The Covid Diary: Matthijs (24 years) & Shelly (23 years), Spain

In the morning of Sunday March 1th we are ready to sail away. The rhythmic humming of our diesel engines announces our department. Catamaran Zilt a Lagoon 39, counts a four-headed crew. David, my dad, is the sailing master, my mother José-Anne his assistant. My girlfriend Shelly is responsible for the fenders. On the airport in Seville, Shelly and I get news that the first Corona patient in the Netherlands is a fact. In that moment we’re far from worrying. ‘We left right on time’ Shelly said jokingly. Aboard, the coronavirus feels far away. It’s crazy to say, but back then, the coronavirus felt like some flu or cold that went around. Looking back, this was the first moment we were in touch with COVID-19. What we didn’t know yet, was that the virus would quickly catch up on us. 

Feels like war 

The sunlight’s playing with water in a fountain on a little square in Estepona. It is Saturday March 14th, 13 days after we departed from Cádiz. On our way to the centre, Shelly and I notice all the closed shops on the sides of the street. On the windows and doors are handwritten notes: ‘In relation to COVID-19 we’re closed for undetermined time.’ Saturday afternoon the official state of emergency is announced by the Spanish government. Restrictions are; people are only allowed on the streets for essential groceries or to walk the dog. Shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, everything needs to close down. All ports in Spain shut down. Anyone who still sets sail, risks getting a fine up till 600.000 euros. Reality slowly sinks in; for the time being, we’re stuck in Estepona. 

Life in lockdown

There are few things in life that confront you with the facts like patrolling army vehicles. Olive Green landrovers with their yellow markings and orange flashing lights, stand out harshly against the soft coloured buildings. Police cars are driving systematically through the streets. Their speakers requesting everyone monotonously to stay inside. I’m standing in a small night shop, staring at the empty shelves. No soap, toilet paper, or cleaning supplies. All preservable foods, like pasta and tomato sauce, are also gone. When I take a picture of the empty shelves, an employee starts to yell at me. “In Spain it’s forbidden to hoard groceries”, explains the scottish Gary to me. He is also living on his boat together with his girlfriend. “The supermarket’s probably scared they get in trouble because of the empty shelves.” Without buying anything I leave the store. Luckily, we still have some supplies aboard. The walks with our dog turn into a luxury. We thankfully take shifts. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking the dog or do groceries; three times a day you get stopped by the police or Guardia Civil, we’re doing nothing wrong and they can hold nothing against us. It starts to look like bullying. Especially when one of the cops points at our full bag of groceries and says ‘You need to do some more shopping, this is not enough to be allowed on the streets.’ My mom takes this stuff the hardest “I can’t help it, everytime I see a police car drive by, my whole body shivers.”

Surreality 

Despite one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, the number of infected rose by 30 percent. Estepona looks abandoned and neglected. Once you’re on the streets it feels uncomfortable. Because we need more water than one person can carry, it sometimes is necessary to go to the big supermarket with two people instead of alone. Meanwhile, we know exactly how to do that. With scarves around our head and gloves on – the gloves are required. We need to walk apart from each other and can’t communicate, so we made hand gestures. Aboard there’s a lot of time to think about the surreality of the situation. In Spain, you don’t only need to watch out for drones and police vehicles, but also for people. If Shelly and I get spotted together in the supermarket, the security calls the police immediately. And while we are the only ones left in our pier, people call the police, when we are stretching our legs on our own pontoon. “It looks like a police state” My mom says indignant, while two cops are standing in front of our boat. Al Jazeera wrote March 31th: ‘Spanish cops beat man with a baton, because he wasn’t following restrictions of lockdown. – Almost 1000 people are arrested.’ 

Through the BBB, Shelly and I are finally on the waiting list to be repatriated. After multiple of our flights got cancelled, this is our last option. “If we want any chance left to graduate, we have to get back now, while it’s still possible.” Shelly enjoins me. She’s right. While we wait for 72 hours on confirmation from the ministry of Foreign Affairs, I’m curious about the leaving impact of COVID-19. Will we soon talk about a world before Corona and a world after that? A world where everything’s the same but still different. 

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