On lockdown in a hostel near the northern coastal town of Trujillo in Peru, a group of American high schoolers created a makeshift prom in the hostel’s garage to claim a sense of normalcy while they wait to find out when they can go home.
As coronavirus-related shutdowns dogged them across several countries in the middle of their last-minute European tour, Seattle rock band Bad Blood worried if they’d be able to get home.
Quarantined in a small room in Colombia, which has also shut its borders, Seattle newlyweds Daniel Orbegozo and Angelica Sanchez are on a particularly strange honeymoon. The coronavirus quarantine is keeping them in unnaturally close quarters right now, but soon it may pull them thousands of miles apart. Whenever Colombia reopens its borders, Orbegozo, a dual U.S. and Colombian citizen, will return to Seattle, while his wife, a Colombian citizen, must remain in Colombia until the U.S. embassy reopens and she can finish her U.S. permanent-resident visa application.
All over the world, Washington residents are among the thousands of travelers stranded far from home as countries close borders or issue nationwide quarantines to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Every day they call airlines about flights and reach out to overwhelmed U.S. embassies and the State Department. Some, like the band Bad Blood, made it home after long, circuitous journeys. But amid travel bans, canceled flights and overrun airports, many travelers have now accepted that they’re stuck abroad temporarily and are embracing their circumstances with optimism, community and creativity.
Bad Blood’s good luck
Coronavirus-related lockdowns nipped at the heels of Seattle rock band Bad Blood as they traversed western Europe this month.
Five days after their European tour began in northern Italy, the region went into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. By then the band was already in France. Five days after their last gig there, President Emmanuel Macron announced a national 15-day lockdown.
“By the skin of our teeth! It felt like it was following us,” said Dylan Rogers, the band’s bassist and backup vocalist. “As we left every country, it seemed to escalate.”
The bandmates were on the ferry to England when drummer Jeremy Young received frantic texts from friends in the U.S. warning him that President Trump was banning travel to and from Europe. After finding out that the ban did not apply to U.S. citizens, they decided to keep going.
Three days later, on March 15, their tour was canceled, and the band was out thousands of dollars. They had tickets for a now-canceled flight out of Florence for March 31, but were stranded in London with a van full of equipment rented from companies in a now-locked down Italy.
“The musician in me was like ‘oh no they took our tour away from us,’ ” said Rogers. “The American in me was like ‘man, we are so far away from home.’ ”
They dropped off the van in Nottingham and crashed with a friend in London. Nine hours of phone calls later, they finally found three seats on a nearly full flight back to Seattle.
With its empty streets and shuttered bars and music venues, the Seattle they returned to looked nothing like the one they had left. And, all three bandmates were suddenly unemployed.
Now in quarantine, Rogers says he spends his days playing guitar and waiting to hear about his unemployment application. He’s maintained the optimism that kept the band going while coronavirus shutdowns chased them around Europe.
“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe we’ll get an album out of this quarantine.”
“Stranded at the disco”
Optimism is powering the stranded U.S. citizens who haven’t been as lucky in their efforts to get home.
With snacks raided from their teachers, hodgepodge outfits fashioned out of whatever was in their backpacks and a cellphone hooked up to portable speakers, the students and teachers of The Traveling School’s semester abroad program put together a makeshift prom in the garage of the Peru hostel where they are quarantined.
Olympia native Allie Mack is one of four teachers who led the 15 young women on what was supposed to be a four-month experiential learning program through South America. Their trip began in Ecuador on Feb. 1, but two days into the second leg, in Peru, the country closed its borders and instituted a 15-day national quarantine, cutting the young women’s semester abroad short and leaving them stuck in a hostel.
Although The Traveling School is contacting airlines and the U.S. embassy about their situation, there is little certainty about when or how they will get home.
Yet, several students said they feel safer from the coronavirus spread due to Peru’s measures and are more nervous for their families in the U.S. Mack, too, is apprehensive about returning to Washington, an early epicenter of the virus in the U.S.
The young women in her charge have looked out for each other and stayed strong despite the circumstances, says Mack.
“It’s been really powerful to see how resilient these girls can be,” said Mack. “It’s a big order for them to be stuck in a hostel with a lot of unknowns. It comes with some emotional challenge and they’re all handling it really well and showing so much strength.”
They may not be with their families, but they are making the best of the situation with efforts like their makeshift prom.
The theme was “stranded at the disco,” featuring decorations invoking desert island and ’80s motifs, forged from whatever materials they could find. With Peruvian military lurking nearby to keep the peace during the nationwide quarantine, it was probably the quietest prom in the history of proms.
“We just wanted to do something that was fun and reminded us of our lives back home,” said Sadie Kahn, 17, a student from San Francisco.
“My wife is here, but my life and my work are in Seattle”
Seattle-based newlyweds Daniel Orbegozo and Angelica Sanchez spend the entirety of every day together in a small room in Sanchez’s parents’ house in Cali, Colombia.
It is far from the Cancún honeymoon they had planned, but after Colombia closed its borders, suspended international flights and instituted a quarantine to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it’s the honeymoon they got. Still, being together has helped them cope with the uncertainty.
Orbegozo and Sanchez originally planned to marry in Colombia, honeymoon in Mexico, and then Sanchez, a Colombian citizen, would complete her U.S. permanent-resident visa application and they would return to the U.S. in April, newlyweds ready to start their new life.
But since March 16, Colombia has taken increasingly strong measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, U.S. consular services have been suspended and the couple’s carefully orchestrated plan has fallen apart.
“We planned really well for the whole wedding, for the whole petition, for everything to line up so that we would be able to move back to the U.S. together,” said Orbegozo. “[Now] all of that is not going to be able to happen. There’s really not a lot of point in thinking too much ahead. So we’re living day-by-day.”
The couple is thankful for this time together before Orbegozo returns to his tech job in Seattle while Sanchez remains in Colombia, waiting for her visa application to be processed before she can join him in Seattle.
“We just want to live a normal life,” Orbegozo said. “There’s so much uncertainty out there. No one really knows what’s going to happen with the virus. It’s only the beginning.”