Mitalee Chandwani, 33, and Aditi Khosla, 33, spent 53 days on an island of the Philippines.
Mitalee Chandwani, 33, and Aditi Khosla, 33, spent 53 days on an island of the Philippines.

Island lockdown: Stuck in Philippines, duo returns to Mumbai after 2 months

Hindustan Times | By Shreya Bhandary, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 01, 2020 12:12 AM IST

A three-month planned sabbatical, which was meant to be used for a multi-continent trip for two Mumbai women, turned into an experience of a lifetime after they ended up spending almost two months stranded in a country under lockdown. Andheri residents Mitalee Chandwani, 33, and Aditi Khosla, 33, spent 53 days on an island of the Philippines and another few days in the capital of Manila before they could finally board a flight back to Mumbai.

“Our original plan was to chill on the beaches of the Philippines for three weeks, then hop on a flight to Italy where we were supposed to volunteer on a farm for two weeks and end the trip in Germany. However, Manila went into lockdown a day after we reached the city and with air travel restricted, we chose to move to an island to ensure social distancing,” said Chandwani. She and Khosla both work in the experiential marketing industry.

While Chandwani was already in Indonesia since February 26, Khosla flew from Mumbai to Manila on March 12. “That evening we heard that Manila was going into a one-month lockdown within a day. Since we knew there were air travel restrictions and too many tourists were stranded in Manila, we decided to extend our visas and move to the island of Palawan, knowing that there would be fewer people there,” said Khosla.

On reaching Puerto Princesa after a 24-hour journey by ship, Chandwani started showing Covid-19 symptoms. “We immediately found a hospital in the port city and managed to get a basic test done after a few hours of waiting. Only once the test results came back negative did we head to Palawan,” said Chandwani.

The first few days on the island went well, but things changed as the Covid-19 situation around the world became graver by the day. “One by one everyone started leaving the island as their respective countries sent sweeper flights to rescue them. We stayed in touch with the Indian embassy and the local tourism board daily, seeking clarity on our return status,” said Khosla.

While they got their first chance to come back to mainland Manila on March 23, the women turned it down knowing that entry to India was restricted due to the lockdown. Instead, the duo chose to continue living on the island even as all the other tourists left.

“We spent 53 days in Palawan because we didn’t want to be restricted to a hotel room in Manila for weeks together. At least on the island, we had access to the beach,” said Chandwani.

As the only Indian tourists left on the island by the end of March, the women quickly started adapting. “We would spend the morning making calls to the embassy and local authorities, and then finish whatever reading and writing we could as there was no internet on the island. We even used the resort’s kitchen and taught the staff how to make naans,” said Chandwani.

While on the island, the women also met with an accident while riding a bike. “There was no medical facility on the island and we had to take a boat to another island to get a tetanus shot, which was also not available. By this time we were getting more anxious to return home,” said Khosla.

Finally, on May 2, a ship was arranged to take the last Indian tourists off the island. “Once we were in Manila, we received emails from the Indian embassy and on May 10, six days after reaching Manila, we boarded a flight for Mumbai operated as part of the Vande Bharat mission,” said Chandwani.

Once in Mumbai, both the women were quarantined at a hotel for 14 days before being allowed to return home. “I had left home on February 26 and got back only on May 25. The three-month sabbatical did not go as planned but we couldn’t be happier to be back home with our families,” she said.

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