Travel tales from the time of Covid (the final countdown)

Being so close to my release from prison had the effect of putting me back into coiled spring mode. For the rest of Saturday I remained fairly restless flitting between pacing, doom scrolling and tv watching. The 5.30 bell delivered what I hoped would be my last dinner in a plastic box (steak, potatoes & veg) for the foreseeable.

I woke on Sunday more exhausted than when I’d gone to sleep on Saturday night and tried to settle myself for the potentially long wait for the phone call.

I’d mainly packed up my stuff on Saturday night so finished off what I could of that. Having been delivered a copy of my quarantine bill the previous evening this packing included decanting moisturiser into water bottles, collecting up all 6 toothbrushes, emptying the tissue box (yes I am that petty) and stuffing it all into my bag along with the 4 teabags (they were twinings no less) from the hospitality tray in a vane attempt to convince myself I’d got value for money. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that it didn’t work – to this day that bottom line dollar figure makes my heart break a little every time I think of it.

We’d been told that the test results would be back sometime between 24 and 48 hours after the test and so I reckoned the earliest I’d be hearing from anyone would be around 1pm. To fill the time I tried to read my book succeeding for a while when I combined book reading with yet another bath (gotta make hay while the sun shines as they say).

Bathed but restless I flicked through the endless options on Netflix settling on The Politician as my medium of distraction. 1130am bell delivered a rather yummy chicken burger with home cooked chips which I devoured with the Politician keeping me company.

A call to reception after lunch revealed that they had no idea when we’d be free but promised they would call as soon as they did. Another call at 4pm promised the same and finally at 4.45pm the call came “Please pack up your things and go to reception for paying money”.

I was out the door like a rat up a drainpipe and once down on the 5th floor discovered I’d only been beaten by 2 people so was quickly filling in the necessary paperwork, paying for that fabulous bottle of wine (it was $20 and whilst was realistically a $10 wine at most was worth every penny for the comedy value it provided) and being ceremoniously handed back my passport. Next stop removal of facemask for photo with said passport and I was free.

Or at least that’s what I foolishly thought. I made my way to the door only be stopped by a very sheepish looking general manager and an officous policeman. I glanced around and saw that the other 2 detainees were also being held back and so shuffled off to one side to once more be patient whilst whatever the problem was was sorted out.

Meanwhile more and more detainees began appearing looking slightly startled at being so close to freedom. Unlike me they were not allowed to settle up and get their passports, instead being forced to line up in the corridor – a social distancing nightmare that I was glad to not be part of but one that offered me plenty of opportunity for people watching.

In true Cambodian style, information on what was happening was scant an issue that one obnoxious cockwomble seemed reluctant to accept despite claiming himself to be a long term Cambodia resident (he was travelling with his Cambodian wife/girlfriend in tow who he regularly barked instructions in both English and Khmer).

Banging on about having a flight to catch, this all being a disgrace, f***ing ridiculous blah blah blah his behaviour triggered a Mexican wave of eyerolling down the line as more and more people heard his dickheaded rant.

A couple of people standing next to me were getting quite anxious about what was going on and so, having reassured him that the lack of information was purely the way things were sometimes in Cambodia I proceeded to relay the same message to cockwomble in the hope of getting him to STFU. He shuffled off with his tail between his legs pacing back and forth like a caged Sara Perry whilst ordering his wife to ask questions on his behalf.

After 30 minutes of various officials demonstrating their importance by shouting loudly into phones (on speaker) or walkie talkies and demanding we retake our prisoner with passport photos the manager announced that the problem was that whilst the lab had declared us all free to go as our tests were negative the Ministry of Health hadn’t yet ratified this decision causing the holdup.

And so we went back to waiting – the hotel allowing those in line to one by one complete the departure procedures I’d already gone through.

Eventually, an hour and 10 minutes after the call came we were officially released.

Cockwomble pushed his way through to be first to exit but, karma being the bitch she is, thankfully overshot the lift bank we needed to take and so I was first to escape, travelling down towards freedom in the lift with the exact same guy I’d travelled up in the lift with 2 weeks earlier.

Out on the pavement I got out my phone to call a car but found my hand shaking too much to press the requisite options so stepped back and just took in a deep breath of freedom (more commonly known as heavily polluted Phnom Penh air). Composure regained, I booked my car and waited, noticing only then that we were being filmed by random middle aged Khmer men loitering nearby. I’m sure this made for thrilling viewing on Facebook live!

Eventually the car arrived and I piled my luggage and myself in chatting to my lovely driver about the usual shite you talk to taxi drivers about aka how busy they are, the quality of the roads, the brilliance of their English and other vitally important subjects.

And suddenly I was outside my building. Sadly not to a red carpet welcome. Such is my status in the city I was greeted by a Mr Muscle bottle wielding security guard who sprayed me and my luggage from top to toe in alcohol sanitiser before allowing me into the building.

The lift deposited me at the 10th floor, I opened the front door to my lovely little apartment and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

I was finally home!

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