Coronavirus: A backpacker’s journey to make it back to Israel

'This was probably the most difficult moment. Amit was there, crying and distressed, and we were thousands of miles away, unable to help and comfort her.'

Amit Vogel on the way home with her friend (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amit Vogel on the way home with her friend
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Like thousands of Israeli youths, after she got discharged from the army, Amit Vogel planned an ambitious overseas trip.
Little did she know that because of the coronavirus outbreak, the trip would end in making it out of Nepal just a few hours before the Katmandu airport closed and traveling through three countries while borders were getting shut down before finally arriving safely in Israel, as she and her father Ayal, who followed her through every step working to ensure she got home, told The Jerusalem Post.
Originally from New Jersey, Amit, 21, made aliyah from New Jersey in August 2016 and served in the Givati Brigade. In November, a few months after her service ended, she and a friend traveled to Asia.
“We started in Thailand, then we traveled to Vietnam and then to the Philippines. Afterward, we wanted to try something different so we flew to Japan. The plan was to be in Tokyo for five days and then to go on to South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore,” she recalled.
In Japan, the first change of plans occurred: the friend she was with came down with the flu. Even if she did not have the virus – they checked - they could not travel until she felt better. It was February and the emergency was intensifying but, as both father and daughter explained, nobody could predict the severe scenario that would materialize in a few weeks.
After her friend recovered, they decided to alter the original itinerary to avoid places hit by the outbreak and went to Indonesia. After a month, they traveled to Nepal at the beginning of March.
In Nepal, the group started hiking on a renowned trail, without any mobile service. As the restrictions for the virus were dramatically increasing, both in Israel and internationally, they could therefore not be reached.
“When we had reception again after a few days, we started receiving multiple messages urging us to hurry back. We knew the situation was complicated, we had been following the outbreak, but we did not know to what extent things had gotten worse. When we heard that Katmandu airport was planning to shut down, we tried to hike back as quickly as possible,” Amit told the Post
In the meantime, Ayal explained that he was working non-stop to ensure her a way out of the country, constantly in touch with the Israeli ambassador and the Chabad rabbi.
Amit made it back to Nepal’s capital on Friday. Her parents managed to book her and her friend a seat on a flight of Istanbul on the following day, which many Israelis were planning on catching.
However, contrary to other people who had a connection to Ben-Gurion Airport after a few hours, Amit would need to spend three days in Turkey. When the family was informed of another option to fly home through India, they booked them another itinerary.
The plan did not work out. In order to enter India, the two needed a visa. In normal times, such a visa could be obtained on the spot, but not at the time of the coronavirus emergency.
The two young women were therefore stranded at the airport in Katmandu, which would close in a little over 24 hours, with no way of returning home.
“This was probably the most difficult moment. Amit was there, crying and distressed, and we were thousands of miles away, unable to help and comfort her,” Ayal told the Post.
However, after a few hours of walking around the airport looking for a new way to leave Nepal, Amit found out that Ethiad had a flight to Abu Dhabi on Saturday evening. Once again, her father managed to book both a seat. From the United Arab Emirates, they would fly to Berlin, then to Paris and finally to Tel Aviv.
In Abu Dhabi though, once more they were told that they could not board the plane without a visa. Also in this case, after many phone calls and anxiety, the problem was solved and they were cleared to get on the plane. A similar problem occurred also upon arrival in Munich.
Step by step, Amit and her friend finally managed to get on the El Al flight in Paris that would bring them home, where she has started the quarantine period.
“It was not easy not to be able to give her a hug after she arrived,” Ayal said.
“It was such a long journey. Thank G-d I was with my friend and we have supportive parents,” Amit concluded. “When we talked to people, they kept telling us that we were not the only ones trying to get home. It was hard to hear that: Israel is very special, it has been doing everything to make sure that every single person gets back safe. On the contrary, being told that you are just one of the many was not easy, but in the end, I think that the other people understood and many helped us.”
“It’s amazing to be home,” she said.