A newlywed couple gets stranded at a luxury resort in the midst of a global crisis. It’s a premise that seems ripe for a rom-com, or even a horror movie. And for Raul and Olivia De Freitas, that remains a possibility. But until recently, their story was grounded entirely in reality.
The South African honeymooners planned for a six day vacation in the Maldives but wound up stuck there for three weeks after their country’s airports closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We never in a million years expected that this would become such a big story,” Olivia tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“We just thought we were normal people.”
Olivia is a teacher and Raul is a butcher. They live in the city of Bloemfontein, which is about a four hour drive from Johannesburg, and have known each other since they were kids.
After dating for four years, they got engaged, and last year they started to plan their honeymoon. “I always dreamed of going to the Maldives,” Olivia says.
At the time, coronavirus wasn’t even in our vocabulary. That obviously changed in March. But their travel agent wasn’t concerned and the Maldives was such a remote area, they thought it was bound to be low-risk.
And at first, paradise was in fact paradise. They laid out on the white sand beaches. They swam with exotic fish and sharks. And as best they could, they tried to avoid watching the news. But three days after they arrived, South Africa announced it was closing its airports.
“In that moment I was definitely freaking out,” Olivia says. “You just start thinking, what if we’re stuck without food? You start panicking about everything.”
As they looked into an escape plan, other resort guests started to leave and eventually they were the only ones left. Them and an entire hotel staff, which serviced their every need to almost comical effect.
Much of the largely international staff was in a similar situation, as many of their home countries had also closed down airports.
The De Freitas’ grew especially close with their “room boy” who now had only one room to clean.
“We started helping him make the bed, helping him clean up,” Raul says. Their conversations led to a shared love of soccer which led to Raul playing pick-up games with the staff at night.
As idyllic as this may sound, Olivia and Raul were still paying guests (their rooms, however, were discounted) and the bill was adding up.
After a few more days, and with the assistance of the South African Embassy, they left their resort and joined several other South Africans at a different Maldives resort.
After another week, they negotiated for a charter plane to take them home — for a price.
“The charter was $104,000,” Olivia says, explaining that that cost was split among the 50-some passengers. The plane made a stop in Mauritius and then finally landed in South Africa. Home sweet home? Not quite.
From the tarmac, the De Freitas were taken to a government quarantine facility, a building that, before the coronavirus crisis, housed students.
Although they hadn’t knowingly interacted with anyone infected with the virus, the government wasn’t taking any chances.
The tiny room was a far cry from their resort lodgings, and they weren’t allowed to leave. Meals were delivered to them three times a day. Otherwise, they spent their time much like the rest of us: on their phones and watching Netflix.
But on April 14th, their COVID-19 test came back negative and they were released from quarantine. It came on an auspicious day: their one month wedding anniversary. They’re now back at home in Bloemfontein with their families.
Over the past week, Olivia and Raul have been bombarded with media requests for interviews and even some interest from Hollywood.
Three or four producers have contacted them about adapting their story for either TV or film, Olivia says. They’re cautiously interested, and even have some preliminary thoughts on casting.
For Olivia, they waver between Olivia Wilde, due to the shared name, and fellow brunette Mila Kunis. Raul has a more inspired take. “I keep thinking Adam Sandler,” Raul says. “I keep thinking it would be a comedy.”
In the grand scheme of things, they’re able to laugh at their ordeal. And even though the financial toll might force them to reconsider buying a house, compared to a lot of other coronavirus stories out there, theirs was ideal.
“Our intention was never for anybody to feel sorry for us,” Raul says. “There are bigger problems in the world and there are people suffering more.”
Words by Jon San
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