It’s Tuesday 30th March and I’m under strict lockdown in Southern Spain.
I’ve only been out twice so far, in small outings, for shopping and rubbish disposal, but today, despite the tightening of the confinement I plan to go out again.
Shopping, petrol station and rubbish should only take 30 min these days, but I am looking forward for this. Many people that are not in Spain now ask me why I don’t go out more often, to buy small bags a few times of week, for example. Well, it does not work like that. Firstly, I would expose myself and others unnecessarily. Secondly, the Spanish government and the authorities in Andalucia have made it clear that we should only go out for essentials and no more than once a week and if I dared to do differently they will find out. How?
Guardia Civil, the local police and the national police, together with the army coordinate the traffic 24/7 and control the cars non-stop. The are very community orientated and know all the cars in the area so they can easily see if you breach the lockdown.
The restriction of freedom feels harder here in Spain comparing to other places, like England for example. During the first week or so people have borrowed dogs from neighbours to have a reason to go out, but even that is restricted around your house and not further than 50 meters. Most people have given up on that now.
Anyhow, coming back to my journey today, I put on the mask, gloves and glasses, I got in the car and I started driving firstly to the rubbish enclosure to dispose of the waste. There was no one on the street in my urbanzation and only a few cars on the A7, which is the motorway connecting Malaga to Gibraltar. At the roundabout 4 police teams were stopping cars and checking out on people travelling to all directions. I was the 5th car on the streets so on this occasion I was not stopped. I felt relieved.
I drove up to the local Spanish supermarket Mercadona and I saw 4 – 5 people waiting in front of the main doors so I chose to park underground. As soon as I parked and I saw people coming out of the store I started to notice a sense of panic inside. I have not been around people for a while and it felt somehow unusual. Then, I thought I am more exposed underground and, based on my physiological reactions, my mind was starting to worry a little bit. These are all natural manifestations providing the circumstances, so I smiled at myself and carried on.
Arrived in front of the lift area, there was a member of staff guiding people and about 2 shoppers waiting in the queue. In this supermarket they operate a 1 in 1 out rule so I sat myself quietly in the queue. When my turn came I was asked to disinfect my hands and put on a new pair of gloves. I conformed and walked towards the lift. The person coming out was a friend I have not seen since the pandemic started. We both felt somehow strange meeting in those circumstances and we only mumbled a quiet “Hello”. On the short elevator journey I reflected on how the social isolation is changing the way we relate with the others.
Upstairs in the store there were a few people shopping and a full team of staff supporting the customers. The store was fully stocked and nothing was missing. The only closed section was the ready meals area where they used to cook fresh Spanish dishes. Nothing changed in terms of food availability here in Spain. You can find everything in the supermarkets at any time of the day, although apparently they have a restriction to keep in stock a certain number for each product as I read on a Lidl note last week.
Walking between the isles, I became aware of the lively music on the speakers which brought joy inside my heart. For the next 5 minutes or so I continued shopping like always in the past, forgetting about coronavirus altogether, until I heard an announcement stating something in these lines in both Spanish and English: We are fully stocked. There is no need to hoard. This will pass”, which brought me back to the pandemic reality.
I took some time to observe the crowds whilst I was picking up my products from the store. Most people wore masks and gloves, with the exception of 2 or 3 who only had gloves. There was no eye contact and people were generally disengaged, focused on their trolleys and the products on the shelves. I have not heard many people talking, in fact, it felt strange to hear the music so loud and no human voices or interaction. The isolation had already changed how people engage with life and I found that surprising after only 2 weeks in lockdown. Most likely some people feel dissociating and in denial at times, as I realized I felt the same walking alongside the aisles.
It took me probably 15 – 18 min to get what I needed and move towards the till. There was one person paying and the checkout went quick. Whilst manipulating the products I became aware that I hesitated to touch them after the cashier maneuvered them on the till, but I continued to pack them knowing that I will have the chance to disinfect them later on. I packed, I went back to the lift, got in the car park and loaded the bags in the car. I disinfected the trolley after me, disposed the wipes and exited the underground parking within less then 2 minutes. There were 3 – 4 people in the queue when I left, all looking down and somehow withdrawn in this new world we find ourselves in.
On my way back home from the supermarket, I stopped by at the petrol station, first time since the lockdown. It was open but closed for access with only pre-payment option at the hatch. One person in the whole petrol station trying to fill up the tank until he realised that the system has now changed. Due to my love for travelling I always loved petrol stations, but this time it looked like a petrol station in a ghost town and I felt the need to leave as quickly as possible. I got back in the car and arrived home 2 minutes later.
Although it made a difference to my mental state to be out and about, the change in the village’s vibe was significant. It made me sad to acknowledge how much I missed the lively and vibrant Costa del Sol atmosphere and how little I appreciated my freedom of movement before. I did not see one person walking on the streets, only a few cars, and it left me thinking how might our lives change if this continues for longer time. For now, I appreciate I’ve been out even for 30 min and I am looking forward for my next trip the following week. Once indoors, I am back to the confined life in Spain and my new lifestyle, waiting for the pandemic to end. I feel grateful I am alive and hopeful about the future which reminds me one more time that we are more resilient than we think we are and that we have infinite resources to adapt and adjust to changes when needed.
Hope you are safe and healthy wherever you are!