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3 of These Women Escaped a Military Coup to Surf in the Maldives

My travel mate from Belgium, Emilie Servais, has a sly smile, a gentle laugh, and an intense determination that escapes her easy going spirit at unexpected times. She’s sitting in the back of a cab fidgeting as her driver is in the middle of the road talking to others stuck in the gridlock traffic by the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey.

“You cannot go to the airport, it is not possible,” the cab driver says in broken English. Emilie is not about to let traffic stand in the way of making her connecting flight, though. There’s a one-word mantra playing in her mind: Maldives. Maldives. Maldives.

“The airport is close enough,” she tells the driver. “I’ll just walk from here.”

The driver’s eyes bulge. “Very big political problems.” He can see his words are not enough, so he calls his daughter who’s more fluent in English, to explain.

“There are tanks blocking the road,” Emilie’s told. “It is a military coup. You need to return to your hotel… now.”

Meanwhile, I am still en route to LAX. But at the Istanbul airport, another woman we are meeting up with, Marta Salaner, from Spain, watches in utter bewilderment as the monitors change all flight status to DELAYED and then CANCELLED. No announcements are made over the PA or anywhere else in the airport, however, Marta’s phone starts buzzing with messages from friends and family asking if she is okay.

With contradictory information coming in from each new text, Marta’s confusion and anxiety worsens as she looks outside and sees the tanks rolling by. Not long after, gunfire erupts. Marta starts running. In the shouting, Marta finds other travelers from Spain and tries to stick with them. “We are doing our best to stay calm, but explosions shake the entire building. The military planes are flying low and very fast overhead and they are breaking the sound barrier,” she says.

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At this point, only tourists are left in the airport. “When the staff leaves, they just leave. All the stores and restaurants are wide open. It feels just like an episode of the Walking Dead; stray passengers roaming around scared, dazed, in shock. At one point a guy jumps over the counter at a restaurant and starts cooking burgers for everyone. We also try to take turns sleeping. On the chairs, on cardboard on the floor, anywhere. But with the explosions and commotion it is too terrifying for me to sleep,” Marta says.

During the night, the military seizes control of communications and social media. The airport monitor screens go black, then white, then it says the flights are back on and then delayed. The travelers have no idea when or if flights might resume, and most embassies are little to no help.

A few kilometers away, Emilie is back at the hotel where she also spends a sleepless night. Her smile is lost as she gathers to watch the news with pilots and other travelers. “Each news source is telling a different story,” she tells me later. “One says the military coup was successful and everything would soon go back to normal, another says the coup was unsuccessful and the people must rise up to fight the remaining troops. We don’t know what is right, or what we can believe. ”

As I arrive at LAX to catch my flight to the Maldives, also connecting through Turkey, I have no idea if the plane will take off, and if so what we might be flying into. Just before we are to board, tweets from Turkish Airlines and NPR both say operations will soon resume at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. I roll the dice and hope that is indeed the case as I board the plane.

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Source URL: Bing News :

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