14 days in one hotel room with my own ego
After six weeks in the US caring for Mom, I was lucky that 90% of what awaited me upon my return to Sydney was no surprise. Leigh had just exited quarantine so I had great intel on the basics.
Kept together in the herd
Overall, it took “us” 2 hours to exit the airport. Our flight (all 20 of “us”) was kept together the entire time — you don’t mingle with other flights to avoid cross-contamination. To master the airport quarantine shuffle, just learn these six easy steps:
- Wait an hour for the flights in front of you to clear the Health Interview.
- Ace your Health Interview: Do you have any of the following 40 symptoms? No? Okay move on. And, if you didn’t already know, you are about to be quarantined in a hotel-not-of-your-choice for 14 days. Hopefully this is not a surprise? I would love to see a surprise case.
- Pass thru Immigration: The usual, but with more glass between you and the immigration officer.
- Get your bags at Baggage Claim. You are the only flight allowed in all of baggage claim. This is your chance to ride on the carousel!
- Clear Customs. I got into the wrong line and then got out, and of course that made them think I was dodging inspection, but when I explained things they backed off.
- Wait for the Hotel Bus for 30 minutes, then wait on that bus to leave.
The Big Reveal
I was really excited about the bus ride. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to reality tv, where they drag out the drama of some mundane occurrence (“Master Chefs, the secret ingredient is E. coli!”). You board a bus with your fellow flight-mates, and the bus rolls out of the airport, with only the driver knowing your destination. With each turn (“West? We’re going West? Are there hotels in Western Sydney?”) it starts to narrow down where you’ll be spending the next 14 days. Chatter throughout the bus confirmed that the previous four buses had gone to Homebush.
Homebush? I had ventured out there less than five times in a decade. Google maps showed a five star option (“Come on, Pullman!”) and some less than desired options (“No Ibis no ibis noibis noibisnoibis…”). One fellow passenger asserted “There are no three-star hotels for quarantine.”
It came down to the last turn. I celebrated, seeing the Pullman, but then the bus swung into the driveway of the Ibis / Novotel Sydney Olympic park. Luckily we were staying on the Novotel side…!
You exit one at a time, register, and some muscle bound young military men help carry any bags into the elevator and make sure you go straight to your room. If you walk into the hallway before your two weeks are up, it’s a $1000.00 fine.
Life among the Dust Bunnies
The Novotel is not The Sheraton, and my room was not a suite. There was no room to workout, but moving around some furniture gave me enough space for prison cell pushups and anything that fit on a yoga mat (mat not included).
The biggest challenge of the first week was that the aircon was poor. I called every day for the first five days, and was promised “someone would look at it that day” and “they’d bring me a fan.” It took them five days to bring me a fan, and then the next day two engineers can into the room in full PPE while I closed myself into the bathroom. They left claiming victory but to no actual effect. F+, Novotel.
The bottom line is that the Novotel Sydney Olympic Park just wasn’t ready to handle being a quarantine hotel. It’s clear their staff is constantly scrambling to deal with floors of people who are in their room 24x7. Most of the time I’d call the front desk the person sounded panicked or stressed or annoyed. Everyone was friendly once you asked for help, but the experience makes it clear they didn’t organise very well for the quarantine.
And they never fixed the air conditioning.
If the COVID doesn’t get you, malnutrition will
The first three days of food weren’t that bad, but it went quickly downhill from there. If I hadn’t had the massive care packages from Leigh, I would have been calling Deliveroo twice a day.
Breakfast was a single bag of cereal (I could eat five bags in a meal easily), a muesli bar, and then something either egg based or yoghurt based. Thanks to the care package I at least had peanut butter to put on my pancakes.
Lunch was just weird. A small salad and a muffin. A sandwich and a pear. Bizarre.
Dinner started off well (veggie bowl with tofu!) but the last week, the majority of days were a container of rice with 4–5 small pieces of vegetables. And then some really giant sugary dessert that made you feel gross.
To the rescue: Care Packages!
I would not have survived without the care packages from Leigh — I had asked for just a few things and then she went over the top. A toaster, two loaves of my favourite bread from Spring Wholefoods, a jar of peanut butter, berries, my favourite muesli, etc. It was amazing.
Just having real, metal utensils, a real plate, some dish soap and a towel made life more human. For those without people to help you, there’s even https://www.pimpmyquarantine.com/
Leigh returned a second time to drop off a fan when the hotel had failed to deliver one for almost a week due to aircon still not working.
Prison Cell Workouts
Without exercise, I’m not the world’s greatest human being. So getting a solid workout in every day was key. I had hauled some resistance bands and an off brand TRX system with me, so I could use those in the states and in hotel quarantine.
Every day I either a) worked out over Zoom with the personal trainer I’d been working out with, or b) did a Sydney Cummings youtube workout. In both cases I’d end the session pretty destroyed and in need of rehydration.
I celebrated the 16th anniversary of my kidney transplant while in quarantine, so being healthy is always a huge gift, thanks to my amazing cousin Diane.
For Those About to Quarantine, We Salute You
Christmas morning, it was time to leave.
There are a lot of things I could complain about in quarantine — but in the end, I’m happy and proud thatAustralia has these rules and that they are strict. We also self-isolated in the US despite there being no requirement (or even recommendation!) from the CDC.
Yes — It’s not fun, it’s not what I’d choose if there wasn’t a pandemic, and the hotel could have easily prepared better and done a better job.
However, it was my choice to take this trip, and I knew what it meant, and honestly, it’s really not that tough. In many ways it was a mini-holiday from the real world.