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COVID QUARANTINED IN ICELAND


There were many things I expected as a result of my Covid induced quarantine; isolation, anxiety, and fear to name a few. What I didn’t expect was a sense of peace. I spent 10 days in the Covid Quarantine Hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland and I wasn’t ready to leave. I found this little cocoon of safety and solitude away from the world in the unlikeliest of places, the 10th floor of the Foss Hotel.

Why did I find myself here, 3,534 miles from home, in the middle of a pandemic? I’m 52 and a single woman with an adult son. I quit my job this past year as a high school history teacher and started embracing, with action, a determination to reinvent how I was living. I was and am, looking to figure out who I am outside of a mother, employee, parental caregiver, bill and tax payer.


I had a 10-day road trip, mostly unplanned, along the famous ring road in Iceland.


Since I knew the weather was fickle, I thought I’d just leave everything open and chase the sun. Everything was going as unplanned as usual when I felt the dreaded sniffle and scratchy throat on day 8. I had both of my Pfizer vaccines in April, I live in Florida, and I wear masks regularly, so I honestly can say that I didn’t see Covid as something I’d catch in Iceland.



My camper van was a bit damp so I thought I was just getting a bit rundown as I sat in the back of my van drinking chamomile tea at the Svartifoss campsite. I decided I would use one of my at home rapid antigen tests for peace of mind. I took my test and the dreaded second positive line started appearing in 30 seconds flat.



At 8pm, alone in the back of a van,

next to a glacier, while it was raining, I tested positive for Covid.


I made the split-second decision to drive 4 hours back towards Reykjavik right then and there. I knew I’d have to drive in the dark with sheep, rain, and gale winds to contend with, but I wasn’t sure how sick I’d get and I wanted to be close to the hospital. Iceland has made their Covid website https://www.covid.is/english so easy to manage that I knew right where I had to register and go for testing the next morning. I received a bar code and showed up at the clinic and told the worker I tested positive on an at home test and I was whisked to priority. Rapid test positive, PCR test positive, and then mandatory quarantine was in my future for the next 10-14 days. Iceland has public quarantine locations, and I was given the option of going into the one at the Foss Hotel. It is the largest hotel in Iceland right in the tourist area of Reykjavik. The Red Cross was running it and the government of Iceland paid for my stay including 3 meals a day brought to my room.


Let me say what an immediate sense of relief I had when I realized I didn’t have to figure out how to pay for 10 extra nights in Iceland. Iceland is notoriously expensive to travel in. My rental car company picked up my car outside the quarantine hotel. The company, Trawire, that I rented my mobile wifi from told me to keep the wifi free of charge until I got out.

I can’t imagine a better way to have Covid. I was pretty sick days 3-6, but the government doctors were always a phone call away. A woman named Anna picked up her phone every time I called. The front desk reception at the hotel always brought up painkillers when I needed them for by sledgehammer of a headache. My temperature was also taken when I requested. The facility does not have medical care, but they do care, and I felt so safe and well cared for that a horrible situation became a blessing in disguise.


I could tell by the empty food containers left by the doors in my hallway that there were others on my floor. We were allowed to walk the hallway if no one else was there. I could hear a family of children running up and down the hallway three times a day.

On day 8, during my solo walk in the hallway, the children popped out of their room. We stood in awkward disbelief for a few seconds and then relaxed into a broken laugh. All of us on the mend from Covid and feeling restless in isolation. It turns out that they were Palestinian refugees that have been in Iceland for 4 months. The teenage boys told me through an Arabic/English app about their difficult time in the Greek and Turkish refugee camps. Their 7-year-old sister explained the bombs and dead bodies she’d seen. We played rock, paper, scissors and had running races in the hallway.


On my 9th day I realized I was the only one left on the hallway of 15 rooms. It definitely felt surreal to be the only person on a long hallway. I didn’t see any of the others except for the Palestinian family, yet I felt bonded to them. I found this solitary existence confined to my room, confined to a hallway, confined to a hotel, confined to a foreign country, absolutely liberating.




On day 10 I received the phone call from the Icelandic doctor that told me my quarantine would be over at midnight, that I would receive my letter of proof of quarantine, and I was free to go. The doctor gave me directions on how to care for myself and others over the next 2 weeks and that was that. I was free, but I wasn’t ready to be free. I found my freedom and peace in the confinement.

I found my days in the Covid Quarantine Hotel to be genuinely good for my soul. Of course the days of being sick at night on a bathroom floor wasn’t ideal, but it was a heated floor, so compared to my floor at home it was bliss. I knew I had to go back in the world, but somehow my routine, my safety, my giving up my control, my embracing the unplanned detour became the elixir I needed to jumpstart a deep reflection on disconnecting from the woman I had known for the last 25 years. It seems no one actually needed me. That’s not said with self-pity. That’s said with liberation. It’s said with the understanding that I can truly be and do whatever I want and I’m accountable to no one but myself. Everyone is fine. The world went on. The sun rose and set without me being involved with it. My ego, my invisibility, my concept of never a road map, and my sense of peace were all set free in the unlikely unplanned confinement of the quarantine hotel.



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