South America

Stories from COVID-19 – A quick exit from Colombia

Viva Expeditions  |  3 July 2020

Stories from COVID-19

 In this series of articles, we are going to take a look at some stories from clients that were travelling with Viva when the COVID-19 outbreak first started shutting down the world, and what happened.

Case #1. A quick exit from Colombia

Mr. Peter Howman

 “By the time I entered El Salvador on the 7th of March I had already been travelling through Mexico & Cuba for almost a month and was now crossing by land from Guatemala.  Here I had my temperature tested, the first sign of any COVID precautions being taken.   But other than that, there was nothing else referring to Coronavirus as I continued travelling to Nicaragua and onto Costa Rica.

 I checked updates from Travel Safe NZ, and the main areas of concern appeared to be Europe, China & Iran. My travel seemed to be okay.

 On March 14 I got emails from NZ saying I would have to self-isolate when I got home.  I emailed my travel agent Cath, and as she was away, I was put in contact with her associate Rachel. At this time, I was at the Monteverdi Cloud Forest Hotel on my way to the coast to explore the San Miguel National Park.   I got a reply from Rachel that Colombia (my next destination) is banning European arrivals tomorrow, but I am ok to keep going. Any changes she would let me know.   It was certainly reassuring to have Rachel looking out for me.

 The next day there was no further news.  My driver picked me up at 8.30am and we went to the airport in San Jose and I took my flight to Panama.  While in transit I checked my emails with free internet in terminal. There are two emails from Rachel:

1st message: I have to come home, either Monday (tomorrow) or Wednesday, what’s my preference?

2nd message (90 minutes after first): I’m booked to come home tomorrow!!!

 A sudden change in plans, but I was not worried about “missing out“ on my travel plans, just perhaps a bit anxious that I’d be able to get home.   At this point I was really pleased that my travel agent and Viva had been so proactive. If I’d been trying to do it all myself .... well, I am sure it wouldn’t have been such a smooth transaction.

 Anyway, I was in transit and had to continue to Cartagena in Colombia.  Colombia was closing down tomorrow, but flights out were okay.   It was all a bit surreal, I had to remind myself not to panic!

On arrival in Colombia Customs & Immigration went by without event, they just asked if been in Europe or China, I filled in a Coronavirus form and off I went.   Welcome to Colombia. 

I was met outside by guide Javier and my driver, both wearing masks.   It was almost 11.00pm and they assured me they would pick me up in the morning at 6.45 am for my ride back to the airport. 

 I didn’t sleep much that night as it was a pretty anxious time and I didn’t want to be stuck in Colombia.

 As promised Javier was waiting in the morning and before long, I was back at the airport.  At check-in I was questioned briefly about a 2017 Visa for Mongolia & checked my US Visa, fortunately I had printed it out and had it with me, so finally ok to go!

 My anxiety eased once we were in the air. I knew that there were more planes out of Panama than Cartagena.  I was temperature test in Panama but all ok and I boarded my 7-hour flight to LAX.  The plane wasn’t full and there was a spare seat between me and the lady in the window seat. Lots of passengers were wearing masks.

 On arrival LA airport is empty, no queues for immigration or customs, nothing re Coronavirus.  It seemed very strange.

 However, I finally made it onboard the plane that would take me home!  Finally, I was able to physically relax. I had been travelling already for over 16 hours and I had another 13 hours ahead of me.  Luckily the Air New Zealand flight home is very smooth, and I was able to sleep.

 Stepping off the plane in New Zealand it felt fantastic to be home!  I am so very grateful to all those involved in enabling me to be here.

 I would like to finish my trip at some time in the future once COVID is no longer a fear. 

Highlights of Guatemala 6

Monteverde hanging bridges Costa Rica

Case #2 Cath Healey & Rachel Gaffkin – NZ Travel Brokers

“My client Peter Howman departed NZ on the 13th of February to travel through Mexico and Cuba before heading into Central America, a trip arranged by Tara Sutherland at Viva Expeditions.  At this stage we were blissfully unaware of the storm to come.

When Tara at Viva Expeditions raised the flags regarding imminent border restrictions due to COVID-19 I was on route to Africa. I promptly contacted my broker buddy Rachel Gaffikin who was looking after Peter while I was away.  Between them Rachel & Tara managed to quickly rebook flights home,  and Tara arranged for Mr Howman to be met at the airport by one of Viva’s local team where he was made aware of the situation and changes made to his bookings. 

He was on his way back to NZ within 24 hours of Tara alerting us to the impending border restrictions!“

Cath Healey, NZ Travel Brokers

“This was a time of chaos and uncertainty!

Things escalated really quickly and we were having to make quick decisions on the fly.

When I received an email and then a call from Tara at Viva advising borders were closing. Mr Howman was in the air at the time and things were starting to look dire, so I had to make the call to cancel the rest of his arrangements and book him on the next available flight out of Cartagena, Colombia.

cartagena Colombia

As Mr Howman was not my client and I didn’t really know the history of his booking I was incredibly nervous about making all these changes on his behalf without the OK from him. Tara was absolutely AMAZING and reassured me that we were doing the right thing and really had no choice – that was all I needed to hear. I rebooked his flights and reissued tickets – Tara dealt with everything else in a super-efficient and calm manner – which was so appreciated – especially when I know how many other clients she/you all were dealing with at the same time. Her composure really helped me make the right decisions.

When I did hear from Mr Howman he was so very grateful to everyone for helping him get home – I even received a hand painted gift from him during lockdown to say thank you!

Highlights of Guatemala 1

Tara went above and beyond – letting local suppliers know of the change of plans, checking in with me that he had boarded his flight and then checking again when he arrived in NZ – every step of the way I felt 100% supported. 

I myself have only made a few bookings with Viva in the past, going forward you will absolutely be my first choice!

In summary Tara is an absolute superstar and I am so grateful to her for being so calm and helping me avoid a total disaster!  I really don’t have enough words in my vocab to express my thanks to Viva – absolute legends

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