How we got rescued from Bolivia by a military aircraft – part 2

You can read the first part here.

After we rushed through the country and arrived at the closed airport at 23.30, we opened the tent and hoped that by the morning we would receive some good news about the repatriation flight.

El Alto Airport
The empty airport

Life at the airport

The next morning we, still in an optimistic mood, got all our stuff out of the car and packed our backpacks. However, the discussions within the EU countries didn’t have any developments yet.

Meanwhile, it turned out that although the airport was officially closed, we could still use the bathrooms and charge our phones inside, which was a great development for us. Police and military started getting used to us, they didn’t make a problem out of our situation. In fact, they were really nice to us, on the third day we could even use the showers in the military barracks. ๐Ÿ˜€ The rules of the quarantine allowed us to go to the market between 7 and 12 and we still got some gas in our little camp stove and some tinned food in the back of the car so the situation wasn’t that bad. One day we even got interviewed by the local TV. ๐Ÿ˜€ If I find it I’ll link it here but they probably didn’t screen it.

The nights were a little bit cold at 4050 meters, but during the daytime it was always nice.

After the interview ๐Ÿ™‚

On the second day, something happened at the airport! A cab dropped off two foreign tourists. We quickly ran up to them asking if they have useful information. As it turned out, they were from Israel, and with 3 others they had a charter to Santa Cruz that afternoon, then to Brasil, from where they could still catch a commercial flight to home. They gave us the number of the organizer which we forwarded to our embassy. They contacted the Israeli Consulate to see if we could fly out by that plane too. But unfortunately, the five-seater charter was already full. There was a similar flight on the next day, also full. We had to wait. Meanwhile, we got some news about a German repatriation flight as well, but they only accepted applications from German citizens or Europeans living in Germany so that wasn’t an option either. After all that failed attempt, we got a little nervous. If other countries could manage it, why can’t our’s?

Finally, we got tired of waiting and decided that we had to do something. There was still no good news about the EU flight so I started to look for a charter to at least get to Brasil. I’ve contacted a local airline who had small charter planes, I’ve sent a message to my managers back home (I work for a travel agency) to see if they could help and I’ve also sent a Whatsapp message to the organizer of the Israeli charters. At that moment I had no idea that he was the Israeli consul in Brasil. In the end, his help got us out of the country. At first, he couldn’t say anything reassuring but the next day he called me back and said we had a 20% chance to get on the next flight and promised he would do his best to help us. From that point on we were in touch all the time, even at night, and he was really caring the whole time, despite the fact that he didn’t even know us.

We will never forget these days

On that same day, there was another opportunity, a repatriation flight organized by the French government, departing from Santa Cruz. As we had to get to Santa Cruz somehow, the embassy started to request permission for us to drive. Well, there was a lot of uncertainty in this case but we were happy that things started to finally work out. In the afternoon we had been still waiting when the Israeli consul called me back. He said that there was a Hercules plane (at that time I didn’t know what kind of plane that was, but I was sure it wasn’t a regular aircraft) departing at 5.30 am the next day from the military airport next to us. The weather wasn’t really warm that day but by the end of the call, I was all covered in sweat. I mean, military airport?? We knew that from that night the measures got even more strict and the military airport was more than a 10 minutes drive from us. Of course, it sounded exciting and we were finally close to the solution. We packed the rest of our stuff, managed to get a long term parking place for the car and tried to get some sleep.

The operation

Well, we didn’t get much sleep, we were too excited. Then around 1 am I got a message from the Colonel responsible for the flight! He shared the location of the airbase with me and then at 3 am told me that we should go. While we crossed the empty, dark streets I was wondering when would the police appear behind us but fortunately nothing happened. Moreover, at one point we had to ask the directions. The young cadets were so surprised by the gringo jumping out of a foreign plated car, that they willingly pointed us in the right direction. Meanwhile, the Colonel shared the exact location of the entrance and we arrived in a few minutes. At the entrance, the guard registered our data, then we followed the car of the Colonel to the planes. It felt like we were on the run out of the country.

Then we finally saw the HERCULES. That movie-like, rear door, military troop carrier aircraft with propellers. At that time we couldn’t go closer, we had to wait 1,5-2 hours. Not long after, around 10 Brasilian citizens also arrived at the sight. Meanwhile, they queued up our luggage on the ground and sent a bomb finding dog over them, that was the security check.

When we first saw it in the dark

Before boarding, they checked our temperature and sprayed disinfectant on us. Soon everyone boarded on the rear door and found a seat. The seating wasn’t as usual either, the seats were parallel to the fuselage. The whole situation was so unbelievable, we have never seen anything like that, only in the movies. We were staring at each other with the Brazilians like ‘Can you believe this is actually happening?’. Fortunately, I was one of the first persons who boarded so I managed to sit next to the tiny round window. After a 1,5 hour long flight, we arrived at Santa Cruz where we paid the airport tax in cash and officially exited from the country. We also picked up more passengers, like the friendly Israeli tourists we met in La Paz and who gave us the number of their consul. They were very happy to meet us again ๐Ÿ™‚ At the airport, everybody was very strict about the situation, we had to stay in line from 1,5-2 meters from each other and we had to put a mask or scarf in front of our face, and they checked our temperature several times. (Surprisingly, a few days later in London there was nothing like this at all.)

After we took off again we continued our way to Sao Paulo by a 3,5 hours journey. There was some turbulence during the flight and it was a little bit scarier than on a usual flight. All in all, the flight was quite smooth, but I’m not sure I would survive a transatlantic journey with a plane like this ๐Ÿ™‚

On the way home

In Sao Paulo, we booked our tickets home for two days later and checked in to a hotel close to the airport. By that time I was in contact with more consuls and the one in Brasil suggested that because of safety problems we shouldn’t leave the hotel at all. So we spent the next two days in the hotel. Two days later we got to the airport without any problem, checked in our bags and started our journey to London.

I was a little emotional during the flight, knowing that it was the end of a wonderful journey. We know we have nothing to complain about (we are healthy and we have everything we need, we had to cut short our travel, really not a big deal comparing to more serious issues caused by this pandemic) and deep down we know that it was the right thing to do because we could have been stuck there for 6 months or more. But it is still difficult to accept that from the biggest freedom we’ve ever experienced in our life we went straight to a closed apartment. And I don’t even mention the uncertainty and the inertia but I think every single person on the planet feels that right now.

In London, we had to wait another 4 hours, but our connecting flight to Budapest was on the screens which were good news! In a few hours, we landed in Hungary and got quarantined in our own flat. Fortunately, we could discuss the situation with our subtenant, who moved to his parents so we could move back temporarily (or permanently?).

We are very grateful for the Israeli Consul in Brasil, the Hungarian Embassy in Peru and all of the participating Consulates for the lot of help.