It was an Easter most of us will never forget, celebrated as it was with physical distancing in place.
But for Connor Crickmore and his family, Easter 2020 will be memorable for other reasons.
Following a 46-hour journey from door to door, Connor finally arrived home in Niagara-on-the-Lake Sunday, after being stranded indefinitely in Nepal.
An experienced world traveller who has visited more than 90 different countries, Crickmore was in the area to take on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, a 21-day journey through the mountain ranges of central Nepal. While deep into the journey, COVID-19 began to show itself in the country.
As he and his trekmates descended from Thorung La Pass, their next stop was in Muktinath. There they discovered their journey would be cut short by the pandemic.
Stuck in remote Nepal for a few days, they were finally able to arrange a gut-wrenching bus ride through the mountains, arriving in the capital city of Kathmandu on March 28. In the meantime, Nepal had put into place a ban on international flights until April 15, meaning Crickmore’s ticket home for April 6 would be useless.
With help from his family back home, Crickmore set to work trying to convince the Canadian government to put together plans for a repatriation flight to get him and an estimated 1,100 other Canadian citizens out of Nepal.
He and other Canadians in his overstuffed Kathmandu hostel were hearing about travellers being flown back to Canada from other countries, and were concerned Nepal seemed to be flying below the government’s radar.
So, Crickmore and his parents, Shari Hartwick and Randy Crickmore, got busy contacting as many people as they could to get the word out. At the same time, a change.org petition had begun to gather steam (at press time, it had over 7,200 signatures).
One of those contacted was Billy Morrison, a NOTL native who is MP Tony Baldinelli’s legislative assistant. “He was passing along the newspaper articles and the CTV story (on my plight), he watched them (other MPs) reading them, and so they were aware,” says Crickmore.
Finally, a sign the government had taken notice came on April 4, when Global Affairs spokesperson Krystyna Dodds announced the High Commission of Canada to India was arranging for a special flight out of Nepal to take place sometime last week. With not enough Canadians registering to fill the plane, government officials reached out to Australia and shared the flight to Doha, Qatar with that country’s stranded citizens.
Crickmore’s long journey home began just before 8 a.m. Saturday morning, Nepal time.
“We waited there, outside, until about 11:30,” says Crickmore. ”They did some health screenings, then we got on the bus to the airport. When we arrived at the airport, it was kind of dead – we were the only ones there. Then they crammed us into a room, which broke all their previous social distancing orders.”
The flight to Doha lasted just over seven hours, where Crickmore and other Canadians were faced with a 16-hour layover.
His frustrations with the Canadian government continued in Doha.
“They didn’t tell us we were entitled to a $50 to $60 food voucher while we were there, and food in the airport was expensive. We also found out later that we could have booked our trip to Montreal directly through Qatar Airways, which would have been much cheaper.”
Crickmore and many others ended up whiling away the time sleeping on the floor.
At 4:30 p.m. Qatar time, he finally boarded the plane for the 13-hour trip to Montreal.
“Our flight to Montreal was a bigger plane, so I assume we picked up some other Canadians to fill the plane,” he says.
In the end, 46 hours and $3,500 later, he was greeted by his family at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“My mom had to fight back some tears, for sure,” he laughs. “I should say that she’s used to the drill, but I don’t think it gets any easier for her. Generally when I travel, it’s for about nine months at a time.”
He adds, “a lot of the things I do, I try not to tell her until afterward, so she doesn’t worry. When I’m going into the Congo in the middle of a war, I tell her after I have come back safely and I have some photos to show her.”
Mom Shari should feel better, then, about Conner’s next adventure.
Set to turn 30 later this year, he says it’s time for him to pursue a career.
“This was the final hurrah,” claims Crickmore. “I spent six years studying law (at Edith Cowan University in Australia, Carleton University and UiT-The Arctic University of Norway) and I haven’t used it at all.”
Though he could practise law in Norway, he hasn’t earned a Canadian law degree or written the bar exam here. “I could still work in law, but I wouldn’t be practising,” he explains. “I could still be dealing with legal documents, but more on a corporate level.”
Once he finds a job that calls on his studies, he’s definitely a realist when it comes to his future travels. “Yeah, I’ll be like everyone else, only able to get a couple of weeks off at a time. And, to be honest, I’ll probably just book a trip to the Caribbean to unwind.”
For his 14-day quarantine, Connor is hunkered down alone at a family friend’s summer cottage in town. “I’m thrilled to be home,” he says. “It’s great to see my family, and to have them down the road. It’s mostly creature comforts and a sense of security, in the health sense, too.”