Two teachers from Abu Dhabi have described becoming stranded in the Seychelles for nearly four months after coronavirus forced an extended holiday on the couple.
Husband and wife Casey James, 33, and Cotie Howard, 32, found themselves trapped on the archipelago after international flights were grounded.
The couple left the UAE in early March for a last-minute luxury holiday intended to take just 11 days.
But as the pandemic struck they had no choice but to stay put, leading to an unexpected, but idyllic, 15 weeks in the tropical paradise.
“We were really lucky compared to other couples staying in the Seychelles who paid a fortune to stay four months in a hotel,” said Mr James, a Grade Three primary teacher at Raha International School in the UAE capital.
“It is not a cheap place to go, and we only planned 11 days, so thought we could cut costs by staying in guest houses.
“The hardest part was not knowing when we could return or how much it was going to cost us.”
Mr James, from Canada, and Ms Howard, from the United States, flew out to the Seychelles on March 9.
The holiday promised days of breathtaking strolls along remote sandy beaches followed by cooling drinks as the sun dipped towards the Indian Ocean horizon.
Ten days into their extravagant retreat, however, and the UAE announced it was closing its borders to inbound flights.
Despite the move, the couple were reassured their Air Seychelles flight would take-off as scheduled, and they headed to the airport.
It was only on arriving at Mahe’s international terminal that their fate was sealed.
Immigration officials said they could fly on elsewhere but not home. The couple decided to stay.
“There was a possibility of transiting so we thought about flying back to the US but flights were closing all the time so we decided to stay put,” said Mr James.
“If we had gone back to the States we would have had an 11-hour time difference so would have had to teach [our UAE classes] in the middle of the night.
“A week later we realised we would have to stay there for the foreseeable future.”
Mr James revealed he and his wife were able to keep their total spend during the nearly four months down to Dh18,000.
They stayed at a beachside guesthouse at the Farida Apartments in Pointe Au Sel, where the owners charged them a special monthly rate of Dh3,300.
The pair did have to pay Dh3,000 for two laptops to allow them to continue working while away.
But they managed to rent a car for only Dh730 for their entire stay, allowing them to travel around the island.
“We just didn’t think we would be there for almost four months,” said Mr James.
“There were three weeks of full lockdown on the island with no one allowed to leave their homes except to buy supplies.
“This beautiful beach was right next to us, but we were not allowed to set foot on it.
“We ended up doing 15 weeks of online distance learning. At least we were in the same time zone as the UAE, so the only issues were with the Wi-Fi occasionally cutting out.”
Mr James said he was able to keep in touch with all the latest travel updates by joining various social media groups for others in similar predicaments.
A cleaner in the Emirates even took in the couple’s cat, Frank, and after applying to come home they managed to secure approval.
"We know how lucky we were to be able to continue teaching," Mr James said.
His return was approved and while waiting for her application to be approved, his wife decided to fly to Oregon to be with her family.
Although Ms Howard remains in the US, Mr James flew back to the UAE on an Air Seychelles cargo flight on July 4, paying Dh2,350 for his ticket.
“It is place we will keep in our hearts,” he said. “It was a special time but also very strange.”
“We realised we were lucky to be making a salary while being stuck. Not many people can say they had a work staycation for four months in the Seychelles.”