RISCA businesswoman Beth Trevett is hardly likely to forget her working trip to Panama last month at the global Tribal Gathering Festival – and her dramatic early exit to get home.
The director of The Wonder Bar, a pop-up drinks business in Caerphilly, was told she had to get out of the country, as border control feared for their population amid the Covid-19 virus outbreak, and Panama looked to go into lockdown.
So it was a case of get out or face being stuck in the wilderness of Central America for the foreseeable future.
Beth managed to leave but not without a few strokes of luck thrown into a mammoth three-day journey from Central America to her base in Risca.
Hundreds of people from around the world were at the Tribal Gathering Festival at Playa Chiquita in the Panamanian wilderness, alongside one of Central America's most beautiful beach locations.
Beth was the one of the bars co-ordinators at the Festival, running the bars for the three week duration.
The Festival was a mixture of electronic, trance and global music featuring ceremonies from native tribes.
“The Festival site was paradise – in the middle of nowhere, where the jungle meets the ocean.”
However, two days before the festival was due to end, and Beth was to help out with the closure of the site, there were rumours that the authorities were going to close the festival and everyone had to get out.
The owner of the Festival then rebranded the site as a ‘hotel,’ making the Festival one of the last social gatherings on earth.
Two days later, Panamanian Health Minister, Rosario Turner, then declared a state of emergency and ordered festival-goers to remain on site because the country had been hit by its' first Covid-19 virus death.
“There were about three hundred people left on site at this point and we were all in quarantine.”
The Festival organisers held an emergency meeting and had been given new information again: anyone who had been there for two weeks – like Beth – could leave. If not, then you had to stay an extra week until March 23. She heard everything had been closed down in the UK and her original flight home had been cancelled.
The next set of news was the turning point:
“The borders were closing on March 23 and we needed to leave the country or stay on lockdown in Panama for at least 30 days.”
Like many others, she had to book another flight home, and was lucky that it cost £450 when other people trying to get out of Panama were being charged thousands. Sometimes even then, these flights were cancelled.
“Days later, the British Embassy put on three buses to pick up the British citizens from the site. Telling us to be ready by 10am, we waited in the heat until they arrived at 2pm.
“They only gave us water after we begged, when we asked ‘where are we going?' we were told ‘somewhere in Panama City.’ We were stopped at least six times at military checkpoints.”
“There was a curfew in Panama City which started at 9pm. We got there at 8.45pm so there was no chance to stop and get any food after our journey.”
But it did not end there. After a day of frantically applying for visas, she had to fly to Miami, then onto Toronto before a connection to London Gatwick airport.
“When we got to the airport, all the flights to the USA had been cancelled except ours. We had to leave two of our group behind because they hadn’t been out of Europe for more than two weeks, meaning they couldn’t fly through the States.”
And she said:
“We definitely had good fortune that we got back – a lot of people didn't. There are still fifty crew on site derigging the festival, but there are also many crew that got out of the festival, but didn’t manage to get a flight home before the borders closed.”
Thankfully, Beth managed to make it back amid the UK's own lockdown. But she said:
“It's nice to be back safe with my family but I would not mind being out there on lockdown in paradise!”