It was supposed to be a two-week trip. First off to Spain to see my parents, then to Estonia to cover a music festival, and finally back to Bulgaria to finish off ski season. When Spain declared a State of Alarm on March 15 and my flights were canceled, I was stuck. Here’s my incomplete (and at times inaccurate) accounting of what went down during Spain’s State of Alarm from March 15-June 20, 2020.
March 12 (Day #1): I arrive in Malaga to travel for two weeks with my parents. We’ve been following the news, embassy reports, and travel websites for any information. Even on Thursday, the city is operating like normal with no indication that they are about to implement one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.
March 13 (Day #2): We try to go to the Picasso Museum. It’s closed. The security guard says all public buildings are being shut down. The US announces a confusing set of closures including banning travel from Europe. They have to clarify later that it doesn’t apply to US citizens.
March 14 (Day #3): My parents and I head to the beach. As we’re leaving, city officials are putting caution tape across all the entrances to the beach. We go to the restaurant next to our apartment. Our server tells us that come Monday, the whole city will be shut down.
March 15 (Day #4): I watch 10 hours of Netflix with my parents. My mom gives a negative review of Six Underground and a big thumbs up to Murder Mystery. I begin to imagine the worst possible scenario – that I might be living in a very small apartment with my parents for a very long time.
March 16 (Day #5): The lockdown officially begins. Police cars are patrolling the streets blaring announcements in Spanish. We have made the decision that my parents should make for home. I’m worried about their safety. Also, I’m worried that my sister will blame me for virus murdering our folks.
March 17 (Day #6): I head with my parents to the airport. They will fly to Madrid, spend the night, and fly into Boston the next day. My father reports back to me that their plane was nearly empty and the United States barely registered their entry.
March 18 (Day #7): Without my parents kicking in their share of 100% of the room cost, I need to find a new place. I ask the woman who owns the apartment building if she has any one-bedroom or studio apartments. She tells me she’s closing everything down.
March 19 (Day #8): I find an apartment rented by a guy named Jesus (how many more signs do you need!). I’m enthused that the photo shows a piano. I can finally learn how to play Tiny Dancer by Elton John.
March 20 (Day #9): The apartment doesn’t have a piano, but it does have a window over the street. I invent a drinking game called “Can You Follow Basic Recommendations?” and take a drink every time I watch the people in the street touch, kiss, or embrace each other despite every form of media loudly telling them that this is a terrible idea. I get quite drunk.
March 21 (Day #10): Airbnb sends me a message that says: “The Spanish government has ordered the temporary suspension of all tourist accommodation”. This poses an issue as I’m currently living in tourist accommodation.
March 21 (Day #11): The messaging around masks has been scarce and hardly anyone has been wearing one during these early days of the lockdown. In another week, we will all be wearing masks.
March 22 (Day #12): On my way to a new grocery store, I come across the incredible street art of the Lagunillas neighborhood. This piece below really spoke to me as an accurate representation of my life over the past week.
March 23 (Day #13): A reporter from the local newspaper of my previous hometown interviews me about life in the Spanish lockdown and I take a few photos of what the city looks like without people. If I’m here illegally, I rationalize that I can take slightly longer walks to the grocery store.
March 24 (Day #14): There’s a narrow street that ends with a staircase to nowhere. Before I know what’s happening, I’m following it and I’m suddenly in the woods.
March 25 (Day #15): My landlord sends me a message to not open my door if someone knocks on it. It’s the police going door to door to make sure all rentals are closed. I spend the night in an anxious state, too nervous to open the window or turn on the lights. So this is what drinking alone in the dark feels like.
March 26 (Day #16): The government acknowledges that they will allow exceptions for certain types of housing. During the last 10 days of isolation, I have done a lot of soul-searching and found that deep in within myself I truly hate washing dishes so change to a place with a dishwasher. In between moving, I have to hide in a park for two hours because I’m not supposed to be outside.
March 28 (Day #18): Fuck it. I hike Mount Victoria and meet a wizard.
March 31 (Day #21): My company, Music Festival Wizard, has lost 80% of its traffic and 95% of expected revenue over the last two weeks. I start day drinking at two in the afternoon.
April 1 (Day #22): At a low point on the way to the grocery store, this message from local artist Dadi Dreucol makes me laugh out loud. I begin to take photos again, not only of my neighborhood but of art from around the city.
April 2 (Day #23): I begin crafting a custom map of the neighborhood that highlights my new hobbies — street art photography, secret forest havens and avoiding police patrols.
April 4 (Day #25): I’m starting to believe that I may be in Spain longer than expected. I start buying groceries for the week instead of the day. I eat my seven-day supply of Serrano ham and manchego cheese in under three hours.
April 6 (Day #27): I try out Yoga with Adriene. My baby beer belly convinces me to commit to a 30-day program and I proclaim that there will be no more ham in this house.
April 7 (Day #28): Apparently, I’ve been walking by the house where Pablo Picasso was born every day for the past month. Also, the ham proclamation has been modified to no more than once a week, maybe twice a week if needed.
April 9 (Day #30): I change apartments again. I’m trying to find a home with an apartment a balcony or close to Mount Gibralfo. I find an apartment with both. Being able to step outside at any time of day or night is life-altering. I start wearing pants again.
April 18 (Day #36): Even the criminals are getting creative. To get around the lockdown, this Lithuanian gang started shipping canned tomatoes filled with drugs. The police found 200 kilos of hashish and 700 marijuana plants in a raid in nearby Mijas. Inspiring.
April 19 (Day #37): I continue taking photos of empty streets.
April 23 (Day #41): One of the benefits of the confinement and losing my job, is that I finally can catch up on years of missed articles including hiking in Montenegro and Albania. I start to think that maybe I should collect all my online travel, festival, and snowboarding articles in one place.
April 29 (Day #47): Using a science-based approach with common sense metrics, the Spanish government announces a national 4-phase plan for re-opening the country. It’s in stark contrast to the national government of the United States which has done exactly fuck-all to combat the virus.
May 2 (Day #50): We can go outside again! It’s a bit of a complicated schedule, but the gist of it is that most people are allowed outdoors from 8-11 every night. I go straight to the beach.
May 3 (Day #51): I’ve been waiting six weeks to take photos of this mural in Soho.
May 5 (Day #53): Spain has suffered enormously from this pandemic, and while I disagree with some of the stricter aspects of the lockdown, they have not only flattened the curve but also have a national plan for how to come out of this wave of the virus. By the end of summer, the United States will have the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths in the world. Thank you for attending my TED Talk.
May 7 (Day #55): Supermoon!
May 10 (Day #58): It’s the first summer in seven years that I won’t be taking photos at festivals. I start to work on other projects. It quickly gets weird.
May 11 (Day #59): The mall is now open. I go there to try and buy shoes but there are so many people in the store that I’m overwhelmed and have to leave.
May 12 (Day #60): I climb up Mount Coronado.
May 24 (Day #74): It’s a little over 8 kilometers in each direction, but I finally track down The Four Seasons Mural.
May 26 (Day #76): The sunset is coming later and later it each night.
May 28 (Day #77): I thought I had seen all the art in my neighborhood until I stumble across this LALONE mural in a vacant lot. I being to wonder what else I might have missed.
June 1 (Day #82): Malaga enters Phase 2 of de-escalation, which means that restaurants and cafes can serve indoors, groups of up to 15 can gather, and there is no more timetable for exercise.
June 2 (Day #83): A report is released that unsurprisingly COVID-19 has ravaged the tourism sector of this region. “Not a single hotel was open in April, and not one international visitor showed up, leading to zero tourist spending, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE).”
June 5 (Day #84): After nearly two months, I finally track down Ramen Cat. And a bunch of murals. And an entire street filled with art. It’s a busy day.
June 7 (Day #88): Black Lives Matter.
June 8 (Day #89): Malaga enters Phase 3, which now means travel is now allowed throughout the Andalusia region. Nightclubs open back up and groups of up to 20 are now allowed.
June 13 (Day #90): I go to the beach and sit in the sun and when I’m tired, I go and sit down in a restaurant. I have a burger and a beer. The owner seems very happy to see me. I’m pretty happy to be there. It feels almost like a normal Saturday.
June 18 (Day #97): I’m interviewed by Forbes about my pandemic photography over the last few months. Apparently, I’m not the only one in the world taking photos of empty spaces.
June 19 (Day #98): I launch 100 Days and Nights, sort of a travel website, sort of photo portfolio, and definitely a place where I can write long-form articles about living through a pandemic over 100 days.
June 20 (Day #99): I spend the final Saturday of the restrictions back where it all started, walking around Laguinllas and taking photos. I try to retake as many street art shots as I can, but people keep walking into the frame. I panic whenever someone without a face mask gets too close. If you want to read an excessive amount about Malaga street art, here is a very long article.
June 21 (Day #100): The State of Alarm is officially declared over, but COVID-19 is still rampaging across the planet. I’m not sure where to go so I decide to stay for a few more days and figure out my next moves.
Update: And stay I did. The Spanish government extended tourist visas by 90 days so as of September 10, I’m still here in Málaga. It just didn’t feel safer to travel anywhere else. Well, that and the US passport isn’t welcome anywhere.
For even more stories and photos of time in Spain during this very unique period of time, check out the links below.