Student Giada Collalto, on the right, with taxi driver Kepa Amantegi. Photo courtesy of Chiara Collalto
Rome (CNN) – An Italian student stranded in Spain due to the coronavirus crisis was driven over 1,500 kilometers to his home by a taxi driver for free.
Driver Kepa Amantegi, 22, drove Giada Collalto, also 22, from Bilbao, Spain, to Montebello, near Venice, Italy, after a series of unfortunate events that left her stuck.
Collalto has been studying languages as part of the European Erasmus exchange program in Bilbao since February 1 and plans to take university courses until the end of June.
“When the coronavirus pandemic started, I decided to stay in Spain and see how it would go,” Collalto told CNN on Monday.
But in mid-March, her university closed and the courses and exams were put online, she realized that staying in the Basque city “no longer made sense,” she said.
“I was alone, my two Spanish roommates were also gone,” she told CNN.
Collalto’s struggle to find a way back home included hours on the Internet and phone calls to the Italian Embassy.
She managed to buy a plane ticket from Madrid to Paris, then to Rome and finally to Venice. But on April 8, she found herself navigating more restrictions at the airport in the Spanish capital Madrid, where a flight attendant informed her that she was not allowed to board.
“I was desperate and angry, my parents were worried but there was nothing they could do to help me. I called the embassy and they told me to send an email. All of the hotels in Madrid were closed, no public transport to return to Bilbao, “she added.
One of his friends knew a taxi driver in Bilbao – Amantegi – and contacted him.
“He immediately said he was available to pick me up and drove nine hours from Bilbao to Madrid and vice versa,” said Collalto.
But upon returning to Bilbao, she learned that her apartment was no longer available. Amantegi offered to host Collalto in his family home for the night.
“Her parents and two sisters welcomed me as a member of the family, I will never forget their kindness,” said Collalto.
The next morning, she and Amantegi started working on a “crazy” idea, to return to Italy.
“We called the local authorities and, incredible as it may seem, we got all the necessary permits. I was cleared because I was going home and he, as a taxi driver, was cleared because of his work.”
At 8 a.m. local time on April 10, the couple left Bilbao and, after 12 p.m., arrived in Montebello, Italy.
At the two borders, with France and Italy, there were police cars but no one checked them, said Collalto.
“I insisted on paying him, but he said,” I don’t want to take advantage of you, I see you are in a difficult situation, don’t worry about the cost, “said Collalto, adding that Amantegi had only asked for reimbursement of the costs of taking charge of Madrid.
When we returned to the family home in Montebello, there was a party. “My parents cried with joy,” recalls Collalto.
Amantegi was invited to stay overnight and returned to Spain the next morning with a basket of local goodies, wine, grappa and lots of chocolate.
“This is something I will never forget, I was a complete stranger to this young man,” she said, adding that in total – with all the trips he had made – Amantegi had traveled more than 3000 kilometers for her.
“This pandemic can also show the best part of people,” said Collalto.