Before the world went into free fall, I was travelling on a 'Grand Round the World Voyage' on the luxury liner, M/V Columbus. From London to the Caribbean through the Panama Canal and on to the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia and returning through Indonesia, Asia and Europe back to our home port, a 120 day adventure. We were in Australia when the news began to reach us of a global pandemic. A much anticipated upcoming visit to China and other Asian countries had to be cancelled and gradually ports disappeared from the itinerary having refused us entry. We continued our journey though many other cruise lines curtailed their trips and some flew passengers home from Australia. Our company took the bold decision to sail back to the UK with British and American passengers still on board and instigated a unique and daring maritime adventure of exchanging passengers at anchor mid-ocean by tenders to allow all passengers to be repatriated close to their homelands.
The company, Cruise and Maritime Voyages, did everything in their power to ensure that our holiday continued with little disruption to normal on board cruising life and we were able to enjoy our fine dining, entertainment, deck parties and Gala evenings. For six weeks we sailed across the ocean stopping only occasionally to refuel at sea. With limited and unreliable internet access we were hardly aware of the catastrophe unfolding all across the globe. News reports of quarantines and deaths on other cruise ships, were all happening to someone else somewhere across the world. Like gloriously cocooned passengers on the Titanic we lived in a surreal bubble unaware of what was about to hit us. Real life was a long way off at the end of another six weeks when we sailed on valiantly. The company are to be applauded for the fact that almost a thousand passengers and hundreds of crew were all delivered back safely to the United Kingdom without a single case of Coro virus.
Arriving back in our home port was when the great reality finally hit us. Having been issued masks and instructions from the government for restrictions in the lockdown, we were met dockside by men in white protective hazardous material suits with masks and headgear. They man handled our luggage while maintaining social distancing, staying six week away from each other and from us, the aliens who had landed in their strange land.
An observation by the brilliant travel writer, Paul Theroux about the end of a cruise never felt more true.
He descried the scene as passengers trudge down the gangway "this is the closest most of us will ever get to knowing how Adam and Eve felt when they were expelled from Paradise."
In a state of shell shock and uncertainty, we left to continue our onward journeys having been cleared by health and immigration authorities. Transport police were informed of passenger's destinations and we were provided letters of authority for our necessary onward journeys. We were not quarantined but advised to self isolate. Not able to go straight home to where vulnerable adults were already in complete lock down, I headed to the home of a relative who was and is still in one of the epicentres of the virus. I had arrived bearing gifts of souvenirs and fridge magnets from early ports of call on the cruise and was eager to share the stories of my adventures on the ocean waves. Instead for two weeks I have seen no family or friends and live in this disembodied world of virtual reality where we chat on zoom and Skype. We talk a lot and laugh a lot all designed to hide the fear and anxieties we experience as a mass killer stalks our streets. On infrequent trips outside the home for essential shopping or exercise, I wear a mask that was tailor made for me by the ship's tailor, latex gloves and head covering. The atmosphere is one of suspicion where we cross the street to avoid people and eye up strangers, wondering if they are the one who will pass on the deadly virus to us. We fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our community and humanity.
With all my writing skills, fertile imagination and ability to build a complex narrative based on the premis of 'What if?" I could not have envisaged the strangely quiet and weird world. Who knew that life as we lived it would disintegrate so completely and fatally in such a short period of time? We would be alone, thrown back on our own resources.
The personal mission of my Round the World adventure was to explore, experience, embrace other cultures, other worlds and 'Find Myself' as I set out on the next stage of wherever the life path would lead. Little did I know all I was required to do was Stay Home and endeavour to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem. The Hero's Journey always brings challenges, unforeseen circumstances, threatening foes and unexpectedly inspiring friends and allies. Our strengths and weaknesses are revealed. We will all be changed by this world disaster - this time it's not happening to someone else. We are all in the firing line. Stay strong, face the battles ahead, follow instructions and have faith that one day there will be a new normal. We will all live out in the sunshine again. This war will be won.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.