May 30, 2024 7 min read

The Traveler, part 7: COVID Shuts Down the World—and Scares the Crap Out of Us!

COVID hit in 2020 and kept us in Mexico for 15 months

And the ENTIRE plane was ours!
And the ENTIRE plane was ours!

 Imagine getting to the Columbus, Ohio airport to take a flight to Mexico, just as COVID was starting. It’s pre-dawn, the third week of March, 2020, and the place is almost a ghost town, and we walk right up to the Delta counter to check in. No line, no nothing. We were greeted by a cheery face, who told us: “It’s going to be a light flight—there are only 17 of you.”

Those were weird days of travel since people were afraid to fly; airlines were reluctant to fly with such few passengers, and everyone was paranoid. If they didn’t have a full flight on the RETURN trip, they would have normally cancelled this flight, too—one of many during those unpredictable times.

Regardless, we were pretty excited by the light crowd and didn’t have to worry about sharing a middle seat armrest with anyone!

Down the corridor we walked and at the gate all was quiet, and we were the only ones there. The sun came up and we were getting closer to our 0700 flight.

Still, no one.

And then we got a surprise visit from our gate agent we initially checked in with.

She said, “Congratulations, you will be the only ones on our flight! The other 15 people never showed.”

Needless to say, we were bowled over.

And the ENTIRE plane was ours!
"Let me show you to your plane," she said, and we cheerfully followed.

“Can we sit anywhere we want?” I asked, and her response, “Of course, First Class is open for you.”

And that was how our first trip to Cancun, Mexico started-- in a full body 737 Delta 2.5 hour flight we wanted to last much longer!

She led us up the jetway, introduced us to our “crew,” including the pilot and flight attendants, and especially, Benjamin, our private concierge. Needless to say, we took the best seats and after we got airborne we were asked if we wanted breakfast—with champagne—and of course we said, “yes.” White napkins were brought out, our Mimosa was poured, and we settled in for the Trip of a Lifetime.

Most of the cabin lights were dimmed and the other crew members sat in the back, keeping themselves busy. Walking through that dark cabin was very eerie; I took several videos, and wanted to document this for what it was: a Once in a Lifetime event.

And the story stayed weird as we landed in Cancun to an almost empty airport and immigration control, and breezed right through.

The world continued to worsen and people were rightfully scared, including our friends who invited us down. Since we had been traveling from the other side of the world, they suggested that we get our own place, and helped us find one near their apartment. We never held their fear against them as everyone needed to decide their own “comfort level” regarding public socializing.

We found an apartment for two weeks, but did not care for it, so moved to a better one in the same complex, and committed to a 90 days lease. As the world of travel unraveled, we figured that maybe THIS was God’s way of saying, “chill out, relax for a few months, and let the world get its shit together.”

And that is what we did.

But we had NO idea it would take more than a few months!

Our apartment in Puerto Morelos was lovely, and for about two weeks after we got there things were pretty normal. No COVID masks, no curfews, no nothing. Then COVID came to our small fishing village. But in the 15 months we were “stuck” there, we consider ourselves very lucky. There were few deaths, and except for wearing masks in certain businesses, things were easy.

One of the most unusual restrictions was that we could not go IN TO the ocean from the beach. We were OK to walk it, but we could not lay out or swim. Mexico, being what it is, is pretty lax when it comes to laws, and these insane restrictions were only marginally enforced.

Cheap food, cheap rent, and this: pristine turquoise water
Cheap food, cheap rent, and this: pristine turquoise water

Because of our mandatory “quarantine,” we signed a one year lease after our initial 90 days, and even though many countries were in lockdown, I was freely able to go back and forth between Mexico and the US several times for business events. Since Mexico has a generous six month visa, we didn’t have to worry about over staying our time there, even though Kat DID stay 15 months, and had to pay a modest $25 penalty for the overstay.

We were able to travel within Mexico, but not any further south, and eventually things eased up and life there was good. Our apartment was lovely—and cheap—about $400 mo.—and food was cheap, too. I bought a bicycle and rode it throughout town, and when the gyms were finally opened, I took advantage of that.

We had lots of these guys around
We had lots of these guys around

Our not self-imposed restrictions were horrible on so many levels—and good as well. I got my online library card and started a reading habit that continues even now. My imagination was provoked by our isolation, and I wrote several stories and a few books, the first times I had written fiction, instead of non. I adjusted to taking naps without guilt, and Kat got back into cooking. We also enjoyed lots of beach time eventually, and I had the best tan in decades!

Even so, after a bit, we were getting restless and antsy. Nomads do not like to feel out of control or have such limited options! We were ready to move on.

As the summer of 2021 approached, Kat and I had been living nomadically for just over two years, and we were anxious to… go. But to where?? Europe was mostly open, or just opening, as was Central and South America, which were literally in our neighborhood.

Even before we ever left on our journey, neither of us really cared to visit Latin America. Europe and Asia were our priority destinations, but since South America was so close I decided I did want to check it out, especially the west coast, the Andes Mountains.

Kat was more unsure of that since she had concerns about the high elevations, so in June of 2021 she decided to go back to the US to spend time with her new, six month old, grandson; her first. She would stay with her son and family, and I would travel to Ecuador and maybe beyond, solo.

She had concerns when she looked at the elevations of some of the places I wanted to go, and was worried about altitude sickness at 9,000 feet. I thought a break would do us good.

Truly, after the stress of COVID over those 15 months, we both thought we needed a break since we had been together 24/7 for almost 30 months. And that is one of the ongoing challenges for fellow nomads; sometimes we each need our own space.

A few months apart was trying, but ended up being a good move. But before leaving Mexico there were a few places I wanted to check out myself, included Oaxaca, the gastro capital of Mexico, and Mexico City.

Lessons learned: Family left behind

If you are “of the age” and you have children, grandchildren, or elderly parents, all those relationships impact your travel plans. When we left in 2019, we had none of them.

For parents with school age kids, you actually do have a choice, and we have met scores of families—entire families—who live life on the road. Personally I think the cultural impact is incredibly valuable to any youngster, and hopefully teaches them about other peoples, and ideally makes them appreciate their lives at “home.”

We have also known many older travelers with grandchildren, and sometimes they are torn about whether to be tied to them, if they are geographically close, or to leave and wander the world.

Leaving family can be tough
Leaving family can be tough

We met an older couple in Mexico, Dan and Ida, and when they married 20 years ago they made a deal: since Dan was an avid diver he wanted them to live at the beach in Mexico when they retired. In the interim he did what she required familywise, to make sure they each got what they wanted.

When the time finally came, they moved to Mexico, Dan started diving—and Ida pined for her kids and grandkids. It caused some disharmony, but when she went back to visit for six weeks she recognized that she did NOT want to deal with family drama anymore, and she’d rather enjoy La Vida Loca at the sand.

On the other side of the equation are travelers with elderly parents. Many nomads want or need to be close in case they are needed, so that can remove many far away destinations from their choices.

South America was magical in many ways
South America was magical in many ways

Ecuador let me in, as well as the other place we wanted to visit in South America, including one that we both agreed on: Machu Pichu in Peru.

Being spiritually minded people we were curious about that mythical, mystical place that has captured travelers and adventurers for over a century.

The Summer of 2021—life returns to a new normal. Coming up.

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