APRIL 1, 2020 : Today, at two o’clock in the morning, they arrived – the tremendously longed for El Al tickets back to Israel. Never mind that we are in Perth, and the flight is from Melbourne. Never mind that we will need to stay almost 16 hours in the Melbourne airport waiting to get on the flight. We have a way to get home – hallelujah!
We have had a rough few days since Thursday evening when we learned we need to leave Tasmania. At first all went according to plan – we got tickets to Perth for Sunday morning, we found a campground to stay in until the flight, we bought new suitcases, we packed, we put ourselves on the consulate list for the next El Al rescue flight from Australia, we dropped off three boxes full of unused groceries to an older Jewish couple in Hobart, we arranged to return the campervan, and we rented an Airbnb in Perth for self-isolation while we wait for the El Al flight. It was a lot, but we managed all that on Friday, and started Shabbat feeling it will all be okay, and everything is under control.
After Shabbat, when we went to do check-in for our flights, we discovered to our horror that our flight from Hobart to Melbourne (the first leg of our journey to Perth) was cancelled. Now the worries multiplied. After an interminable two hour wait to speak with someone at Qantas, we were told all the flights from Hobart to Melbourne were booked for the week (makes sense, all the tourists needed to leave the island). I explained that we did not necessarily need to get to Melbourne, our final destination was Perth (where we were told the El Al flight to take us home would leave from). If he could get us to Perth through Sydney, or any other way that would be fine. He said he would work on it and call us back. We anxiously waited until he called back several minutes later to say that there are no flights to anywhere from Hobart this week, but he can offer us a flight at noon tomorrow to Melbourne from Launceston airport – about a three hour drive from Hobart. The flight from Launceston would get us to Melbourne in time for our already ticketed flight to Perth. He also gave us the phone number of a taxi company that can drive us from the campervan drop-off at the Hobart airport to the Launceston airport (taxi ride was more expensive than the plane tickets). Not ideal, but at this point we were willing to do whatever it takes to bring us to Perth, to catch the El AL flight home. That became the new plan.
So early Sunday morning, to reach our flight on time, we did something you are not supposed to do – we drove at dawn. This is the time the wild animals are out, and there is a risk to hit one on the road. Unfortunately, this happens very often. During our time here, many animals – the wombat, the echidna – we saw only as roadkill, and not in the wild. Luckily, the 45-minute dawn drive to the Hobart airport went smoothly, in spite of the pouring rain that started while driving. When we reached the petrol station adjacent to the airport for a final fill up before returning the campervan, the sun came back out. While waiting for Mark who was paying for the petrol, I looked up and there, in all its glory was a vibrant rainbow. All the tensions of the past few hours melted away – it was like a sign that all will be okay. My first smile in many hours occurred.
The next few hours, all went smoothly. Returning the campervan, which is often a slow process, actually went very quickly – because of the virus they are not allowed to enter the campervan for final inspection for at least three hours after the return. All we needed to do was park the campervan and leave the keys on the table. The taxi arrived to take us to Launceston even a few minutes early (I liked that). It was actually a small mini-bus – the driver sat up front, and we were in the back row for social distancing with our seven luggage bags between us. We reached the airport, checked in and flew to Melbourne on a plane with propellers (have not been in one of them in many years). The Launceston airport is so small that the same two women who worked the counter to check people in, were also the stewardesses on the flight. We landed in Melbourne, reached the gate of our next flight, waited a couple of hours, boarded and took off for the four-hour flight to Perth. All okay.
On the flight to Perth, they offered complimentary internet and shortly before landing, I checked my email messages. To my horror, there was a notice from our Airbnb hosts, that they rented the place to someone else and we will need to leave Tuesday morning. We had selected this place because the owners had been willing to let us stay there as long as needed. I paid for the first two nights, and then if we needed more time, we agreed that I would add days. They were fine with that arrangement until someone else came along. So we would need to find a new Airbnb to move to while we are in self-isolation. In Western Australia, where we are headed, they are taking the self-isolation very seriously here. You need to fill out a form stating where you will live for the next 14 days, and if you do not have an address, they do not let you come in. On TV they show how they do spot checks on people to make sure they are in self-isolation at the address written. If they spot check us (and it is not farfetched since our form stood out because they ask where have you been in the past 30 days and our list was long – Israel, South Africa, Victoria and Tasmania). Decided to only worry about this later.
From the airport in Perth, we take a taxi to the Airbnb. The taxi driver drops us off at the wrong address. It is pitch dark outside, and we cannot find house numbers. After contacting the hosts, we finally find the place, and slowly make our way there with our seven bags – moving forward one driveway at a time. From the consulate, they send messages that there are problems, they are working on it and as soon as details of the El Al flight become available, they will let us know. We are glued to our cell phones, wishing for good news. We know that the moment the announcement is made, we need to grab tickets – being on the consulate flight list is no guarantee of a seat on the plane.
Monday, our first day in self-isolation goes okay. We manage to find a new place to move to for the next day. Our biggest problem is food – all the grocery stores do not accept new customers for delivery. Breakfast was granola in water (we had a bag of granola in our suitcase). We finally find a vegan restaurant that is willing to deliver and have a nice lunch. I spend the day calling the many campgrounds that I had made reservations for during our six month stay and cancelling.
That evening we get news from the consulate – they are close to finalizing the flight and it will leave soon from Melbourne. From Melbourne? Up to now everything was Perth. We just flew from Melbourne to Perth to wait as instructed and now we need to go back to Melbourne? As my sister said, you cannot make up these things. I have a private Whatapp with the consul (thank you Amit!) and asked her if this is final, and we should get on a plane to Melbourne. She said everything is still up in the air and to sit tight. There is a chance it will do a stopover in Perth. Monday comes and goes.
Yesterday morning, Tuesday, we move to the second Airbnb. Not as big, not as nice but we can manage. We spend the day trying to get groceries – even called the Orthodox synagogue who sent us a list of three places that deliver. The first place takes only bank transfers which are not possible from an account in Israel, the second place takes orders this week for delivery next week, and in the third place, we called and were told to send an email with our order – which we did, but never heard from them again. We are dreaming about having a piece of fruit. Once again we ordered lunch from a vegan restaurant. Watched too much TV while waiting for the consulate to update us with good news. Tuesday comes and goes. I go to bed. Thank goodness Mark stays up late – I was fast asleep when the message arrived – The flight is leaving Thursday night from Melbourne. Contact El Al to purchase your tickets.
We immediately called our daughter Tamar in Israel, who contacted El Al and got us seats on the plane. Within 10 minutes the flight was sold out – there are many people on the Whatsapp group unable to get a seat and are being waitlisted for an additional flight – if they ever have one. Once Tamar told us that we are on the flight, we then purchased flight tickets back to Melbourne for tonight, and will wait at the Melbourne airport for the El Al flight to fly us home tomorrow. Home tomorrow. Sounds good.