A Bowling Green couple wanted to honeymoon in Colombia, but not quarantine there.
Newlyweds Aidan and Emily Hubbell-Staeble barely made it back to America before a mandatory quarantine due to coronavirus went into effect in the South American country.
The couple were married on Feb. 29 and were originally scheduled to return from their honeymoon in Colombia on March 21. But things got crazy in Bogata when the government became much more serious about COVID-19.
“When we left, there were no confirmed cases in Colombia. So from that standpoint it was probably safer than here in the United States,” Emily said. “When we came back it had escalated times a million — from no confirmed cases in Colombia to literally the hotel staff knocking on our door and asking when we were leaving.”
The trip started when they left for Cartagena, Colombia, on March 7, by way of Detroit and then through the Miami International Airport. From Cartagena, they flew to Medellin on March 13. From Medellin they took the next leg of their trip on March 17, flying to Bogota. They returned to the U.S. early on March 18, arriving in Detroit by way of Fort Lauderdale, around 11 p.m.
“The last 48 hours of our time in Colombia, it was pretty crazy. We had a flight canceled. We had people knocking on our door telling us we weren’t allowed to leave, unless we were going home, essentially because they quarantined all foreigners,” Emily said.
“That being said, before our trip, a lot of people were asking us about the coronavirus. Our friends and family. We definitely monitored the situation, but it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. To be honest, more people asked us whether or not Colombia was safe as a country, (because of the reputation for crime) than they did about coronavirus. It wasn’t really that big of a concern for most people.”
If they hadn’t left the hotel in Medellin on March 16, the following day the staff were directed to quarantine all foreigners in their rooms and they would not be allowed to leave Colombia for at least 14 days.
Eventually, they were able to find a flight out of Bogota, and a flight out of Medellin into Bogota, as well as a hotel to stay the night.
“That’s why we went to Bogota, because we were told that the only flights to the United States were from Bogota,” Emily said. While they had originally planned to go to Bogota, with some cool sights to see, all of those attractions had been closed by the Colombian government.
On March 17, most flights were grounded in Bogota. The airport was considered full and they were unsure if the plane could land there. Simultaneously, they had found out their flight back to the U.S. was canceled, and their airline’s flights had grounded until May 6.
“It was a pretty stressful 12 hours,” Emily said.
The first confirmed case of the coronavirus was two days after they arrived in Colombia, on March 9. By the time they left, a week later, it was up to 50 cases, with 30 of them in Bogota.
The airports had been transformed.
“Every 20 feet there were airport employees with hand sanitizer. Everybody was wearing masks. In the Bogota airport 70-80% of people were wearing masks,” Aidan said. “They had big signs up telling you not to touch your face and to keep your 6-feet social distancing.”
All the activity was compounded by regular announcements, in English and Spanish, from the PA system that the government was taking COVID-19 precautions seriously.
On entering the Bogota airport they checked the March 26 outgoing flight and were informed that “even if we had a flight on the 26th, in reality, that flight was actually canceled,” Aidan said. “We ended up getting a flight home with Spirit.”
At that point there was only one other flight leaving Colombia for the United States. It was also on March 18 with Avianca Airlines.
“They asked us questions when we checked in, about whether or not we had been to China or Europe, how we were feeling and had we experienced fevers or coughing. Basically, any of the symptoms. That was just at check-in. That was at security,” Aidan said. “I definitely saw someone, who was coughing, taken out of line to have their temperature taken.”
That contrasted sharply with their return entry to the United States.
“When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, I’ve got to say, it was pretty much business as usual,” Emily said. “They weren’t doing any of the precautions.”
“One of the big things I remember from when we flew into Colombia, this was on March 7, was that they had all their drinking fountains covered,” Emily said.
Aidan vividly recalled the first image he saw on disembarking in Florida.
“There were three people lined up at the drinking fountain when we got off the plane. ‘Are you joking?’ I was pretty much mindblown,” Aidan said.
The contrast continued on the next plane to Detroit.
“We carry Clorox wipes with us for plane trips anyway, and it was clear that the plane to Fort Lauderdale had been thoroughly cleaned. That plane to Detroit, was just as gross as usual. Maybe, at best, it had been vacuumed,” Emily said.
Prior to leaving, friends and family were concerned for their safety due to crime, not COVID-19.
They do a lot of travel and had never been to Colombia and South America sounded great to them. It had everything: beaches, culture and it was new.
The money they were spending was going directly to those communities., the couple said. Some of what they saw were sustainable farming operations.
“That was something we really liked,” Aidan said.
They were able to experience most of what they had signed up for in Medellin. Unfortunately, all the museums and tourist attractions were eventually shut down. Everything was canceled in Bogotá.
“One of my favorite things we saw were the people selling homemade hand sanitizer, alcohol spray and masks. People were trying to sell those on the street,” Aidan said.
They were glad they left when they did. They lost five days, but they are glad that they didn’t try to wait it out.
“I’d rather be quarantined here, in our house, than in a hotel room in Bogota,” Emily said. “My stance on it. It will be one hell of a story to tell our kids about.”