If you’d told Ana Camila Gonzalez that a month after New Year’s she’d be awaiting trial in Morocco, having been detained by police in Marrakech, she wouldn’t have believed you.
Gonzalez (real names were omitted to preserve identities) is one of 150 or so friends in their 20s and 30s who decided to rent a bunch of homes in the desert outside Marrakech for the winter holiday. They’d exhausted their resources: Europe was shut; the U.S. was shut; Asia was shut. Africa was their last resort, a chance to properly celebrate the end of a horrendous year, they figured, with no one getting in the way.
But instead of sunbathing, couscous, and shopping in souks, the partyers quickly found that Morocco was taking the coronavirus just as seriously as the rest of the world. Mask-wearing was mandatory, restaurants closed early, and a nine P.M. curfew was strictly enforced. At nightfall, hundreds of policemen would wait at roundabouts in the area, stopping every wayward car. “We were constantly breaking curfew, and there was a lot of anxiety,” another girl in attendance tells me.
Europe was shut; the U.S. was shut; Asia was shut. Africa was their last resort.
On New Year’s, a day party at one of the riads quickly turned into a modern version of Midnight Express. When the music started, in the early afternoon, locals reported the racket to the police. The officers drove to meet a judge in Rabat, returned with a warrant, and started seizing the passports of everyone in sight. Most people eventually got theirs back and quickly left the country, but the 10 unlucky travelers who had made the rentals on Airbnb were stuck in North Africa.
For weeks, they spent money on local lawyers and accommodations, all while awaiting an official sentence—and permission to leave. They got through the first trial with a $500 fine, and all illegally escaped the country last week ahead of their second trial, which had been scheduled for February 19. They believe they will never be allowed to enter the country again.
For those who have spent the time since last March skirting the system—evading lockdowns, bouncing from place to place—the winter holidays were a harsh reality check. Six tourists were arrested after they tried to outsmart authorities in the Philippines, which requires proof of a negative test for entry, by presenting fake P.C.R. results upon landing on Boracay. Arrests have also been made in France, where forgers were selling fake test results to airport travelers for $360 apiece.
In Sankt Anton am Arlberg and the Stanz valley, in Austria’s ritzy Tyrol region, authorities raided 44 hotels and chalets last month after locals filed complaints against foreigners taking illegal ski holidays. (At the moment, the country’s ski resorts are open to locals and second-home owners but closed to vacationers.) As many as 133 people have been forced into isolation. And in Saint-Moritz, Switzerland’s most exclusive ski resort, the ultra-contagious South African strain was discovered at the Palace and Kempinski hotels, where rooms go for more than $1,000 a night. Lodgers were instructed to quarantine in their rooms and served food from the local community center—a far cry from the leisurely skiing and Nobu dinners they had bargained for.
In the Cayman Islands, an 18-year-old college student from Georgia, there to watch her boyfriend compete in a Jet Ski tournament, made the papers for slipping off her monitor bracelet to break the British territory’s mandatory two-week quarantine. News of the unlucky pair was trumped by the Armie Hammer cannibalism-fetish rumors; it turns out the two were sentenced to four months in a decrepit island prison (he for aiding and abetting her).
A Spanish couple based in Berlin detailed their experience in South Africa: “We booked all of these hotels, and within three days the new variant and new restrictions hit. There was no more drinking throughout the country, no access to the beach, and it was really hard to leave.”
A 25-year-old Parisian tells me, “I flew to Mexico City and felt like an idiot. It completely shut down two days later.”
In France, forgers were selling fake test results to airport travelers for $360 apiece.
And when it came to flying home to see family, even the wildest globe-trotters now recognized that being reckless has high stakes. “I got an e-mail saying I had tested positive while I was on the plane,” a 24-year-old New Yorker who was flying to see her parents in London tells me. “I landed and didn’t know where to go.” (Eventually she was able to get picked up at the airport by a friend, who had also tested positive for the virus, and she rented a self-check-in Airbnb, isolating there for the following two weeks.)
Many young people who hadn’t been home since the start of the pandemic were unceremoniously shoved into their bedrooms and forced into strict quarantines before seeing parents and grandparents. “It was over those days that I kind of came to grips with the whole thing,” a 26-year-old banker who flew back to Paris for the first time since the start of the pandemic tells me.
For responsible travelers, playing by the rules proved not worth the effort. A friend from Florence and his family, hoping to travel to the Maldives for the holiday, completed the mandatory pre-flight P.C.R. test only to learn they all had asymptomatic versions of the virus. They had to cancel the trip and quarantine until new tests came back negative.
After flying from London to Jamaica, another friend was detained and forced into a shabby quarantine center in Kingston for 10 days. (An unexpected rule had taken effect while she was already en route.) Others found themselves unsure how to navigate rapidly changing protocols in airports in Cairo and Zurich as new variants of the virus ran rampant and airport systems struggled to keep up. Boris Johnson recently announced that his government will require travelers from high-risk countries (namely Brazil and South Africa, where more aggressive strains are known to be spreading) to quarantine in designated hotels upon entry into the U.K.
After flying from London to Jamaica, another friend was detained and forced into a shabby quarantine center in Kingston for 10 days.
In those early March days, there was widespread fear but also, for some, novelty. Parties shifted underground, and rule-breaking brought with it a degree of thrill. Then came denial, in the form of chasing open places and freedom to do whatever. When New York was closed, Europe was the place to be. When Europe closed, there was Mexico City. Then Marrakech. Now there’s nowhere left to go.
As the coronavirus blankets the world with a third, crippling wave, everywhere is closed. Illegal parties are shut down more quickly than they can properly take off. Travel is difficult and risky.
For the first time, it seems like those same people who were constantly googling escape routes are staying put, turning to the knitting and bread baking that people embraced in the first wave to make it through the winter lull. “You’re just as much a victim of covid if you’re constantly running from it,” a 23-year-old New Yorker tells me.
In the midst of these cold months, the question on everyone’s mind seems to be: Is breaking the rules really worth the cost?
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for AIR MAIL