Also the only sightseeing in Vancouver. Needless to mention I want to go back so much now, this was after all just a teaser.
Our way home
The night before we decided to leave, a RTV Slovenia reporter found me on Facebook group and wanted to have an interview with me the next morning. It was early morning for me and she didn’t think about it – for her it was afternoon. With the promise she’d help me get home to Lithuania. I was reporting from Canada and was one of many Slovenians that had to get home before the border closures. After this discussion, I realized the situation is serious and we have to get a flight as soon as possible, possibly that or the next day. We packed our bags, said goodbye to our goalball friends and left the hotel. It was probably the closest thing to fleeing like a refugee (I really do not want to disrespect the much harder situations real refugees face in the face of adversities, I would just like to describe my anxiety at that moment) as we went straight to the airport and waited in line for the only plane that left that day to Frankfurt. Lufthansa staff there was very helpful and we were very grateful to them – you could see the exhaustion on their faces as they tried helping people with rebooking their flights. We got our tickets changed and we could leave immediately, but Arturas only to Frankfurt. It felt like we’re taking the next bus ride home – nothing magnificent in that. My flights are always magnificent in my mind -I am a bit afraid of flying – but not this time.
In conclusion, we came home. Me first as Arturas was left with no possibility to change the flight date in Frankfurt. The Lufthansa staff there were another story – they quoted a price much higher than his whole original ticket cost for a new ticket and didn’t bother to be flexible. Only later, when our flight was already about to take off, he got a message his original flight was cancelled and then he got a ticket for the next day.
As I landed in Vilnius airport, the medical staff measured temperature to every passenger; the ones above 37,5 degrees Celsius were asked to stay, others were allowed to fill in the survey and leave. By bus or whatever other way we desired. And then the 14-day compulsory quarantine started. I am now on day 8, he is on day 7. So far so good (touch wood)!