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Reflecting on Chaos: Spain and the Covid-19 Virus

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

Where do we even begin? Presently, it is March 23 at 2:19pm MST. This is McCarter writing. I just finished looking through our 100 plus photos that we managed to snap during the 12 hours we were in Spain. I only shed one single tear that we couldn’t stay longer with all the craziness happening in the world.

For reference, myself and Whitney were invited to Barcelona by our friend Anjela (@koala.puffss) to help promote GPen’s international brand launch at the cannabis conference, Spannabis. We were jazzed that (almost) our entire group of friends would be going international! together!

Twelve hours in Spain.

It sounds like a rap song by Drake, but it was the bizarre reality we lived through. Here’s how it all went down: United Airlines (and their general lack of competence) caused us to miss our initial flight from Newark to Barcelona. Luckily, they took responsibility for their mistake (a small victory!) and rebooked us to fly through London that night so all was seemingly fine. When we finally landed at the Barcelona airport at 3pm, we took a cab right to our Airbnb to meet Sasha, who had landed that morning and was resting up from the jet lag while the rest of the crew, who had landed the night before, was out exploring and creating content with the GPen team. We got the news that Spannabis was officially canceled as soon as we arrived in Spain, but we were still just as excited for the opportunity to be in Spain and our objective remained the same: to create content with GPen and help promote their new product, the Roam portable vaporizer (which, btw, we are absolutely obsessed with).

After immediately taking six dabs each with all of the GPen goodies scattered throughout the Airbnb, we opted to refresh ourselves with some hot showers after 18 long hours of traveling. While I attempted to wash the grime of three economy seats off me with the hand-held shower head in the refrigerator-sized shower, Whit took some shots of Sasha testing out her personalized GPen Connect as she soaked in the late-afternoon light, lounging in a beanbag (that we now distinctively attribute to Sasha) on the balcony of our little central-BCN apartment. With Spannabis canceled, our entire itinerary was up in the air and things were changing by the minute. Anjela and the rest of the crew arrived back at the Airbnb while I was picking out the one and only outfit that I would be wearing out in Spain (other than the pajama-sweats that I would be flying home in a few hours later). Once all of the sweet reunion hugs were had, we unanimously decided that food and exploration were our first priority, and we headed out into the city.

We were pretty damn giddy: we had finally made it. After walking a few blocks, Anjela requested a group photo on the sidewalk to document that we had all made it back together. Little did we know that that would be the only group photo of us in Spain [insert/link to her post here]. Several blocks later we finally happened upon the perfect sun-soaked patio with outdoor service for our first Spanish meal: lots of tapas, seafood-packed paella, and celebratory drinks. We basically ordered one of everything on the menu and exchanged what we were most excited for during the trip. At that point, we were all just trying to keep it as positive as possible in light of the fact that events across the world were being cancelled every day. Whitney and I were most excited to go to the famous HQ Barcelona cannabis club, where Whit had become a regular 3 years ago when she visited for 3 weeks and first attended Spannabis. Luckily, we had plans to head there that evening.

After our delicious feast, we headed back to the Airbnb to freshen up before going to the cannabis club around 8pm. I attempted to shut my eyes for a 30-minute power nap and when I came back out, night was falling on the city. I saw Sasha in the perfect light, on the balcony again in her GPen beanbag. We took some more photos of her hitting the new GPen Roam as everyone got ready to head out again, with Baghead, Izzy and Kimmy all rolling up a few Backwoods blunts to smoke before we headed out the door.

Baghead insisted on leading the way, and after what felt like 6 wrong turns and two full circles to me and Whit, we made it to the completely black and nondescript front entrance to HQ Barcelona. This was the moment when shit started feeling really real: At the door, they used a heat thermometer on our necks to check our temperatures as a precaution for COVID-19. After each of us proved that we didn’t have a fever, we created membership accounts with the receptionists at HQ in order to enter.

The Masters of Rosin competition was still being held at HQ, although the competition was taking precautions with the fever detection and lots of alcohol swabbing. Once inside, we explored the joint, which was a multilevel cafe, lounge, dispensary and art gallery all in one. After Whitney and I grabbed some beverages (for me, an Estrella, and for Whitney an espresso) and attempted to speak Spanish to some of the HQ staff (nearly failing miserably), we made our way to the downstairs level to join our crew, who were all busy taking dabs and chatting with other members in the lounge.

One of the first people we encountered was the owner of HQ, who Whitney had met briefly in 2017 when she was last in Barcelona for Spannabis. He noticed that Whitney was rocking one of her favorite well-worn shirts, which had “NEVER STOP GROWING” on the front and the HQ logo on the back, which she had scooped as a memento of her all the time she had spent there 3 years earlier. He couldn’t contain his excitement that she had continued to rep the club after a few years. To express his appreciation, he gave her one of the last “IF YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW” HQ shirts that they had in stock, which she now cherishes just as much as the first one. We stayed at the lounge until about 10pm, when the jet lag and utter exhaustion began to creep in. We all decided to walk back to the Airbnb, and I just barely managed to change into my pjs before passing out by 10:30pm.

A few hours later, shit hit the fan. It was 2:30 in the morning when I heard Sasha say, ‘guys, I think we all need to wake up right now…” Her boyfriend had called her to tell her about Trump’s announcement: that he would be “closing US borders to all European travel.” Whitney and Kylee, who were also sharing our bedroom, jumped right out of bed to try to get a handle on the situation from the one tiny corner of the apartment that got WiFi. In my half-sleep, I tried to tell everyone, ‘let’s just deal with it in the morning.’ (I am really not a night person lmao.) Thank god everyone’s concern outweighed my sleepy nonchalance: Sasha paid no attention to my response and woke up the whole Airbnb to decide how to take action as a group. We contacted the GPen team, who strongly encouraged us to get the fuck out of Spain, just as they were doing. We packed up our suitcases fast (thank goodness none of us had unpacked much) and within 15 minutes we were out the door and hailing a cab for the airport in the ghostly streets of Barcelona.

I was still in my pajamas. My bags were somehow even more stuffed than when I arrived 12 hours earlier. My heart raced from the adrenaline.

When we got to the airport, it was nearly empty. It was 3:15am. None of the counters were staffed yet. We tried to find a United Airlines counter, but there was only a British Airways counter at the Barcelona airport. Approximately 10 to 15 people, plus their luggage, were already waiting in line for the agents to arrive after hearing the news too. We waited with them, while everyone tried to get in touch with parents and loved ones to let them know we were doing everything we could to get home.

Chatting with the other Americans in line, we gathered that everyone has a similar story to ours: They had kept their travel plans to Spain, which had also been booked for months, but right when they heard Trump’s announcement that the borders would be closing to all European travel, they all came flooding into the airport. It was only later that the mass confusion was cleared up and that the US State Department had clarified that the borders would be closed for non-US residents and foreign nationals, and that US citizens like ourselves would still be allowed to enter the country. But regardless, we were playing it safe and assuming that a full American border shutdown was not far off.

Word traveled quickly throughout the airport, now flooded in with Americans trying to get home from their travels or study abroad programs, that the ticket agents would not arrive until 6am. That meant we had roughly two hours to kill to wait for their help, or we could get ourselves on a new flight by booking full price online.

Of course, everyone and their mother who had an existing United ticket was calling their customer service line trying to get their flight rebooked on the soonest flight out of Barcelona. We tried to call United as well, but promptly hung up when the operator said it would be a two-hour hold. Whitney and I went online to United and saw open economy seats costing a whopping $3000 each on a 7:30am flight from Barcelona to Munich, and then Munich straight to Denver. I didn’t hesitate: I gave my credit card to Whitney and told her to book it. We had to get out of there.

But the panic wasn’t over just yet. You see, we had received confirmation that the purchase had gone through on United for a Lufthansa flight, which was one of their partners, but when we got to the Lufthansa ticket agent to check our bags, he told us that he had found the reservation, but our tickets hadn’t been issued yet for some unknown reason (probably because of the mass amount of site traffic and online purchases being made). I had a hunch that my credit card limit was reached, so I called my parents to get their credit card information and repurchase the tickets. After waiting a solid 20 minutes, which felt like an eternity, it worked! We were able to check in, check our bags and get through security with only 20 minutes to spare. We took full advantage of the extra time and managed to squeeze in our second and final meal in Spain — a jambon and cheese sandwich on a delicious, thin baguette. It tasted like pure heaven after a morning of pure anxiety. We scarfed it down within minutes and successfully boarded our flight to Munich.

After landing, we found a biergarten next to our departing gate and treated ourselves to the famous German-beer-and-pretzel combo before hopping on our next flight to the motherland. Words can’t describe how grateful we were when the wheels of that plane left the ground: we were en route home to safety and our loved ones. We landed in Denver at 5:35pm MST on Thursday, March 12 and immediately began our self-isolation in case we had picked up the virus in transit. Five days later, the US Government recommended a “shelter in place” law for all Americans, which the Colorado governor officially put into place soon after. It’s now the 17th of April and our 35th day in isolation, with who knows how long to go. All we know is that we did the right thing getting the fuck out of Spain as quickly as possible, as it ended up being named one of the main hotspots for coronavirus just a couple of weeks after our departure. Thanks, Sasha’s boyfriend! You saved our asses big time.