SOL: Going Viral

Our dream tour of Asia took a year of saving, planning and organizing before we finally uprooted ourselves from our home in Malta, put our things into storage at a family’s house in Italy and got down to the logistics of leaving. Erring on the side of caution, we had an appointment in mid-December with an Italian travel clinic, where they diligently went over the dangers of all food and mosquito-borne illnesses. We got our vaccines done, took our pamphlets and naively assumed we were ready to fly.

It was two weeks before our flight was set to depart from Italy to Singapore when we heard the first rumblings of a new coronavirus strain being found in several patients in China. At the time, we were more preoccupied with the Taal volcanic eruption grounding flights out of Bali. The “Wuhan flu” seemed contained and while concerned family members asked if we were planning on cancelling our flight to Asia, we answered with a resounding, “No!

Our flight to Singapore was full of mask-wearing travellers and Changi airport was still operating flights to and from China. It being our first foray into South East Asia we had braced ourselves for a culture shock that simply never came. After a day of wandering the downtown core of Singapore we remarked to each other how eerily quiet it was. Streets weren’t as full as expected and even the Marina Bay Sands area was quite calm. By the second or third day we noticed a higher prevalence of masks and a cashier asked us why we weren’t wearing one. When we left Singapore by bus and crossed the border into Malaysia, there were three people on the bus and the border was all but deserted – something a frequent traveller told us had never happened before.

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Upon entering Malaysia we stayed in Kuala Lumpur for several days and again, while the streets weren’t as busy as we expected, malls were still quite full and many tourists were without masks or any extra precautions. Most taxi drivers were wearing masks and when they saw us without, inquired as to whether or not we were following the news. By this point it was early February and the worst was still to come. As we moved by bus (again, empty) to the northern city of Penang, it was largely deserted and we were asked to give our temperatures during check-in at our hotel. We started wearing our masks when we went out but we were met with looks of scorn by many mask-free travellers. Eventually, after seeing the majority of people mask-less, we discarded ours as well. There was little talk of the virus and we weren’t following the news or the panic inducing website reporting all new cases and deaths yet; we were both laid up for three days with a cold that we couldn’t shake and figured it was better to stay in our hotel rather than alarm anyone with our coughs.

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The problem with the media coverage is that, from what we’ve seen, most of it is built on the desire to fear-monger and cause mass panic. We have now travelled through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam and up until a few weeks ago, the general atmosphere was one of caution, not full-scale panic. No one was stocking up on supplies and most tourists were not wearing masks unless they were at an airport.

Several airports, hotels and malls have required us to get our temperature taken before we are allowed to enter. No hotel has asked us for a detailed travel itinerary but all have signs asking travellers to report if they have been to Wuhan province (though it has now been expanded to several hot spots, especially in Europe).

Is this the best time to travel Asia, or the worst? I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for on your trip. We’ve thus far managed to skip the crowds, wander normally busy cities stress-free and book into hotels we wouldn’t have been able to stay in. However we can’t help but feel pained when we see the strip of hotels at night with a sparse amount of windows lit up inside each one; how are the locals going to adjust to this massive slump in income? How will the smiling family-run business at the night markets afford the low season if the high never comes? Unfortunately what was initially an issue for the harder hit Asian countries (who relied on the large influx of Chinese tourists during New Year to sustain the season) it’s now become a larger global economic issue. It feels callous to discuss the fallout of stocks and imagined value when in real-time this virus is ripping across the globe and affecting thousands of people. We have basically isolated ourselves in our hotel in Vietnam until we attempt to fly back to Europe, but we are watching the news with equal parts of fascination and disgust as terrified citizens, being hyped into crazed mobs by their media and government, are causing food shortages.

For many, this is the first time we have suffered through a pandemic upsetting our daily routines. For some, it brings out their innate generosity and for others, the rampant panic has resulted in fist-fights over toilet paper and hand sanitizer. After watching Italy become the hardest hit after China many countries are waking up and initiating lock-downs and pre-emptive quarantines, as well as social distancing, to try and prevent the spread of this virus.

While initially I stubbornly insisted we may as well stay in Asia as Europe and North America are rapidly becoming hot beds of viral activity, we are being blocked from entering most countries and being forced to quarantine for two weeks upon entry. After wandering the streets in Da Nang, Vietnam, and seeing multiple shops close and being refused service several times, we decided we could no longer wait and booked tickets back home. A few days after we booked, the United States halted all travel to and from the Schengen area and UK and the world collectively lost its shit. We have watched anxiously as more restrictions are implemented and sit idly losing our minds as we wait to board our plane. At the behest of the Italian consulate we found a travel clinic in Da Nang and completed physicals stating that we are “Fit to Fly” though of course there is no guarantee we will arrive at our destination unscathed at this point.

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This virus is highlighting numerous social issues and conversations that will need to be resolved once the illness is eradicated. While many people are being told to stock up on a two-week supply of whatever provisions they need, work from home and keep their kids out of school, the reality is that most people simply can’t afford not to work. Watching CNN this week we heard numerous times about how most students rely on the school’s food programs to provide them with meals, otherwise they can’t afford to eat. The sheer thought of the amount of billionaires in the world increasing while students in America are forced to starve if they can’t go to school… How can the US, or any of these developed countries, brag about their economic status? At the risk of launching into a communist manifesto, we need to bridge the wealth disparity in developed economies. Unless the majority of citizens are comfortable and stable, how can governments brag of the 1% that enjoy lives of luxury? Numerous studies have shown that the wealth gap in America is staggering and this virus is only further highlighting the vast divide; a study by Forbes in 2019 revealed that 78% of workers in America live paycheck to paycheck.

Rather than placing blame on other countries and governments, now is the time to react to the current pandemic on a global level, with every citizen coming together to take responsibility and help ease the detrimental effects on society. In an unprecedented event, we need to take unprecedented actions. Hopefully the vulnerable are given aid and the wealthy lend the resources they have available.

As the general director of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a recent briefing in Geneva, “Every country must be ready for its first case. No country should assume it won’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake. This virus does not respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development.”

Once the dust settles we can use the opportunity to adjust societal, political and economic problems. For the time being, the health of global citizens should be everyone’s priority.

 

*The opinions are mine and mine alone and they are still being formed. If you feel that I have incorrectly reported any information please let me know.*

SOL: SE7EN

Where does time go?

I started my trip to Spain full of trepidation and fear. In April, I spent much of my flight to Europe cowering in my seat, choking back sobs, believing myself in love and willing to jump ship (or bail out of the plane) in order to create the life I thought I wanted.

Seven months later and I’m glad I stuck it out.

As my return flight to Canada looms in the not-so-distant future (count ‘em, 38 days) I notice myself reflecting more on the person I have become over the course of these past few months. I truly believe people are in a perpetual state of change and I feel the subtle nuances of character evolution that have become the norm to me will be a stark difference to those back home. Such is the effect of long-term travel; I’ve lived, loved and lost within this country. Through a traveler’s mentality and a vagabond’s neurotic persistence, I have carved out a life here in ways I truly could not have imagined pre-departure. Through risk, through sacrifice and at times against my better judgement I have allowed myself to experience everything life has to offer.

Nights in Spain

Tres Amigos

Having an adventure is sometimes just a matter of going out and allowing things to happen in a strange and amazing new environment – not so much a physical challenge as a psychic one.
// Rolf Potts

Travel changes you in ways that are difficult to articulate. I truly fear returning to Canada and facing the dreaded, “I want to hear your stories!” I don’t have many anecdotes that will please audiences or allow me to paint a vivid image of experience; the most precious moments, the smallest nuances, and the infinitesimal seconds between a good time and a great night cannot be expressed through words alone.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lucky Number Se7en: Telling Lies, Perpetually Learning & Moving On

This is officially the longest I have ever been traveling. It has come with countless positive experiences but just as many negative events that have led to bittersweet lessons.

Since my last update a lot has happened. August was a whirlwind in all the best and worst ways. I had the entire month off of childcare which I immediately substituted for working extra hours at the bar and spending many nights in the discos in the neighbouring town. The temperatures soared throughout August and I spent many days working in suffocating and sweltering heat. Spain tries to murder you in the summer – there were several days where I was worried I would asphyxiate while lying on the beach. I took a bit of time off and spent a few days bumming around Lisbon and fell head over heels in love with the city and all its crumbling architecture and hidden charm. I hit the main tourist spots but sadly did not make it to a beach. Luckily the hostel I stayed at was not short on travelers and I met up with a group of people who were more than happy to go out and experience Lisbon’s nightlife.

Lisbon, Portugal

Torre de Belem // Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Streets

Bairro Alto // Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Belem // Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Night Out in Lisbon

Santa Justa Lift / Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

The week following Portugal (and with me barely recuperated) I was on a train from Barca-Sants to Madrid. The three hour train was incredibly easy, and luckily the station is in the city centre. Once again I made it my mission to pound pavement and walk to all the major tourist destinations. While I enjoyed walking through Madrid it didn’t captivate me like Lisbon or Barcelona. I made sure to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, two of the bigger art museums in Madrid, both of which had free admission on the nights I was in town. I decided that I wanted more of a rustic taste of Spain, so on my second day in the city I booked a train to Toledo, a medieval walled city a half-hour train ride from Madrid. I spent my day admiring monuments and tripping over cobblestones, so it was well worth the detour.

Madrid's eco train station.

Madrid’s eco train station.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Retiro Park // Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Retiro Park // Madrid, Spain

After the rapid pace of August I decided I wanted more free time to simply relax and enjoy my time. In mid-September I gave my notice to the bar and reclaimed my weekends. For the past month and a half I have been taking small day-trips to neighbouring cities, spending weekends at my friend’s place and simply enjoying the fact that I have nowhere I need to be and nothing I need to do. I still do childcare throughout the week, but it is less of a hindrance when I have so much spare time.

Tossa del Mar

Plaza Catalunya, Barcelona

Canadian Thanksgiving in Spain

September Swim

Once the dust of my summer months settled and I started looking at cash and budgets, the amount of money I burned through while here made me want to gag. Though I could beat myself up about reckless spending, truly I worked hard to save the money to come to this country. I am lucky enough to know that money will come and go but I will not ever truly go wanting. The experiences and memories that have come from my spending will last a lifetime, so I can hardly beat myself up over it. I consider myself lucky to have an ongoing support system back home and an education I can rely on to get me a job, any job. I do not take this luxury for granted.

A Canuck’s Ignorant Promise Versus a Persistent Brit

Upon telling people I was going to Spain for a summer sojourn, all the women in my life swore up and down that I would fall in love. Though I did entertain the image of a Spanish Lothario lisping his way through his c’s and sweeping me off my feet in the process, I was steadfast in assuring people that I was going solely for the experience. After becoming aggressively single a month into my trip, I will admit I dove into the Spanish dating scene with the panache of a spastic whale (read: noticeably and not at all subtly). My tendency to behave impulsively and spontaneously often comes back to bite me in the ass, especially in my romantic endeavors.

Relationships are strange things, whether they are platonic or not. I am always puzzled by the seemingly randomness of connection between different people. When you truly click with someone you should cherish it. I can lust over chiseled babes until I die, but as I get older I realize that being with someone who accepts you, makes you laugh and encourages you to pursue your passions is a rare find indeed – even if they are nothing like the person you expected. That person is special, regardless of how much you try to avoid it.

Halloween, Spanish Style

Against my expectations and arguably my better judgement I ended up sacrificing a bit of my independence. Jaded to the core, I truly believe relationships at my age are a waste of time and more of a hindrance than anything… And yet, I find myself in one.

Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can’t, Probably Shouldn’t Teach.

I’ve had an eclectic assortment of jobs while here; since April I’ve been an (almost) illegal ticket hawker, a bartender/server, a summer camp counselor, a nanny and an English tutor. Arguably I didn’t intend to fall into any of these jobs, but when you work towards a goal the universe seems to toss curve balls your way.

I’ve agreed to tutor several people in English, mainly because the Spanish school system fails to teach English at a native level so it always sounds stilted. The last person I was referred to was a nine year old who wanted language practice for a few hours a week, so I agreed to bike to a neighbouring town and chat with her in a casual setting so she could get used to hearing the language.

True to form, while trying to find the house I got horribly lost so I arrived late and wet from the surprise rainstorm. The girl’s nanny opened the door, said a brusque “Hola” and then promptly got the hell outta there. Charming! I took over as a tutor/surprise-pseudo-babysitter and prepped to go over some vocabulary with the girl; instead she came into the living room and told me in Spanglish that she was going to have a shower before her mom got home from work so I resigned myself to waiting while she showered. What happened next was a butt-naked nine-year-old dragging me into the bathroom while she showered and insisted I run through English vocabulary so as not to waste time. Pardon? Unfortunately the only words I could muster to teach were “boundaries” and “awkward” so our first and last lesson was short-lived.

Perpetually Planning & Looking Forward

I have many mixed feelings about going back to Canada in December. I could bitch and moan but I know that at the end of the day an eight month break from the real world is more than sufficient so I’ll keep my whining to a minimum. Spain has stolen a bit of my soul and I know I will eventually return and live in this country. I find this country rewarding and captivatingly beautiful like no other – I will always come back for more.
After I booked my ticket to Canada, I was hit with a wave of depression and knew I had to set a timeframe to be in and out of the country. Entering a relationship with a British native may have had something to do with this; it didn’t help when he came over to my place and said, “What are your plans for April? Do you want to come to Thailand with me?”

I said yes.

As it is the Asia dream has hit a few speedbumps but I am trying to accept life’s challenges. Is there ever such a thing as an insurmountable problem? I’ve wanted to go to Southeast Asia for years but never really summoned the willpower to make the dream happen. I am insanely excited and eager for a new cultural experience. Life is meant to be lived and I’m happy to have a new goal to work towards. I think that traveling Southeast Asia will offer me more cultural and spiritual perspective. I have some reservations about certain countries, but I will chalk everything up to a learning experience.

38 Days Later

The pressure is on to mentally prepare myself to re-enter my life in Canada. I have slowly started the arduous task of packing up my vast accumulation of belongings from the summer and whittling out what I will have to leave behind. I am cautiously optimistic that assimilation will be easier this time around as I will be immediately going to work, visiting family and friends and then booking it out of the country a few months later.

A critical flaw of my nature is my tendency to overthink and plan to excess. I like to have complete control, which usually spirals into insane shenanigans where I have no control. Such is life, but during my next trip I want to try and live within the moment. Had I not incessantly planned ahead while in Spain, I easily could have solidified several jobs, a place to live and probably a few plants and a dog to round out the entire experience. By living in the future I robbed myself the joys of the present, as well as the possibility of staying in Spain longer without panicking at the possibility of the unknown. As it is I have solidified my fate for the next few months and I will take it as another lesson learned.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Backpacking Essentials

My first major item for Europe – I purchased the Cragalot 48L pack through Mountain Equipment Co. for an unbelievable $60! They shipped it out immediately and I LOVE it.

The size is perfect for those who are petite, the straps are supportive and padded – the true test will be the few months it’s put to good use! I especially love the side zipper access as well as the top opening – it gives me a feeling of security with the pack. I got the all black version – looks are still important and I was wary of purchasing a pink and purple sack. The lime green accents brighten it up a bit without making me feel like I’m wearing a neon sign that says “target me, please.”

Because it is 48L and the dimensions are (in centimetres): H70 – W39 – L34, I’m not worried about space to fit my stuff. On the way over, I initially wanted to be able to check this bag as a carry-on, but after reassessing my itinerary I will be checking this bag and bringing a smaller backpack as a carry-on. Packing light has never been one of my fortes!

One downside is that it’s not waterproof, but MEC.ca has cheap waterproof covers for their packs which will come in handy. In terms of durability I think it is built well, and Mountain Equipment Co. has an excellent reputation.

Very excited to bring this with me on my trip next year!