WHAT was meant to be the most exciting adventure of their young lives turned into a nightmare for four Donegal friends last week.
Kirsty Baskin, Claire Maguire, Sarah Whittington and Odhran Boyle found themselves stranded in Thailand after Australia grounded flights and announced unprecedented border closures in response to Covid-19.
The four friends, who left Ireland on March 11, had spent more than a week visiting islands off Thailand, including Ko Tao and Ko Samui. They were supposed to travel on to Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Pha Ngan before getting a scheduled flight to Sydney on Monday when news started to filter through about the coronavirus.
Cutting short their holiday they found themselves stuck in Bangkok with nowhere to go. Caught by closed borders, airport shutdowns, cancelled flights and soaring ticket prices they found themselves isolated and scared.
They tried to change their flights into Australia but found it difficult to fly given border restrictions and lockdowns in place across the world to stop the spread of the virus.
“All tickets offices were closed and the only way to book a ticket was online but the internet kept crashing. Everyone from home was also trying to book us flights.
“Initially, we changed our flights thinking that we could go on to Sydney a few days earlier than planned but as we were travelling on work visas they wouldn’t let us in. They were only letting in residents and citizens,” Kirsty Baskin explained.
“We did manage to get a flight to Istanbul but they too denied us entry as we hadn’t been out of Ireland for two weeks,” she added.
The friends said that they felt ‘abandoned’ after struggling to get official help in what was a very stressful time.
“The embassy gave us a list of countries and airlines that were allowing us in but we literally thought we were going to be stuck out there,” she said.
After two nights of sleeping in the airport the four friends finally got a flight that would take them back to Dublin, via Dubai, on Sunday last.
“We’ve spent an awful lot of money and we don’t know if we’ll get any of it back but we’re just so glad to be home safe and sound,” Kirsty said.
The friends had originally been due to go to Australia before Christmas but those plans were shelved and a new March date was decided upon.
“It just wasn’t meant to be but in the overall scheme of things that doesn’t really matter. We’re just so grateful to everyone at home who supported us through all this. We’ll never be able to pay them back,” Claire Maguire said.
The friends are now in self-isolation in a house outside Ardara where they’ll spend the next ten days.
“We’re being treated like royalty. Neighbours dropped us in curry earlier while a local shop brought us up a hamper. Everyone in Ardara has been so kind to us,” Claire said.
The friends had all worked very hard for a number of months to raise money for their trip of a life-time and, like so many others, don’t have jobs to come home to.
“We can’t even apply for the Covid-19 payments. The bars will be probably closed for another three to six months and there’s no work but it’s not just us. These last few days has given us all time to reflect let things sink in. We’re so happy to be home. It was really tough over there. So frustrating. It felt like nobody cared. Once we checked into our Emirates flight we cried our eyes out. We’re so thankful to be home and this story has a happy ending,” Claire said.
“We’d like to thank everyone who prayed for us and helped in any way, we are all so grateful to be home unlike so many others that can’t be home right now. Not where we had planned our lives to be but for now I couldn’t be more thankful to be back home, stay safe everyone,” Kirsty added.