After days, weeks and months of phone calls and email exchanges it was looking impossible to get John home until a chance conversation, showed a possible way forward. It was good fortune that during the conversation with her friend Helmut, he suggested making contact with mutual friend Reni Hildenbrand, owner of Hildenbrand Wine & Olive Estate in South Africa. Reni knew Bangkok Skål member Allan Riddell. With Allan’s global travel and tourism association contacts and his links with the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce. Along with Mr Graham Macdonald, Honorary Advisor to the SATCC chamber, they all played an important part to coordinate all the arrangements in the complex plan.
In Myanmar the country was becoming increasingly locked down due to Covid-19, internal movements from one province to the next, were difficult, with ever increasing reams of paperwork required by the authorities. Getting John to Yangon without delay was imperative. With no direct flights to South Africa and all borders to neighbouring countries closed, the only way out was via the international airport in Myanmar’s capital.
With the help of all concerned and in particularly John’s mum Nicolette, arrangements were finally made after much work, to fly John out.
Flying first with Korean Air, Yangon to Incheon then on to Amsterdam.
In South Africa Nicolette contacted TTS KLM Repatriation. The agency was helpful and informed her she could book with two separate tickets and that the time period for connecting flights may not extend longer than 48 hours. She checked and there was a KLM repatriation fight to Cape Town that would connect with the Korean Air flights coming from Yangon- Incheon – Amsterdam. “There was hope and I had faith,” she said.
At the same time Nicolette instructed John to find out how and what mode of transport he could get from Thanbyuzayat to Yangon. He was told that buses operated for locals only but was also informed that with new legislation that there were no taxis or buses (even for locals) permitted to drive to Yangon due to the lockdown.
John was also told that a town between Thanbyuzayat and Yangon had gone into lockdown and that he would need to go into quarantine for five days to get through there to Yangon.
On 18th September John received a very important letter of Laissez Passer.
On Saturday the 19th September John went to a Health Centre for a covid test. It cost USD $200. On Sunday 20th September the results and certificate were released and John was negative. A vital part of the paperwork trail had been completed. Now things moved fast.
They would first take a taxi before changing vehicles to an ambulance. The purpose of the ambulance was to increase the chances to get him through the quarantine roadblocks and to get to his flight on time!
It was subterfuge but it worked!
The confident former military driver bluffed his way in the ambulance and was not stopped and was allowed safe passage with his ‘sick’ patient without delay.
John flew on 21 September at 21:00 Yangon to Seoul/Incheon arriving 22 September 5:25.
John would then fly from Seoul/ Incheon 14:05 to Amsterdam arriving 18:55 and later depart Amsterdam on 22 September at 21:50 arriving home in South Africa landing at Cape Town 23 September 9:20.
Nicolette’s husband Villiers, (still in lockdown in China), offering long distance emotional support, told his wife that she only had two priorities, one to get John out of Myanmar and the second – to get John out of Myanmar. She did!