NewsWaiting in paradise

Waiting in paradise

Actually, Zoe Stephens only wanted to travel from Fiji to Tonga for a weekend. 18 months later, the British woman is still stuck in the Pacific – because of Corona.

When the British Zoe Stephens flew to Tonga in March 2020, it should only be a short trip. The 27-year-old left her suitcase in Fiji. But while she wanted to relax for two days, the pandemic escalated. “Tonga closed its borders and suddenly I was stuck,” she reported in a video call. “No flight wanted to take me with them anymore.”

That she was suddenly stuck in paradise was a series of unfortunate circumstances. “I actually lived and worked in China,” she reports. “In mid-January, however, I was on a language course in Korea.” Then the news about the new viral disease increased. “My Chinese employer said I should take my vacation early and not come back yet.”

So Stephens, who works as a travel guide, blogger and in digital marketing, decided to take a break in Fiji. Suddenly the situation in China escalated. “Suddenly I would have had to go into quarantine when I returned, and back then it was more or less an unknown concept.” So she stayed a week longer – in the hope that the situation would ease. But the situation didn’t get any better, so she decided to book a flight back to China and take on the quarantine.

A covid-free kingdom

Before that, she wanted to “have a quick weekend in Tonga,” says Stephens – and the vacationer chose exactly the wrong weekend. China announced it would close its borders, Fiji recorded the first cases and Tonga shut down. Stephens was stuck with a few belongings she’d brought with her for the weekend. The journey home turned out to be almost impossible. Fortunately, a friend in Fiji was able to send her suitcase by freight.

“There have been different levels of stuck since then,” said the young woman. “In theory, in the first month I could have taken a flight organized by the German government.” But that would have brought her to Europe. “At the time, I still had my suitcase in Fiji and my belongings in China.” So she thought it would be better to wait a little longer. “Then at some point there were really no more flights at all and then the situation in Great Britain was so bad at times – my own grandmother died of Covid,” said Stephens. In the meantime, she was considering a trip on a container ship or a yacht, but the Corona regulations or extreme prices thwarted these plans.

In order to be able to deal with the unsafe situation, she ultimately tried to accept “her fate” and to create a routine for herself. “My job was reduced to about a day a week, so I started studying again and have now completed my master’s degree online,” she says. “I also started running every day.” Stephens got so fit that she ran a 100-kilometer run to raise funds for a good cause. The idea was so well received in Tonga that the island nation now wants to turn it into an annual marathon.

The more familiar she became with the country and its people, the more she began to explore the island. “Tonga is a beautiful kingdom and fortunately it has remained covid-free,” she says. “I never wore a mask here, even if of course we had restrictions.” After a three-week lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, there are still restrictions on events and a night curfew.

Despite the tropical climate and dream beaches, life on the island was not always easy. “The worst experience was a cyclone that washed away half of my belongings and destroyed the house I lived in,” said Stephens. Lucky in bad luck: She was able to take over the home of a family that was stuck in the United States at the same time and needed a house sitter. The loneliness and isolation also bothered her at times.

At the same time, she tried to learn as much as possible about Tonga and its 100,000 or so residents. “It’s not that easy,” she says. Not much information can be found even on the Internet. “So at the beginning I made a few faux pas,” she laughs. “With so few inhabitants – you stand out as a foreigner and every comment you make is passed on and suddenly ends with the highest people in the country.”

Her conclusion is nevertheless positive: “All in all, I think that I was incredibly lucky to be stuck here – I will certainly never experience anything like that again in my life,” says the Briton. Ultimately, she will leave the Pacific state with one crying and one laughing eye. Your next option is a flight organized to bring Tongans back to their homeland from New Zealand. This could take you to Auckland on your return flight. However, the current outbreak in New Zealand now jeopardizes this option as well. “Still, it’s my best chance so far.”

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