Travel tales from the time of Covid (the quarantine chronicles)

Bus number one departs and we pull in to the space left by it. Having piled off the bus we hover on the pavement as the luggage is unloaded before being allowed to go in twos in the lift to the 8th floor. Once there we are told to pick a room, any room and so I head off to find my cell for the next 14 days.

On entering I am pleasantly surprised. I can already see the balcony so that’s number 1 nightmare (I won’t be able to breathe “fresh” air if there are no opening windows or balcony)sorted. There’s a little kitchenette with a kettle (cross off nightmare No.2) and a huge lounge/bedroom with sofa, super king bed, flat screen TV and a desk. All the sockets have both 3pin & 2pin options plus USB slots – this is getting better by the minute. And then, the Pièce de résistance, there’s a bath in the bathroom.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, a bath is pretty high up on my list of potential choices for the luxury item I can take if I’m ever invited to do Desert Island Discs (Yeah right – who am I kidding!). This discovery in my room really helped lift my spirits and spurred on by this I very bravely closed the door and attempted to settle in to my new home.

I’d been in the room about 30 minutes when the doorbell rang. It became obvious at this point just how anxious I still was as I jumped up like a coiled spring to go and find out who was on the other side of the door.

And then I opened it only to discover there was no-one there. A glance around and I discovered the reason for the chime. Dinner was served. A plastic bag filled with containers of food was carefully placed on a table located to the right of the door. The food consisted of a box of rice, another box with ginger chicken (one of my favourite Khmer dishes) and a piece of fruit. One of my biggest nightmares of all was slowly being beaten back – the food was edible (pretty tasty to be fair) and the portion size was reasonable, unlike some of the horror stories I’d read online.

And so it was that once I’d had a doorstep visit from 3 hazmat wearing staff with a computer on a trolley to complete the necessary registration procedures in a suitably socially distanced fashion I settled down to go to sleep.

My sleep was long but peppered with weird dreams of people running down corridors chased by staff (wearing full protective gear of course) screaming “You are disease! Go to room NOW!” (Please feel free to read that in a dalek like voice as that was how it transpired in my dream) Stressed? Moi? Never!!!!

A call at 7am informed me I hadn’t completed my food order. I resisted the urge to say that it was because I hadn’t realised I had to and instead told them I was going back to sleep and would do it later. 15 minutes later the doorbell rang and once again a food parcel had magically appeared on the table by my door. I grabbed it, dumped it on the counter and went back to bed waking again at 11.30am to another bloody doorbell and another bag of food.

Once I finally came around (about 2pm) I explored the magically appearing bags and discovered more fairly decent looking food (I didn’t bother trying any of it because I wasn’t hungry.

I decided to put the radio on for company and passed the day catching up with emails and other dull as dishwater stuff. A 5.30 doorbell indicated it was dinner time and this time I was hungry enough to consume a palatable piece of fish with potatoes and veg.

As I was returning to the kitchen I noticed there were a number of trails of dusty footprints leading from the balcony to the front door – how had that happened I asked myself. I looked at the front door and noticed that right above the spy hole there was a shiny patch and it was at that point I realised I hadn’t been pacing the room going from looking out on the balcony to peering out of the peephole (hence the shiny patch where my forehead had met the door) looking for signs of life on and off all afternoon. In other words I was behaving like a caged animal and on realising this acknowledged that it was probably because I felt like one.

It’s a very weird thing to be in a fairly luxurious room with all mod cons and not be allowed to go out of it. To have a door that opens but know that there are guards watching to make sure you don’t leave. A very upmarket version of prison with Wifi, 300 thread count sheets and a bath. The pacing continued to some degree for about 3 or 4 days but I eventually settled to my fate and became more sedentary – a fact I’m sure the floorboards were relieved about.

I developed a rhythm to my days very much determined by the doorbell. Like Pavlov’s dog I jumped at the sound of the bell and headed eagerly to the door to check what had been left on my table. At 7.30 (apart from one occasion which I’ll share later), 11.30 & 5.30 the table gift was food parcels, but at other times I received toilet paper, water (delivered in batches of 12 bottles every couple of days), clean towels and bedding, a bathroom amenities pack (why they thought I needed 6 toothbrushes during my stay I will never know) and deliveries from room service (more on that next). Work filled my most of day with yoga filling the time immediately before dinner at 5.30 and bath and Netflix after.

Friday came and I decided to treat myself to a bottle of wine from room service. I called and ordered and 15 minutes later the doorbell tolled. Up I jumped and headed to the door. By now I’d gotten used to the ghostly delivery service that on opening the door I would automatically reach my arm out to the right before my head followed. And boy was I in for a surprise when my head followed this time. There in full protective gear was the guy from room service brandishing a corkscrew. I let out a little squeal and with tears of laughter running down my face said yes he could indeed open my bottle of wine. As I continued to laugh away (I wasn’t in anyway subtle in my mirth) he muttered repeatedly “I’m sorry maam is my company policy”. Such was the lack of stimulation and variety in my world during quarantine this was one of the highlights of my two weeks. The photo became my go to whenever I started to feel a bit sorry for myself and never failed to make me laugh (Even now just writing about it has sent me into a fit of the giggles).

Chat apps became my best friend – my contact with the outside world. I was also lucky that I was able to have lots of long chats with good friends and of course with mum to ease the anxiety my confinement induced. I even relished the opportunity to ring reception or housekeeping to ask for the mundanities of life like loo roll – any opportunity to feel like I mattered was welcomed.

On one occasion though I was led to believe that maybe my call to reception had not been well received. The thing about developing a Pavlovian response is that you come to rely on the rhythm and when it’s broken it can be a problem.

On the second Tuesday I sat patiently waiting for my 7.30 bell so patiently in fact that is was nearly 8am by the time I broke. I called to reception and in a super friendly way asked where my breakfast was. The lovely lady told me it was being made and I asked her if she could ask them to hurry up as I was very hungry and with her promise that she would I hung up and went back to patiently waiting.

15 minutes later I was rewarded for my patience – at last the bell!. I head to door, open door, reach out of door to my friend the table, pick up the bag and thank the table (yes I honestly did start thanking the bloody table) and with the door firmly shut I opened up my box of delights. I’ll let the picture below tell you how impressed the restaurant were with my request that they hurry up!

And finally Saturday came about and it was time for the hopefully last Covid test of this expedition. Having already rang reception on Friday evening I was reliably informed that the doctor would be arriving at 8am Saturday.

I got up, showered, dressed ate breakfast (it came early at 7.15 which was slightly discombobulating) and yep, you’ve guessed it, 8am came and went, as did 9am-10am and 11am which were the two further definite times the doctor was arriving according to the ever smiley (I imagined they were smiling from the tone of their voice on the phone) reception staff.

The bell dutifully rang for lunch at 11.30 but there was still no sign of the elusive doc. At 11.50 the bell rang once more and this time a person was on the other side of the door demandingthat I “Go now to floor 6 for test”. Like a good prisoner I conformed and trotted off. A guard at the lift pressed the buttons for me lest I should contaminate them and various other guards pointed from a distance to guide me ever closer to my fate.

As with the airport, the test was well organised and bloody painful. To add insult to injury, this time the torturer explored both nasal cavities and eye sockets with his evil swabs.

The most bizarre part of the whole experience though was seeing (and hearing) people. Having been locked away from all human contact for a period of time (apart from a comedy interlude provided by a spaceman with a corkscrew) I found myself feeling very exposed and vulnerable and happily scurried back to my cell to recover.

And what do you know, I’ve yet again got more to say than I thought and so am stopping here to go partake in some online Street Wisdom (check it out on the interweb: I will be back tomorrow with what I promise will be the final chapter. In the meantime I’ve chucked a few food photos below for you to salivate (or not) over.

See you tomorrow.

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