CARSTAIRS - Local musician Jason Valleau and his wife Karina are back in Alberta and in isolation in their home in Calgary after being in Spain visiting and attending school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The couple were able to eventually catch a flight back to Canada after being locked down in Madrid for more than a week.
Valleau and his brother Sheldon are part of the Polyjesters band, which played the Calgary Stampede last summer. The brothers grew up in Didsbury and attended Didsbury High School, where their father Barry taught band. They later both lived in Carstairs and operated Cafe Radio as well as hosted the Mountain View Music Festival.
"We were studying in Spain," said Valleau, of he and his wife. "She was in university doing a semester there. I went along and studied a little Spanish and took some music lessons. We were living in Madrid and had been in an apartment there since January."
Around March 10, numbers of COVID-19 cases throughout the world were beginning to rise, recalled Valleau.
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"Italy was really starting to get people nervous," he said. "As that progressed, Karina's university decided to stop holding classes and go online. We were kind of caught between a rock and a hard place."
Valleau said they were able to function reasonably normally as the city hadn't been locked down yet at that time.
"It was actually Friday the 13th (of March), Spain declared a state of emergency," he said. "They told all bars they had to close. All patio restaurants and then all bars and restaurants. That's pretty devastating for a culture that is about being outside and walking to and from everywhere. It's a very mobile culture. It was quite a rippling effect that happened there socially."
The following day the county was locked down. Valleau said they didn't see any sick people nor were they near any hospitals. They relied mostly on English-language websites for getting information.
"At that point Karina turned on the Spanish news and we realized how serious it was," he said. "We stayed put in our apartment. We didn't move. We took one small trip to a small grocery store nearby. There wasn't the same pandemonium or hoarding among shoppers. We felt OK. We didn't feel people were buying out of fear."
Once the infection and death rate started rising the Valleaus realized they had to decide what to do.
"We didn't know if we should act like ostriches and bury our heads in the sand until it blows over, or make a run for it," he said. "We felt safe in our apartment. We couldn't see or hear anyone sick around us. Everyone was very nice and friendly in our apartment. At certain times all the windows would open for cheering and clapping throughout Spain for the health-care workers and sanitary crews."
Valleau said they joined in with the cheering and it was a good time but once they saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau live on TV asking Canadians abroad to come home they knew it was time.
"We weren't afraid," he said. "The Spanish government was very good at making sure everything was still running. When Trudeau said that we just looked at each other and thought if our own government is that worried about us being abroad we need to figure out how to get out of here."
The tough thing for the Valleaus were that they felt safe in their apartment in Spain, which they had been locked down in for 10 days, and felt it would be more dangerous to take transit or a cab and go to an airport.
"You see these nightmare videos online of airports just clustered with people and then you get in an airplane with circulated air and then have to transfer again," he said. "That felt more scary than staying in our apartment there. But we knew we needed to get out of there."
The Valleaus were able to get a pricey last minute Air Canada flight out of Spain to Frankfurt, Germany and back to Canada.
"The airlines and everyone was great at making sure there was distance between us," he said. "It was a long journey through airports and security checks. We wore bandanas and masks, while others wore nothing and some had basically full hazmat suits while travelling. That's when we got less comfortable. When you see it on TV it's one thing but seeing people fleeing in person outside of your comfortable bubble."
Valleau said they felt very relieved when they arrived in Canada.
"There's something about that fresh mountain air," he said. "It's nice. So clean and healing when you land back in Canada. We always feel it wherever we are in the world when we get back to Canada."
He said that at the airport in Canada they were asked if they were sick.
"They questioned where we had been and if we had any symptoms, which we didn't," he said. "We felt fine. We had already been in a quarantine in Spain. They were pretty serious about telling us to go straight home and not pass go."
Valleau said they had their son drop a car off at the airport and the couple drove to their home in Calgary and have been there ever since.
"The nice thing is we've had friends and family drop off groceries at our door," he said. "Good old Co-op has a program in the city if you're in quarantine like us they bring you a free box of food."
Overall, it's a very different feeling in Canada than the rest of the world, said Valleau.
"Our numbers aren't anywhere near what it is in the United States or the rest of the world," he said. "Honestly, I think Canadians are natural quarantine-type people. I think when winter comes we hunker down. We've learned through hundreds of years or at least decades of living here how not to get cabin fever.
"We now feel safe. We've been monitoring our temperature. We feel 100 per cent."
Karina is continuing to do her Spanish university courses online, although she does have to get up at 3 a.m. for her classes.
For Valleau, there's plenty of music to work on although he admits it hasn't been easy.
"Musicians know how to quarantine," he said. "We've watched our industry dissolve over the last 20 years. We've learned how to go online. There's writing music charts and consultations. I'm currently back from Spain, it's tough to work. As a musician you have to be in front of people. It'll pass. We'll be fine."
He said it's a great time to finish projects and start some new ones.
"It's good to be home," he said. "We feel we were missed and people were concerned about us. That really makes a person feel good."