On the day I arrived in Bali, Australia stated that any arrivals in the country would be required to self-quarantine. Looking at the way other countries have ramped up their border controls, it seemed likely this was a prelude to a ban on incoming travellers. My original plan had been to fly from East Timor, in about two weeks time. I decided to move my flight forward, and fly to Australia from Bali instead.
Note: I wrote this post back in March 2020. I didn’t get round to posting it then but I’m doing so now (September 2021) because I thought it was interesting to see my thoughts at the time.
I called some bike shops until I found one which had a bike box available. I cycled into Denpasar and packed up the box. I checked into a cheap hotel so I’d have some space to pack up the box and relax for the afternoon. Late that evening, I got a taxi to the airport and flew to Australia.
The flight was only a couple of hours and went fine. On reaching Darwin, we were told several times that we would be required to self-isolate for 14 days. I found a hotel in Darwin for £30 which, although it’s more than I’ve paid for a hotel in years, is cheap by Australian standards. I booked five nights, to start with, so I could see how things developed. I ordered some food online from a supermarket, which would be delivered to my hotel.
While I waited out my time in self-isolation, the situation worsened. As governments accepted the fact that the virus would not be contained, they implemented a number of practically unprecedented measures, partly to slow the spread of the virus.
Indonesia and East Timor shut their border, which vindicated my decision not to try and continue cycling there. Furthermore, Australia closed their border the day after I’d arrived. New Zealand did so simultaneously. The US closed its land borders and extended its cancellation of European air travel to also apply to the UK and Ireland.
Many European countries entered into states of lockdown which, as everyone points out, are unprecedented in scale during times of peace. Anecdotes came of limits on travel: a backpacker in NZ was deported for not self-isolating, Spanish locals were arrested for going cycling in breach of quarantine. Several European countries limited travel, even within towns, for all but essential proposes. Food shortages in Australia worsened. The online delivery I’d placed for my food was cancelled as food deliveries were being reserved for the elderly and disabled.
It became clear that continuing with the tour would be both impractical and potentially irresponsible. It seems possible that Australia will limit internal travel and, besides, I would not be able to continue on to the other countries I’d intended to visit.
It seemed inevitable that I would not be able to continue as intended. Estimates for timescale varied and were constantly changing. Even with controls as strict as China’s (which no other country is replicating), lockdowns persist – some four months after the first infections in November. Expert predictions came in at around six months, on the low end. Faced with the reality that I had to stop travelling, I decided that I would rather wait this out at home than stuck in Australia.
That decision made, there was little point hanging around. With airlines cancelling flights and countries shutting down, a longer wait meant a lower chance of getting home. I booked a ticket on the next flight.
Since I was in mandatory isolation, getting a bike box could have been difficult. Thankfully, though, I’d been put in touch with a German cyclist who’d been waiting in Darwin for a couple of weeks. Anna very kindly brought a bike box to my hotel. When she arrived hotel staff warned her that I was in isolation, and not to get too close to me!
I packed my bike back up and took a taxi to the airport at 2AM the next morning. My flight took me to London via Singapore and Dubai. I don’t usually like to book multiple-leg flights with the bike in case it ends up going missing somewhere, but it worked out OK.
Once I was back in the UK, I set up my bike at the airport, took the train home and settled in to wait out the pandemic.