CAMBODIA — During their time aboard a cruise ship in the South China Sea, Larry and Elaine Gingrich developed a routine: wake up, eat breakfast, relax by the pool, eat again, go to happy hour at 4 p.m., and watch the endless waves.
Considering it was a cruise ship, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience, although getting into a routine wasn’t necessarily what they had in mind when they booked their trip to the exotic eastern hemisphere.
The LeRoy couple were among hundreds of passengers aboard the MS Westerdam who were confined to the ship for two weeks amid rising concern about the mysterious coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19.
From their hotel room in Cambodia, Elaine told the Cadillac News they departed from Singapore on Jan. 15 for the month-long cruise, which was supposed to take them to several countries, including the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.
About a week and a half into the trip, they received word that due to the panic surrounding the spread of the virus, countries were refusing entry into their ports.
Elaine said they weren’t too worried about the virus, since they never entered mainland China, where it seems to have originated, although the mood of the other passengers soured noticeably when they could no longer leave the boat.
With their vacation basically canceled, they tried to make the best of their time on the boat while waiting for a country to agree to let them into port so they could book a flight back to the States.
That occurred recently when the Cambodian prime minister agreed to let them into the country; he even greeted passengers as they exited the boat and arranged for flights to take them to area hotels so they didn’t have to travel via public transportation. Local media covered their arrival extensively.
“It’s not like we weren’t noticed,‘ said Elaine.
When they got to Cambodia, Elaine, Larry and the rest of the people aboard the cruise ship were tested to determine if they had symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Elaine and Larry’s tests came back clean but they still couldn’t leave the country because a woman who was on the same cruise attempting to book a flight out of Malaysia was found to possibly be a carrier of the virus.
From what they’ve been told, Elaine said it’s not completely clear if the woman definitely did contract the virus; authorities were just playing it safe.
Their hotel room in the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh overlooks the Mekong River and is quite luxurious. Elaine said the cruise ship company, Holland America Line, paid for everything and also informed the passengers they would refund the cost of the last half of the trip.
“I can’t say a bad thing about the company,‘ Elaine said. “It’s an unprecedented thing that is happening.‘
As of Wednesday night, Elaine said they still didn’t know when they would be able to leave Cambodia, but they’ve been told it could be literally any time.
While it’s been a trip they’ll never forget, Elaine said they’re starting to miss their family and friends and are anxious to get home.
Their daughter, Amy Martin, is also ready for them to get home.
“We’re probably freaking out more than they are (about the situation),‘ Martin said. “We just want them back.‘