Returning home under lockdown (part 1) – Karol Kozlowski’s journey from Cuba to Poland

In early February I left Poland on a 6 month photo shoot across Central America, the Caribbean and Colombia at a time when covid-19 was far away affecting only China.

Having travelled to Grand Cayman and onto Jamaica, I then took 3 flights to get to Havana, Cuba and settled there for a few weeks during early March in preparation for the big tour of Central America. However everything was about to change as Italian tourists were beginning to test positive for the virus in Cuba and Mexico.

15th March – my native Poland decided to close their borders and the very next day Guatemala, one of my next destinations, closed their borders too. The landlady of my casa particular appeared with 2 homemade face masks for me to wear – things were getting serious.

18th March – it was my birthday and it was time to decide whether to take my flight to Mexico the next day and sit it out in Cuba and wait for the crisis to end.  I started to do some extensive shopping and amazingly many things appeared in shops I have never seen before! (it is always hard to buy anything because of the US embargo, so empty shelves is a daily life in Cuba). I was prepared for at least 2 weeks without further shopping, had my face masks for going out and 4G signal started working inside the flat, so I even had internet! Everything was perfect and I did not understand why all the people were getting crazy to get back to Europe which was the center of epidemic!

20th March – Cuban authorities annouced they will close the border on March 24. Next day I received an email from Polish Embassy in Havana informing about emergency flight from Varadero to Warsaw being scheduled for 27th of March and encouraging me to buy a ticket. I was also told new restrictions will be annouced in the evening. As I am a stubborn Polish mule and already decided to stay on Cuba I was not going to buy any flights and go home! In the evening I decided to watch the announcement in the TV. It was a shock! No tourist allowed to be on the streets from next day! Next information was even worse. No tourist allowed to stay in casa particulars anymore! They decided to isolate all the tourists in hotels and I couldn’t afford this! Then I got information my visa were not going to be extended… Uff…

24th March – I bought the last seat available in the flight to Warsaw. But another problem appeared, transport between provinces got shut down and I needed to get from Havana to Varadero! The embassy was telling me I need to take a government taxi, taxis were telling me they are not allowed to drive tourists! Luckily there were some more Polish people in the same situation in Havana and embassy out of mercy organised a bus for us. My landlady told me I should be able to stay in the house until my flight. Great! Finally I could relax!

27th March – The Landlady drove me to the embassy in Havana, where I join other people to get by bus to Varadero airport. Finally I was able to see the streets again. Havana was getting empty, a lot of people wearing masks. What a strange sight! Varadero airport was empty, my flight was the only one leaving. But then a rumour appeared that couple days ago some people lost things from their luggage! It was hard for me to believe as Cuba is very safe, but who knows! I decided to check in as last passenger so that my luggage will have least time possible on the other side before getting inside the plane. And surprise! As it was an emergency flight they were filling all the plane starting from the back, so being the last one I ended up in a business class!

28th March – Landed in Warsaw, had a temperature check and went by special bus to my hometown, Lublin, where I had to do 14 days quarantine and had police visiting me everyday and checking if I am home. 

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