Thursday, April 8, 2021

Being Flexible While Traveling....

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley”. Or to translate, the best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong.  No matter how well you plan, there is no guarantee of success.  By the way “Gang aft-a-gley” means “goes wrong”. Having traveled extensively we have really tried to keep this in mind, but me of my has it really been tested during day 4 & 5.  Add that to what is called "island time," which has truly lived up to its etymology of being a double entendres ....

On the one hand it refers to pace, a certain slack attitude towards the clock. But it also refers to time well spent, away, in a place that refreshes the spirit and cleanses the soul.

Day 4 had us up early heading for Road Town and the Sensation Ferry to Virgin Gorda. We were loaded down with snorkeling gear to swim around the famous Baths, which we had visited when last here in 2016. We had a car booked so we could move about more easily as we have learned flexibility is key and things are not what they seem during a pandemic. Meaning call ahead no matter what the website, Facebook, or Trip Advisor says about operational hours. We booked our tickets on-line and parked about a city block right on the water and found everything easily. Once sanitized we headed to the top deck for the 25 minute ride over...where the kids quickly found the wifi.

Upon arrival we were greeted by eager taxi drivers, but we informed them we had a rental and were headed to Virgin Gorda rentals. A short 2 block walk from the terminal we turned up the alley marked with their business sign when up behind us came one of the taxi drivers honking their horn like mad. I thought we must be in the way so I yelled to the kids ahead to get over to the side, but then he sticks his head out and yells..."hey man I am just trying to help you." We circle back to his car to find out the rental company owner tried to call Andy on the way over and he would not be able to help us today...his Mom was ill. So he had hooked us up with someone else. Hmmm.... well, we've always gone with the belief most of the people in the world are good. And right again...sure enough after several calls up drove a smiling young man who had tried to intercept us at the ferry, but different from the US you do not tell them when you will pick up the simply tell them what your ferry departs your place of origin, so he thought we were on a different one. Then minutes later up pulls another guy with the car and the paperwork. Super great guys! L&S was the company. And another nod to this welcoming and trusting community...just leave it in the ferry terminal unlocked with the keys inside.

Off to the the Baths National Park we were nervous as there was some serious waves coming in from the North. So we were hoping at least Devils Bay which was a little more west exposure might be OK. NOPE! Red flag. No one allowed in the water. So we paid our entry fee and proceeded to walk, climb and wade through the amazing rock boulders. Still an incredible experience. Then when finished we went to the Top of the Baths...which was a small set-up of restaurant, bar, stores, and a freshwater pool to swim in. We were the ONLY people there, but the staff happily greeted us...took our temperature and sanitized our hands, and guided us to any table of our choice. We enjoyed drinks, some snacks, and a dip in the pool. And the staff was super excited when we even did a little shopping in one of the boutiques. The initial reason by the way we stopped there was for free wifi because teachers had told Ally she could Zoom into class, but in the end with testing they canceled all of that, so the kids, especially Ally taunted friends who were in school with texts or snaps. Now for the record they are both doing their school work from here. we head back on the earlier ferry and cut our loses OR do we look for another spot to spend our day.  On the dive boat a day earlier the locals had told Andy to try Savannah Bay.  This incredible bay was not one for snorkeling on this day, but the waves were perfect for a little body surfing.  And again we had the entire beach to ourselves.  No chairs as these are more like parks we did note some of the trees/bushes had been trained to be natural cabanas, so we threw out our blanket and used the beautifully painted tires with little messages to hold the corners and sunk in for the afternoon.  We all even managed a big nap, which left Ally with some very sunburned legs.  A quick bite at The Bath & Turtle/Chez Bamboo where kids enjoyed pizza and Andy and I shared a Caribbean Burger and a Virgin Islands Summer Ale. CocoMaya the most famous restaurant on the island was closed on this day and our rental car guys had recommended this place.

The 4:45 ferry had us back at our house in time for Andy to do an incredible sunset SUP.

Day 5...which is also 72 hours before our return flight meant another COVID test.  There is no information on how to make this happen, other than I heard from some other Americans you go to the hospital again.  So I called the COVID hotline and they took all our information and told us to show up at 10:30, so they could clean everything after the quarantined people from the early morning were done.  Uhhh...that didn't work too well...there were lots of people arriving when we were there that were coming for their Day 4 test.  The other thing that didn't work...paying with credit card for the $70 test.  They had only one person inside the hospital doing transactions at a rate of 1 every 5-10 minutes.  And after 90 minutes the lady walked out and called "Jolly" and told Andy his card did not work.  So we gave her another card and when she walked out again she called for everyone's attention that the internet was down and they could only take cash.  Oh me oh my...Andy was off to the ATM.  4 COVID Tests, $280, and 2 hours of our day and we were finally on our way. 

We headed to Cane Garden Bay...the closest to Jost on Tortola where we found one beach bar open (Paradise Club Lounge Bar & Restaurant), but after that experience the word "bar" was all Andy and I needed.  We settled into a picnic table with many others we spotted from the COVID testing to one of our best lunches to date...Mahi Mahi burger for Andy and chicken wraps with a sauce infused with coconut.  A little beach time and we reassessed the rest of the day.  

We decided to run the kids back to the house for homework and Andy and I would keep an appointment with Fedrica, the wife of Aragorn a well known local artist and farmer. 

Before coming down to the Virgin Islands I had simply spoken "British Virgin Islands" into our fire stick to see if anything fun came up and there was an old documentary about this guy and the metal work he does.  Most notably out of old metal buoys.  He uses a blowtorch and cuts intricate designs and then fills them with wood and other and basically they are gigantic round firepits.  When not a pandemic this place is famous for its full moon parties, but obviously this has all been stopped pretty much since last March.
Fedrica, scheduled our visit for 4PM and she texted Andy at 4 and said she was running late from their luncheon.  They also own an organic farm that does boxes and provisioning for chefs on the boats of the wealthy.  Today would be as close as we got to celebrity for when Fedrica arrived she apologized profusely that her luncheon for the Bransons (uuhhh....yes...that one) had run over.  We simply nodded and said no problem, but not surprised as the documentary actually shared that Sir Richard Branson had commissioned Aragorn to do a fireball for Necker Island and it is said to be cut outs of the island's famous guests.

We opted for 4 shirts that are screen printed with artwork by Aragorn and based on the local environment and culture, a mug for my Mom, a hand-painted ornament, and a beautiful piece of pottery.  No fireball for us...they start at several thousand dollars and that's before shipping and living in wildfire zone probably not a great idea.  We had a wonderful time chatting about the islands, farms, island time struck again and the piece of pottery I wanted was not logged in the system and then for the second time today the internet was down, but this time she hand-wrote out info and sent us on our way and we had a receipt within 30 minutes after she got home.

Not the days we planned but very nice ones none the less and met some wonderful people along the way.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

More Snorkeling and Diving

Day 2 out of quarantine we decided to stay on Tortola on a local beach with some snorkeling perhaps.  We headed out to Smuggler's Cove which faces Jost Van Dyke, the island we had been the day prior.  We knew we were on the right track seeing signs for Nigel's Beach Bar.  We pulled off the sandy road to a wide open beautiful bay bright blue in the center and darker on the edges where small reefs were.  We poked our head around the corner to see about 4 people in chairs with umbrellas.  Knowing most of these places charge for their use Andy headed to what we would find is a shutdown Nigel's.  Surfboards, SUPS, all stacked and chained neatly.  We read on Trip Advisor a review from January, so we are guessing he is only open on the weekends, but his Facebook has not been updated since before Irma.

Having packed lunch and drinks (bring a cooler bag on trips) we were good to go.  4 chairs and an umbrella up we proceeded to enjoy the day of snorkeling and beach time.  Lots of fish, especially if you hung to the edge of the reef.  The big find for the day was 3 squid, which Andy was lucky enough to get close enough to spook and able to get them on video changing colors.

Back to the house we showered, changed, and headed to D'Coal Pot for dinner.  This is the place we got take out while in quarantine.  Right on the beach we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset and wonderful food.  Andy and I shared a seafood dishes, including conch in butter sauce, Ally was thrilled for a veggie tofu dish, and Alec pasta.

Day 3 and Andy, Alec, and Ally were up early to head to Nanny Cay for a 2 tank dive with Blue Waters.  We all have our dive certifications now, with Andy and Ally both having their advanced.  And Andy has his nitrox cert.  Ally actually got hers during the pandemic with the local shop, Fish Eye Scuba and plans to get her rescue diver cert next.  While in quarantine she's been researching colleges a lot and is bound for marine biology or science and has been most excited about any program with a coastal lab and/or diving.

(Ally in the yellow fins)

They did both dives off Cooper Island with the first being a wreck dive and the second being more general reef.  They got to see a green eel, large southern sting ray, and eagle ray...and Ally's long sought after shark...a reef shark. 

We are sad to report though Alec had trouble equalizing and did not get to dive.  But we're already planning another Caribbean trip next spring break and he and I can go together.  I chickened out...having had a decent COVID cough and fatigue I wasn't quite ready take that plunge.  So to make it up we headed to Soper's Hole and the Harbor Market with a milkshake machine and enjoyed sunset.

Day 4 in tomorrow's post and our trip to Virgin Gorda will be a true test of flexibility, but also woven with the kindness of strangers and enjoying what you have.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Released and We're Off

Now don't mind that title too much.  We haven't really felt in confinement this whole time.  I mean yes we have not been able to leave our house.  But it's on the beach.  We can snorkel, kayak, sunbath, watch sunsets, and just be together.  The kids would argue the confinement bit was the fact that Mom was rationing food because she didn't want to place another grocery delivery because the delivery fee and prices were pretty steep as it is generally used for provisioning food for week long charters of sailboats and catamarans.

Day 5 we remembered Erik, our cab driver said be patient.  We likely would not hear until Noon.  Noon came and went and around 2 I started to call around.  The FOUR numbers they gave us for the Public Health Department went unanswered.  Hello, we are still in a pandemic.  So I actually found a number for the lab on our Day 0 results (which I never received mine and we figure since an army in PPE didn't descend on our house like the scene out of ET I was good).   Someone answered and gave me the COVID hotline.  And yay someone answered there too and went on to ask me if the lab said if yesterday's results had been released.  I said I have no idea.  She said...well the lab releases ALL the results at once, then the Public Health Department comes in and reviews everything, and emails everyone.  So I called the lab and she said oh no...we are not even close yet and it may be tomorrow.  WHAT?!?!?  We had spent the last 4 days mapping out our plans and needed to get to the grocery or dinner was going to be interesting and also had made plans for a worker to come in special on Good Friday to give us our rental car.

About the time we decided to settle in and eat the last of the pasta a huge rainstorm came and then with sunset a rainbow emerged over our house (I know, I know an optical illusion as Allyson would have to say and tarnish my moment a bit), but 5 minutes later the phone started dinging and 1, 2, 3, 4 ...our releases popped into our email.  Difficulty getting a cab on Good Friday our agent/owner, Bonnie, offered Andy a ride to the rental car agency and an umbrella while he waited in the rain for the worker.  Back at the house we all piled in and were off to the police station.  Two officers sat behind a plexiglass counter.  Once sanitized we held up our passports and the results displayed on our phone one by one.  Then we proceeded to fill out more paperwork and cut off our bands and turn in our GPS tracker in an overflowing box.  Getting dark now we drove out to Sopher's hole, the end of the island and the marina/isthmus the direction we have been watching sun set each night.

Andy's found a new website to watch the winds on and determined we needed to change up our plans for the next day.  We were headed to Virgin Gorda, but the wind direction showed it may not be nice for snorkeling, so instead we would opt for a leisurely morning with breakfast, driving around a bit, securing groceries, and cash, then the afternoon ferry to Jost Van Dyke.

Breakfast, to Alec's pleasure was Omar's Fusion, which is not even 5 minutes from the house, on the water with coffees that are all the rage according to the reviews on social media and their latest post showed all you can eat pancakes for $9.99.  Win-Win!  Once there just as we had been told...we and every person who approached the door was met with a friendly "Please sanitize and ensure your mask is on," then we selected a table on the water.  Prices ranged from $6.95 - $13.95 and YES the coffees were amazing as were the portions.

Next we walked the marina and checked out the Harbor Market, which was pleasantly very well stocked.  But decided we should head to the larger town on Nanny Cay to a Rite Way for an even bigger selection.  We did a little driving, then to the Marina at Nanny Cay where the grocery was and where we found we had made a mistake...the Harbor Market was much better, so we grabbed a few staples and headed out.  We also found ATMs are mostly non-functional.  Not sure if it is since Irma or just since the pandemic and lack of need for them with lack of tourists.  We headed back to the house with about 2 hours before we would head to the ferry terminal and our afternoon adventure.  

The New Horizon ferry to Jost is only running out of our end of the island, so we thought we might see a few more people, but the 1PM only had us, one other couple, and some well as lots of provisions for someone named "Amy Jumper - Pink House - JVD."  $30 a person for a 25 minutes round trip we boarded the older ferry.  Not like the ones we took when in St John in 2016 this one was definitely "vintage" with a steel U shaped bench in the open air back then you climbs down some stairs to the ship's hull and there were maybe 8 rows of benches and beautiful teak wood floors (definitely vintage).  Gotta love how the locals love seeing people back...and taking care of their own.  Not even 3 minutes into the trip a guy had come around asking who needed a cab and had us booked $5 ea to White Bay...only a little over a 1.5mi walk, but up and down a steep hill.

Once in White's Bay a place we had been in 2016 we settled onto a very quiet beach.  Met by staff who helped us move chairs and get settled it was the start to an amazing afternoon.  This Harbor would generally be loaded with boats, charters, tours, 30-40.  Today there was maybe 10.  And then a handful of us who came on the ferry.  All in all maybe 100 people.  Last time were were here in 2016 there was probably 20X that.  And much to the kids' happiness this slower pace meant the bar could easily combine tabs from their sweet snack bar with Mom and Dad's adult beverage bar at the Soggy Dollar, where we enjoyed the famous painkillers in several versions.

The afternoon was spent chatting with a few can just tell everyone is starved for conversation after the pandemic.  Canadians, who are staying permanently to those staying at least a month due to the explosion of cases there and practical closing of the borders.  To Midwest folks escaping the last gasps of winter.

The thrills of the afternoon were due to the quiet on the beach sea turtles and sting rays who normally stay out closer the reef which allow this Bay to be so blue and quiet were right below us and were not phased a bit to have a person or two hanging out.  Go Pros and snorkels led to some amazing experiences captured on film.

4:45 came quickly and the bar called our cab driver for the last and return ferry to Tortola.  With the weekend and the holiday all beaches are closed at 5PM to discourage gatherings and prevent COVID spread.  The bars helped with this by closing down food service at 3:30 and last calls.  A quick ferry ride back we opted for a stop at the more stocked Harbor Market where we picked up more food, including the kids talking us into cookie dough (the last and only tube there) and a big tub of ice cream.  A gorgeous sunset we had dinner and all hunkered down reliving our day through pictures and video.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Nearing the Quarantine Finish Line

This morning we were picked up at 8:10 by Erik, our government approved taxi, bound for the the hospital in Road Town for our 4th day PCR test.  I am normally a pretty good planner and we had been understanding, but frustrated that all these required taxi rides come with fees that were not communicated until yesterday.  Day one was $86 from the airport.  Today was $96 round trip to the hospital.  Erik informed us the rides were complimentary for a while, but the government realized they could no longer subsidize and started charging only recently.  Understandable, but they need to get this info on their websites' updated.  And thankfully for us Erik was super friendly and actually lives just above us on the hill and let us ask him TONs of questions.  Tomorrow we will need our taxi driver (may just call Erik) to stop at an ATM on the way to the police station to turn in our GPS tracker and to cut off our quarantine bracelets because we are nearly out of cash.  And then we pick-up our rental car, so we will be in the clear.

NOTE: On COVID Day 4 testing...either go for the early morning pick-up, 8AM (testing opens at 9AM) or wait until after 10AM.  We were Taxi #3 in line, but before we left there were probably 20+ taxis lined up with people not only from Tortola, but all the other islands and charter boats had to come in this morning to get tested.  You stay in your car and your taxi driver goes and waits in line for you outside the large white tent in the hospital's parking lot.  Once it opened though...WOW a well-oiled machine.  It flew! - We were back on the road by 9:11.

But seriously...this quarantine thing has not been bad at all.  Our home is located right on the ocean, so we have snorkeled each day, do tide pooling, and tried our SUPs and kayaks...albeit the wind has been a bit much for the later.  Right next door to our house there is a resort which Erik told us has recently sold.  Very pretty.  Their dock however was destroyed in the hurricane and is now teaming with lots of little fish and the coral is starting to come back.  The only caution is we have to wear our snorkel booties or Teva/Keen like shoes because the entry is covered with tiny sea urchins tucked down in the rocks.

I stocked the house like I stocked the RV in New Zealand with a delivery from RiteWay Food Market with lots of items to be flexible in their use.  Eggs have been used for omelets, French toast, scrambled, and even a egg custard for dessert one evening.  Pasta has been used for dinner as well as cold pasta salad.  Lettuce has been used for salad, burgers, etc..  And lots of fruit juices have been used for the well-known Painkiller adult beverage and smoothies for the kids.  We did get delivery one evening from D'coalPot...conch fritters, coconut shrimp, and the local burrito, Roti...filled with veggies and seafood and flavored with curry.  Delish!  The delivery girl was so incredibly grateful for our order.  Definitely a place on our list to visit when we are released.

All those water toys by the way were rented from Island Surf and Sail where we also secured a Fender guitar.  Ally got one for Christmas and it has been a welcome distraction for her, Alec, and Andy during the sunset hours.  Also similar to our RV trip we packed some portable and travel Scrabble which are used every night at Happy Hour and after dinner.  Rummy, BS, Village Idiot, and Solitaire have dominated the games.  And our Midwest friends will be sad to learn we tried to teach the kids Euchre, but they grew frustrated very quickly.  Maybe we will try again.  Sunbathing and playing in the sand round out our fun daily activities.  Yes, there are "not so fun" activities which include a little work for Mom and Dad, school work for both kids (since we extended to a second week), and almost fun for Ally...lots of college research.  Inquiring minds and family will be happy to know UC Davis is still tops on her list and she is still leaning towards Marine Science or Biology, but wants to continue to compete in skiing at the college level, so several schools out here have USCSA.

A lot of people have commented they are so sorry about our quarantine, but we have been totally fine with it.  Great family time, kids (especially Ally) catching up on sleep that has been missing with the insanity of ski season, school, work, and having had COVID, and it's allowed us to do tons of research and plan our time out of captivity.  We are excited once out we are allowed to move about the BVIs and have planned trips to Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Cooper Island.

Another 24 hours and we should be good to go!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

6 Hand Sani, 1 temp check, 1 nasal swab, 1 bracelet, & family GPS tracker before leaving EIS

So we have landed on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.  This is the largest of the 60 island chain that makes up this British commonwealth territory.  Only a few of the islands are populated and to put the population into perspective it is about 3/4 the size of El Dorado Hills just west of our home in California at just under 30,000.  Their are two economic pillars which support the BVIs. Financial services make up 60%.  Basically this is wealthy persons and/or companies who park their offshore accounts here to minimize taxes as the G20 considers it a tax haven.  The other 40% is tourism.  Now with that other 40% you would think they would be clamoring to re-open, but yes and no.  They have for the last year walked the delicate balance of their livelihoods or their lives.  And the later has clearly won out with the islands being shut down to cruise ships and even tourists until in the last few months.  And even now the steps required for anyone entering the country are nearly full-proof in keeping COVID out.

So remember our family has tested 5 days before our departure from the US.  Mind you 3 out of 4 of us have our first vaccine AND 3 out of 4 of us had COVID in early February.  None of this matters as we disembark the plane and walk in our family cohort across the tarmac to what appears to be a newly constructed building.  Before entering we all sanitize our hands (#1) and immediately line up in front of a facial temperature scanner.  Once the computerized voice says "Temperature Normal" we are pointed to single file, 4 feet apart, comfortable leather armchairs.  Large glass windows allow us to sit and wait out our time with a spectacular view.  One by one families or cohorts are called to a plexiglass window where two ladies sit behind a computer and double check all of our information.  Once complete we "head through the double doors" where there are little cubicles with a metal office chair and people in full PPE running around.  Andy, Allyson, and I receive a nasal swab after verifying our info on the vial is correct.  And Alec at 6'1", but only 14 receives a mouth swab.  Children here do not get nasal swabs and the workers shudder when we mention the fact it is given in the US. 

Done, we exit, sanitize our hands (#3) and return to our chairs.  Here we wait until they amass groups of ~10 and then we are escorted to immigration where we sanitize again (#4) before entering the building.  Standing on our spacing floor markers in our cohorts we complete our paperwork and go through immigration again verifying our quarantine accommodations.  We pick-up our bags and head to customs where we answer the standard questions about fruit, food, etc..  After paying a $10 per person environmental fee we exit the doors.  There is a woman in a booth behind plexiglass with a sanitization station to her left (yes, #4).  Here's where we misread things...  We read we would be transported from the airport to our quarantine accommodations in government approved vehicles.  Well, you still have to pay for these.  Our cab fare was $85 for about a 45 minute ride to the other end of the island.  A fair price for the distance, family, of 4, and luggage.

The taxi booker guides us outside to another woman behind plexiglass who dons gloves before maneuvering from behind the glass where she squirts sanitizer on our hands (#5)  before placing bright green wristbands on each of us.  Making them quite tight, so they won't be easy to slip off.  You have read about the University of Georgia woman jailed for 4 months in the Cayman Islands for slipping off her bracelet to go watch a boyfriend in a competition while visiting.  This is serious business people.  We also were given a black box in a water proof bag with a lanyard.  This is our GPS monitor which must stay charged and in our vicinity at all times.

Next we are led to our driver, Max, and his beat-up van.  Maybe 1980's...but it did have a shiny new piece of plexiglass installed between the passengers and himself in the front.  After loading our bags we went to open the door...and got a firm "Wait, Wait"...yep hand sani #6.  Inside we would place our names on a clipboard so they know who rode with who and can contact trace if needed.

We all settle into the leather seats for the curvy, bouncy 40 minute ride to our quarantine home.  We message our host we are on the way and of course on this small island our driver and our host know each other, so no GPS or directions needed.  We wind our way along the islands coastline ever so often shooting in and up into the hills.  Last time we were here was before Hurricane Irma in 2016 where we visited friends residing on St Johns which we can see off in the distance on our drive.  This Cat 5 hit the islands in 2017 and it's toll is still obvious today.  Many boats are still scattered about, half sunk in marinas to on the land itself.

Just outside Fort Recovery we turn left onto a gravel drive and we pass a couple of bright colored bungalows which is our host, Bonnie Dougal's office.  Then a little round drive approached a wooden gate and in the middle of the drive lay all our pre-ordered toys (SUPs, Kayaks, etc.).  Also is a auburn-haired woman, Bonnie, who greets us with a smile keeping her distance.  She informs us everything is inside, including pages of instructions, our food delivery...AND welcome beverages of a couple beers, bottle of Prosecco, and bottle of sparkling cider.

We haul our bags through the gate into the bougainvillea and palm courtyard and into the house where large glass windows and our view and site right on the ocean will be the perfect backdrop as we settle in for our 4 day quarantine and one more PCR test.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Flight Cancellations + Pandemic = Stress X 2

Absolutely packed red eye flight to Miami.  We have flown a lot during the pandemic and every time people ask about others' masking and did we have any trouble.  At least in our experience it seems like all the anti-maskers and/or drama related to protocols are the exceptions, not the rule.  Other passengers we have flown with have always followed protocols without issue.  In fact I daresay everyone seems a bit more patient and a bit more kind.  The only thing we did note this time was the announcements included a very matter of fact you keep your mask on or we have the right to remove you from the plane and cancel your booking.  This in part is due to the new administration and the fact the FAA is a federal entity and will be as firm as other federal entities.

In Miami we noted travel has really picked up...or maybe it was spring break and Miami...have you seen the news?  The airport was packed and without club access we found ourselves four chairs against a wall a bit away from our gate to grab a bit to eat.  Weird that Miami was not asking for travel clearances or COVID tests before boarding the plane because even though a territory we would find out Puerto Rico our next destination requires the "within the last 3 days negative COVID test."  But it felt a bit more like "their problem not ours" to be honest.  I am generally one who is grounded very firmly in the fact that news is often only a sliver of the whole story, but will admit the airport's atmosphere seemed to match what we've been seeing on the news.  A friend of mine said it feels like a football team celebrating a touchdown while still on the 1 yard line.

Into Puerto Rico with a couple hour layover we again found a wall in the less crowded area across from our gate.  We grabbed another snack including local sodas and salted plantains.  Here, to our pleasure, the COVID protocols tightened again.  A new change in our travels was found in the  bathrooms...all hand-drying options gone.  Air dryers were disabled...which we have seen elsewhere due to the circulation of air particles and hence COVID, but this paper towels either.  Drip dry it is...

We were to be traveling on the American Airlines partner, Seaborne.  A small company that has a large fleet of Saab airplanes that run circles around the Caribbean all day.  Ours was coming in from St. Croix.  Again different from the US the British Virgin Islands only have one airport open, its largest, EIS on Tortola.  You can only enter and exit the commonwealth country here.  Where the US Virgin Islands had numerous entry and exit points.  Unfortunately with no flexibility this also meant when our plane broke down we were stuck in Puerto Rico for the night.

Seaborne was rather impressive.  Before they even announced it they had new boarding passes printed for our re-bookings.  Andy was 2nd in line after we heard a young woman who works in the BVIs mention the cancellation and she and her co-workers scrambled for a private charter to get there for work.  3 people $1500 for the 30 minute flight is what they would get.  Nice!  We took our rebooking for the next morning and hotel and taxi vouchers and headed down to carousel 6 to pick-up our bags.

Our bags were taking forever so Andy took the opportunity to get the lay of the land when it came to COVID as the baggage claim was crawling with military and people in full PPE.  I was frantically reading travel restrictions and noted our tests for the BVIs were 5 days in advance (due to extra time needed to process all our extra documentation...remember the insurance and proof of our quarantine lodgings)...Puerto Rico was only 3 days.  Would they accept our COVID tests?

Bags secured we approached one of the military personnel and explained our situation and he pointed to a QR code on the wall for us to scan to start our travel clearance to leave the airport.  After a few minutes of struggles without my reading glasses and shaky fingers he pointed us to the area with about 20 workers in full PPE to help us complete the documents on-line.

We were split into groups of 2 and placed next to each other, but 6ft apart, at tables with one person behind a laptop in full PPE and a barrier to keep us from getting too close and they started by asking for our clearances, passports, boarding passes, and more.  We would explain our situation and present them with our BVI clearances as well as our negative test results from CVS.  The test administered 5 days prior..not 3 as they required.  Chatter commenced in Spanish between the two workers and 4 years in high school quickly made out they were discussing the 5 vs 3.  They would ask us about the vaccine as well, which we presented our cards for our single dose.  This seemed to satisfy them and we get the "You're Done.  Welcome to Puerto Rico."

Next, as always is the case with vouchers, the begging of a cab driver to accept it as it is not cash in hand and requires work on their end took a few extra minutes.  But the promise of a tip got him moving and 5 minutes later we would arrive at Verdanza a high rise on Isla de Verde 2 blocks off the ocean.

After facial temperature scans in the lobby and guests bracelets were applied exhausted we piled into the small two double bed room.  This is our first hotel stay since the pandemic and true to the stories it had been stripped down.  No colorful comforters.  No hotel or local literature to be touched by the room's numerous occupants.  Pillow cases, a sheets, blanket, and towels - that's it.

Our hotel had a restaurant.  This is the first time the kids have eaten out since the pandemic and Andy and I only twice outside so we opted for outside here.  Another difference from the menus.  A QR code on a stand was scanned and the menu popped up on our phone.  We enjoyed pasta, pizza, and Andy tried the local beers.  Situated higher with a view of the street we watched everyone walking from the beaches at sunset and a small amount of nightlife spring up.  Mostly loud thumping bass coming from cruising cars and a lit up party bus.  All the while police patrolled keeping people from gathering and flow moving along.

A fairly restful night.  Andy up early walked to the beach and grabbed us coffee and muffins, then we  were back at the airport 2 hours before our flight to go again...and that we did.  A little prop plane would take us the 30 minutes over beautiful blue water to EIS, the airport at the most eastern tip of Tortola where we would step off to a beautiful blue sky, 80+ degrees, with kite surfers and sailboats visible from the tarmac.  Now begins our next set of steps to be able to leave the airport and enter the BVIs.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Going Again in a Pandemic

It's hard to believe it has been almost 18months since we traveled internationally.  Our last trip was November 2019 to New Zealand.  Little did we know very shortly COVID19 would bring travel and the world to a halt.

In March and April of 2020 when the world locked down we chatted with Andy's Dad, the kids' beloved Papa, who we had no idea at the time was battling terminal cancer about taking another family trip.  We were weighing Hawaii where he had never been or the British Virgin Islands, a beloved destination from his younger years.  Andy had grown up jealous of his parents who would take off for Tortola and leave he and his brother in Indiana for a friend's sailboat watched over by a local, named Bubba, who also had a bar on Jost Van Dyke.  We were researching houses and plans for both.  As COVID infections and deaths climbed we were leaning towards Tortola where the protocols were extremely strict, but it would keep us and a possible fragile PJ as well as the islands' people safe.

Fast forward to September when Paul would pass from this earth and it pretty much sealed the deal...we would go to Tortola in memory of him and for us to rejuvenate after a rough 6 months flying back and forth to the Midwest to care for him and what we didn't see ...a rough 6 months ahead including a serious concussion for Ally, 3 out of 4 of us contracting COVID in early February after months of extreme caution, and still recovering from its effects weeks later.

With only 154 cases since January 2020 and only 1 death their protocols were strict, but effective.  Our host of our rental home would help guide us through the process which would involve the following steps even before our arrival:

  • Negative PCR test 5 days before we traveled with our results uploaded into their Gateway App at least 2 days before we traveled to receive our "QR Codes" or travel clearance
  • Travel Insurance that covers COVID.  This is important because if you contract COVID in-transit or while there and have to quarantine they want you financially sound to afford the costs of an extended stay (just read all the stories of people headed to laxer Mexico right now and not allowed back to the US per their plans because they've picked up COVID while there).  And under the worst case scenario you contract it and require hospitalization or evacuation you as well would be covered.
  • Proof you are staying in a COVID quarantine approved location, house, resort, or boat.  These places have strict guidelines about where you can go on-site and who you can interact with.  At our home we had to have everything delivered in advance, including groceries 2 days in advance so everything can be wiped down as well as water toys, like SUPs and Kayaks.
    • One of the best places in the world to sail you can quarantine on a chartered just have to fly a "In Quarantine" flag and stay at least 30ft away from other boats...and return to your quarantine assigned mooring each night by 6PM

Just like another favorite Caribbean destination, Jamaica, we quickly realized everything operates on island time which means there are no set times for anything and pace is leisurely.  Everything uploaded 2 days before we let panic set in when the day before we were to leave their entry app went down and the Department of Health and Tourism Board could not access our info and approve.

Panicky WhatsApp messages (the only way to communicate via phone and text effectively in the islands) flew back and forth between us, our host, and the "app" people.

We loaded the car and headed to SFO (San Francisco) on a Friday night.  Still no travel clearance.  Our host said we would be OK, until we reached our final leg, Puerto Rico to Tortola, so we breathed a little easier.  When we stopped to gas up our one way rental to SFO (much cheaper than 2 weeks of parking) we see our travel clearance had arrived in our email inbox.

Thankfully so...because when we arrived in SFO they required we show it before we even were allowed to board our first leg, SFO to Miami.  Close call, but we were on our way....