February 2020: I traveled to eight new countries and took 17 flights. Six of the flights were eight hours or longer.
March 2020: The coronavirus pandemic hits and I don’t leave my 1,000 square foot apartment for 77 days.
I had so gotten used to traveling. It was rare for me to be home more than two weeks in a row, and I was loving it! I loved living out of a suitcase. I loved waking up and not being sure where I was. I loved the airport lounges, the lines, the uncomfortableness of the airplane seats. I loved traveling. But here I was, suddenly and overnight, trapped in my home wiping down my delivered groceries with bleach. Boy, had my world been flipped upside down. Fortunately, I was able to work from home and had a very supportive employer. I count my blessings every day that I was able to quarantine and that all of my family are safe and healthy. My heart goes out to each and every person who has lost a loved one through this pandemic. There are not enough words to express how tragic and heartbreaking it is to hear the stories of grief.
I haven’t shared a travel story here in almost two years; it just hasn’t felt right. But as I’m learning, we are going to have to live with the virus, and life must go on. The sense of relief, freedom, and liberation I had after I got my second vaccine is something I will never forget. I remember very vividly the day it happened and going outside feeling like I could conquer the world. It was time. Time to get back to the thing that stimulates me most – seeing the world.
Tony and my two sisters were also fully vaccinated, so we planned a trip to the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao). At the time, it was one of the few places in the world that was open and we knew we could stay fairly safe being outdoors.
KN95 masks strapped tightly to our faces and negative COVID tests in hand, we arrived at the Aruba airport ready to let go of the past year. At the recommendation of many, we had a rental car, and that was a blessing. We were able to explore the island without the fear of public transit, and we had the liberty to come and go as we pleased. We had a beautiful AirBNB. Now finding it, that was a different story. The maps were not accurate, and there were no road signs. We knew the house was blue, and thank goodness it was a lone blue house. We would not have found it buried in the countryside if it wasn’t a loner.
Interesting about the island were the many, many (questionable) Chinese grocery stores. They were everywhere! We stopped at one to get a snack – some cheese – only to discover once we got home (and halfway through the container) that it was growing mold. The local people in Aruba speak Dutch (it’s a Dutch territory), but strangely all of the road signs are in Spanish (it’s very close to the Colombian border).
The island itself is a desert that sits in the ocean. Everything is extremely dry and there are cacti everywhere. The other common tree is the Divi Divi tree (also the name of the inter-island airline we would be flying later). It reminds me of a bonsai tree and is interesting, rooty, and full of bark. My mother loves trees and I thought of her every time I saw a Divi Divi tree.
One of the most famous beaches in Aruba is Baby Beach. We spent our first whole day here. There was virtually no one else on the beach, the water was shallow, and the beach bar drinks were cold. It was one of those mindless days in the sun. I did everything I could – sunscreen, sat under the beach umbrella, and so on – yet I still got a bright pink sunburn. I bought a UPF sunshirt a few days later. I just can’t be in the sun.
One of Aruba’s most common exports is aloe. This makes sense given the desert like atmosphere. We visited an aloe farm and saw some of the biggest aloe plants I’ve ever seen. It was quite phenomenal.
On our second day in Aruba, we had scheduled a scuba diving trip. We arrived at the dive shop only to discover it was closed and not a soul was nearby. I found a WiFi hotspot where I was able to make a WhatsApp phone call to the dive shop owner, Carlos. He was very clearly still in bed when he told us the shop was closed and there were no dives that day. I begged and pleaded and he finally got me to calm down when he said, “Ma’am, do you want me to come to you now? I am naked!” We never did end up doing a dive in Aruba.
We had to get a COVID test in Aruba before we departed for Bonaire. It was quick, easy, a walk up clinic, and we had results in 20 hours. We were off to the next adventure!