Our travels in crisis

Here we are. Travelling in a world where the borders are slowly closing in on us. The world is sick and we try to navigate around it. I can safely say by now we are no longer moving around as carefree as we started off.

In the summer of 2019 we left our home to travel around Europe. Because, why wait until we’re old and grey if we can make it happen now? On top of that: being European provides us the advantage of crossing borders and cultures without a hassle and that suddenly felt like a privilege we should enjoy as long as it would last. We are living in tumultuous times with Brexit coming up and the rise of populism and lack of solidarity throughout Europe made us wonder what comes next.

Nine months later and we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and economic crisis. All of a sudden it’s real. The world is changing as we speak. The outbreak of the coronavirus has a huge impact on everyday life. The earth is holding its breath and I still can’t wrap my head around the total impact of this all.

I think we were in the north of Spain when we first read about the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Troublesome, but also far away. Driving through France we knew there was one reported patient in the country who had been in China, but it all seemed under control, as the virus didn’t seem to spread. In the meantime China had put cities in complete lockdown and we got a bit more alert. At the time we just arrived in Italy, the first cases in the north of Italy got confirmed. Even though we were only a couple of hundred kilometres away from the affected region, we didn’t worry about it too much at that point.

Then things started to evolve fast. Within a couple of days the virus spread really quickly, towns went into lockdown and public life in the north of Italy was about to put on hold. The turning point for us came about four weeks ago. We went to a public swimming pool near Genova to take a shower and the lady behind the desk was crazy-busy answering phone calls. As soon as I got her attention I commented: ‘Wow you’re busy hey.’ She replied: ‘Yeah it’s the coronavirus… We should already be closed today.’ I knew enough. This was bad news. The virus was spreading faster than any test could catch up on or any news report could cover. We had to trust our gut and use our common sense. At this point Italy was no place to be just for fun. If we would go down south, we would risk getting stuck. All in all we decided to get the hell out of there and continue our journey east towards Slovenia and Croatia.

The past few weeks felt a bit surreal. While traveling along the beautiful and peaceful coastline of Croatia, the virus spread all around Europe and the world. Our home country got affected by the virus and so were many other countries around us. Every minute new safety measurements were taken by some country and every country reacted differently. In the meantime the situation in Italy got worse and worse and we felt overwhelmed by the sadness of it all.

“Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go it will be trouble. If I stay it will be double. Come on and let me know. Should I stay or should I go?”

The Clash

Since we left Italy, a big cloud hung over our heads. Would we still be able to continue our journey like we had in mind and travel all the way to Greece? More and more we realised the virus would catch up on us and we were not going to escape it anymore. We could already be spreading it by now actually. Torn between feelings of fear and responsibility we didn’t know what to do for a while. A lot of countries advised people not to move around and to stay at home. Where would that leave us? Since our van is our home, we decided to find a peaceful place in Croatia, close to some basic facilities like water and groceries, and stay put.  

That’s how we ended up in the little village of Gradac in Dalmatia where we met a bunch of locals drinking beer outside a gas station. ‘What are you doing here? Corona!’ was their first comment. We shrugged and explained our situation. They offered us a beer and assured us we could stay in the village and offered help if we needed anything. One of them fled from Bosnia to The Netherlands during the war in Yugoslavia in the nineties. He was very grateful for the help he received: ‘Nederland zit in mijn hart.’ What a special encounter in this unusual situation, where we are the refugees now and very happy to get a such a warm welcome.

We didn’t last long though. On our first morning we were woken up by two police officers. They wanted to know how long we had been in Croatia. Over two weeks by then. They liked the fact that we had not crossed any borders lately and started to relax. They understood our situation and told us it was alright to stay for now. The next day we got another knock on the van. This time it was from officers of the municipality. More and more people got anxious about the virus and had called the police about that foreign licence plate at the edge of town. We could not stay anymore and the officers escorted us out of town to a deserted parking lot in another village where ‘people are more used to strange people.’

They all really meant well. Some random locals even offered us a parking spot in their garden, but we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. At this point it became very clear to us. Croatia was preparing for a long and painful crisis, as were all the countries around us, and we had no good reason to stay any longer. The only way out was home, so that’s what we did. We set off early next morning and said goodbye to the sea and our travel plans.

To get back to The Netherlands we had to cross four borders. Since some countries already closed their borders and others were planning to do so, we had an exciting journey ahead of us. It was going to be unusual and weird for sure. With ups and downs we drove north. Happy and thankful for all those months of traveling and sad and afraid for everything that’s coming our way. Vulnerable because the future is so unsure and strong at the same time because we’re in this together.

“I got you to hold my hand.
I got you to understand.
I got you to walk with me.
I got you to talk with me.
I got you babe.
I got you babe.”

Sonny and Cher

We were checked at every border and we got an extra check up from the border patrol in Germany where we had a short pit stop at a gas station. They asked us where we came from and where we were going. So no detours anymore, that much was clear. Apart from that, it all went smoothly and we made it safely back to The Netherlands.

Home where everything has changed and where we don’t have a home anymore. We decided to find ourselves a quiet spot in the north of Groningen to go into self-isolation in our van for a while. In a way our lives haven’t changed that much. We enjoy being surrounded by nature and let our natural sense of rhythm take over. If anyone is able to live in isolation, without friends or family and without the purpose of having a job and all the common distractions of modern life around, it should be us. In the past year on the road I feel like we at least made it through the introduction course.

Of course we worry. Will there be enough care available for all of those getting sick around the world? How long will people keep on dying alone? Will there be enough food for everyone in the long run? Where will our ‘bigger-better-more-economy’ – which is holding on to a string – leave us after the virus is – hopefully – under control?

Also questions about our personal situation come to mind. Will we find a house or job again? But there is not much we can do about it now. Nor can we foresee the future and anticipate on everything that is coming. I think this situation provides a lesson for all of us to take it day by day. Let’s be kind to ourselves and to our mind. Take a rest, stay healthy and we’ll catch up with all of you later.

And so it seems, our journey is not really over, our journey continues…..