How the coronavirus affected our world travels in a minute
I believe we have been quite lucky so far.
We left Romania on the 17th of February 2020. At that point, there were no cases of the novel coronavirus back home and COVID-19 was not yet a worldwide pandemic.
Brazil declared the first case of COVID-19 in South America while we were in Rio de Janeiro. Luckily for us, it was in Sao Paulo, and this city was not in our travel plans. From Brazil, we went to Paraguay, where there were no cases throughout the duration of our stay. We then went to Uruguay where we got lucky again as there were no cases there either. And then we went to Argentina, where the number of cases increased from 1 to 21 during our stay. However, it was still quite safe.
So we managed to run away from COVID-19 for a month until it caught up with us. But we knew this was eventually going to happen.
And so on the 11th of March, we started our G Adventures tour from Buenos Aires. The tour was supposed to take us and another 15 people from Buenos Aires and all the way to Lima in 35 days. On the 12th we all flew from Buenos Aires to Salta, Argentina, where we spent the afternoon.
On the third day of the tour, we had a 12-hour long bus ride that took us from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama. There were cases of COVID-19 in Chile but they were only in the metropolitan area. San Pedro is a village in the middle of the desert. It was full of life when we arrived on Friday.
And then things started to go South
On the morning of our fourth tour day, we received an announcement from our tour guide. We found out that more and more countries are declaring lockdowns as the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a worldwide pandemic. Therefore, some of us may not be able to fly back home so we had to make a decision.
Did we want to stay or to go back home?
Chris and I did not even consider going back home for several reasons. We knew how bad the health system is in Romania, and the number of coronavirus cases was increasing throughout Europe. South America felt safer. However, some 6 people from the group left that day to go back home.
On the same evening, we received some more news. The tour from La Paz to Lima was canceled as Peru declared full lockdown. There were still 9 of us who wanted to enjoy the remaining portion of the tour, and we were waiting to go to Bolivia on Monday.
But on the fifth day of the tour, we found out that Bolivia was also closing its borders. We had the option to still try to cross the border the next day but chances were that not all of us would be able to enter the country. Therefore we decided to stick together in San Pedro. We agreed to settle for a while in a city that was close to the beach, and with nice weather. As a group, we were hoping to find a place that had close-to-zero cases of COVID-19.
We spent three more days in San Pedro de Atacama, during which another 3 people left the group. By the time we left San Pedro, the streets were all empty and lifeless - there were no more tourists.
Our safe haven
The remaining six of us found an Airbnb apartment in Iquique, a city by the coast of Chile. We booked it for a month hoping that after this time we would get a better idea of what options we have to keep on traveling. We managed to find a nice 3-bedroom apartment on the 32nd floor of a new building that had an incredible view.
Unfortunately on Wednesday Chile also declared a lockdown due to the increasing number of cases during the coronavirus pandemic. It closed some of the beaches and imposed social distancing measures by closing shopping malls, restaurants, and bars. We were quite happy with the flat, taking turns with cooking and shopping. Also, strolls on the beach that was still open from time to time became a good confidence booster.
A little bit about the other members of the group in Iquique:
Jenny - a German girl in her 30s who was unemployed but specialized in physiotherapy. She dreamed of seeing Machu Picchu and she hoped that by staying around she may still get to see it.
Charlie - a 20 years old Australian boy who left his country to travel for 9 months. He planned to travel until November 2020.
Taysha & Josh - a lovely Australian couple in their 20s who had the same plan as we did - to travel the world for one year, starting in February 2020.
Even if we thought we settled in a safe place, the changes kept on coming.
Less than one week into our stay, Charlie decided to leave due to his family's concerns that he may remain in Chile indefinitely. Australia was closing borders so there were fewer and fewer flights to his country and they would get more and more expensive.
Right after Charlie left we received a visit from the Health Ministry. They took our names, e-mails, and phone numbers asked us if we experienced any flu-like symptoms and told us we have to do a 14-day quarantine at home due to the coronavirus. So we weren't able to go out anymore, only one person could go out at a time and for the necessary supplies and only by wearing a mask. If we broke the rules, the fine started at $3000 and could go up to prison sentence. So we stayed in most of the time.
The following week we received another visit for the Health Ministry to check if we adhered to the quarantine. They asked again if we had any symptoms. That afternoon, after 13 days of quarantine they called us to let us know we are not quarantined anymore.
Right after the quarantine was over, Jenny decided to go back home as there were no clear signs of Peru opening borders too soon. She took one of the last repatriation flights home and she got safe to Germany.
Now, there are only four of us left here. We stay in most of the time and take turns to go to the supermarket. Sometimes we go for a walk on the beach if there are not too many people as we understand the importance of social distancing and want to participate in keeping the entire city safe.
So how did COVID-19 affect us in the current circumstances?
We are stuck in Iquique, Chile, but we cannot really complain. Of course, we would like to be able to visit more of the city, swim or lay on the beach but we are happy where we are and we have the most amazing view and sunsets.
All of us consider that Chile is taking better measures than Australia and Europe and manage to keep the pandemic under control. To give you an idea, there are only 13 cases of COVID-19 in Iquique and 21 in the entire Tarapaca region. People take measures seriously and we highly appreciate that - they don't go outside, they wear masks on the street and in the supermarkets and they all respect the 1-meter social distancing measures. Even though there are a lot of cases in Chile, the increase of the pandemic is constant instead of exponential as we've seen in other countries in Europe.
There is a lot of uncertainty for us right now. Our tour was canceled and we are not sure if we can re-start it from where we left off. We also received cancellation notifications from the flights we booked so we are not sure how or when these matters will clarify for us.
Even if we don't know yet when and how the pandemic will end, we try to stay positive and prepared to find safe solutions to travel when numbers will go down. We are doing our best to keep ourselves and everyone around us safe.
No matter where you are right now, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all. Therefore, we recommend you to:
Do your best to keep the city safe.
Try not to go out in groups or to hang around in large groups of people.
Wear a mask when you go to more crowded places.
Clean the surfaces with a composition made of 10% chlorine and 90% water at least every two days.
Wash your hands regularly.
Stay inside as much as possible.
Respect the social distancing measures of at least 1 meter.
We all know some if not most governments don't do enough to help their countries during the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is also our responsibility to help as much as possible to prevent people from infection.
Try to see this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to discover your inner self, learn a new skill or do things you didn't have time to do until now, like reading a book, watching a movie, etc.
We cannot let this take us down. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of things are changing but the most important is to do our best to adapt and to get out of this as better, more considerate people.