After an eventful first half of this cruise, we were now back on schedule and heading for Costa Rica. Here the authorities were taking a much different attitude to Covid; it seemed that they accepted it was going to happen, so “let’s get on with it and get it over with” seemed to be the prevailing sentiment. We had a great time in Puerto Limon taking a train and riverboat ride out into the jungle to see all the wild life.
Then on to Colon on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Here we went on a coach ride across the Continental Divide to the Pacific Coast and Panama City and the Panama Canal Locks. We did a walking tour of the City where sumptuous rich palaces were cheek by jowl with poor shacks and hovels. In fact it was so impoverished that most of the metal, manhole covers had been stolen and replaced with plastic beer crates. We found this slightly amusing ’til one of our group stood on a crate in the middle of the pavement and it collapsed, her foot went though and she was stuck half way into a sewer with her leg lacerated. Emergency first aid was given and we were all taken rapidly back on board the ship.
Then through more Central American ports before heading back to the Caribbean Islands at Willemstad, Curacao. The captain then announced that two previous guests who had left the ship had been diagnosed with Covid 19 and four crew members were also down with symptoms. We had been on serious antivirus precautions since we left The Dominican Republic but they were intensified now. All food was buffet style but with waiters serving it, there was constant wiping down of surfaces with disinfectants and nonstop announcements to wash your hands. All entertainment had been cancelled and, whilst social distancing had not yet been invented, we were practising it.
We were not allowed off the ship in Curacao. The Captain came on the tannoy to explain that tests had been sent off for six crew members who had symptoms. Preliminary results were due later that day and full tests the following day. We spent the day alongside bunkering and admiring the views. Willemstad is a very pretty place. We then sailed for Barbados. Later the Captain come back on to say that some of the tests were positive and COVID was on board. We were sailing on while decisions were made.
The next day we slowly sailed on, by now Barbados had banned us from entering port. We sailed north for the rest of the day, at 18:00 a very despondent Captain came on the tannoy: “We will continue to Freeport in the Bahamas where the ship is registered but nothing has been agreed yet.” Talks were continuing. Staff were getting upset, Krissie our waitress was almost in tears. Some of the waiters were getting surly.
The next Captain’s announcement was significant. He said we had been granted “safe haven” in Freeport to refuel and take on medical supplies. He said that he was doing his utmost and promised that he would get us all home safely.
The next day the Captain made a late morning announcement. He read a prepared statement: “We are definitely able to get into Freeport to replenish but at the moment no one is allowed off the ship.” He then admitted that if he has to, he will take us back to Southampton by sea. His statement then basically said that he need to look after his crew as well as passengers so there would be less amenities available. He asked the passengers to treat the crew better. So I think that there had been some nastiness going on.
Our Captain, a proud Finn, then announced that we had made the Sky News, who stated that the British Captain had reported… He was not amused. He added that we now have been told that we were not allowed into Freeport but will have to go to a deserted island 30 miles out from Freeport and anchor off there to wait for supplies.
We then dropped anchor off a true little deserted island, Great Isaac Island, with trees and a lighthouse. We waited, and waited and waited, but no supplies came.
We got up to another sunny day in paradise. The Captain came on and told us that the supplies had left the dock at 10:30ish Island time and would arrive with us that afternoon with one nurse on board, the other medical staff following later. He said that Boris had now taken charge of rescuing us. There was an audible groan. He reiterated all the usual platitudes (nicely). Later that evening we could see two little specs on the Horizon, slowly getting closer, they were a small tug towing a beat up old boat, loaded high with our stores and a nurse sitting on top of the pile. There was no one else on the boat.
The tug cast off the boat and scuttled off to a safe distance. We had to up anchor and manoeuvre the cruise ship alongside the barge. As darkness fell the crew rigged lights and began unloading the supplies.
Next morning we found that all our supplies were now on board as well as two doctors and another nurse. The Tug then sank the barge rather than risk bringing the virus back to the Bahamas. I think that was the moment when we realised that the Island governments were not going to allow us anywhere near them.
At 09:00 the very upbeat Captain came on and said that he had good news to announce when we had upped anchor. It was, we were going to Cuba to repatriate all passengers on four flights. We would fly back to the UK on Wednesday sometime. So we sailed for Cuba.
We were given our instructions for repatriation and it seems that we were to be treated like cattle, all the way to Manchester. There will be no hot food on the plane. Many of the guests were showing their usual stupidity and were not listening to and not reading instructions and are very confused. No matter how hard the authorities try I am afraid it is going to be a “herding ferrets” exercise. There was just time for lunch before the disembarkation began.
As they started to call people to disembark it became clear what was happening. There were 10 large coaches per aircraft and as each bus was filled it moved to a queueing area and waited while the rest were loaded. When they were all full they moved off in convoy complete with police escort vehicles. It was significantly more efficient than I first envisioned. After the first batch had gone it was our turn. We were on the 7th bus so didn’t have to wait too long before we set off for the airport. It was amazing, we drove very slowly to ensure every bus stayed together and at every road junction and roundabout the traffic was stopped to let our convoy through. The locals had been waiting a while in some cases as they were all out of their cars watching us go past. In the UK there would have been a lot of angry motorists but here they were waving to us and cheering. Lots of pictures being taken. It was a very interesting journey to the airport. On each seat of the busses was a gift bag from the Cuban Government with sun hats, posters badges and CDs in them. A very nice touch.
When we got there, we were taken to a back gate at the airport, where the planes were lined up. The first convoy was just finishing being processed as we arrived. There were two tents with machines for security checks. We were deposited, rushed through the tents then reloaded on to a bus to be taken straight to the plane. We had been given a packed lunch and water when we disembarked the ship, which we ate and drank before getting to the airport, because we did not think it would be allowed through security. However it would have been.
We boarded the plane through the front door and they filled the seats up as you got on. So the people on bus one were in the upper-class seats as we were on bus seven we missed out on the premium and economy premium and were the first into economy class. We did however get into the seats with extra leg room.
There were some very unhappy passengers who were demanding that people should be moved out of upper-class because “we always fly in upper”. This lady moaned and fussed all the way to Heathrow. We were delayed on take-off because someone mentioned they were feeling a bit off. So they were transferred to Plane four to go to direct to Boscome Down. This last plane had no livery and was all in white. I think it may have been an RAF job without insignia because the RAF isn’t allowed in to Cuba.
There were a lot of staff on the plane and they weren’t all in BA staff uniform. I think there were some: “foreign office” types on board. It was a long uncomfortable flight home. We watched some films. The only “meal” was water and crisp type snacks. We eventually came in to land at Heathrow.
When we landed we were cleared very quickly to go through immigration. We all had to use the self-service passport checks. The staff were very impatient and did not appreciate, tired, old and confused people who had never used this system before would find it difficult.
At no time in the airport was any kind of test or check done on anyone. Not even a temperature scan. We were just told to follow government guide lines if we became ill. So back home we went where there was just enough time to do some shopping before we went into the First Lockdown.
Tune into the blog next Tuesday for the final instalment of Roger’s cruise ship diaries…