Dear readers of Believe it Ohr Not,
There have been only a few times in the history of my blog where I have written something and decided not to post it. Usually I write it up, and up it goes. On very rare occasions, I might sit on a post for a day or two, making several edits, but even that’s pretty rare.
Several weeks ago, I worked on a post talking about how I didn’t know where we were going to be living come Nov. 1 — but I didn’t really like its tone. It sounded like, “Poor us, we can’t travel the world during Covid-19, waaah, waaah, waaah.” Because I didn’t want to sound like a spoiled brat, I ended up not posting it.
But today is another day. This post isn’t like that. And I want to tell you a little story.
Once upon a time there was a young couple, very much in love, that dreamed of traveling the world slowly — spending a month or two (or even more) in far away places. They were two (mostly) frugal individuals who lived relatively simple lives. They liked coffee, Japanese food, music, Scrabble, baseball, fancy cocktails and their well-traveled rolly backpacks.
Before Covid-19 hit, they roamed the world using Mexico as their home base. They funded their adventures using income from renting their small house in Oakland, Calif. One day they decided to sell their house so they’d have more money to travel, so they’d be free from the burdens of property taxes, property management fees, garbage bills, mortgage payments, home insurance costs, all that good stuff. They wanted, well, they wanted nothing to hold them back.
So in February of 2020, they sold that little house and just about everything they owned, except for 11 or 12 boxes of stuff now in a tiny storage unit in Alameda, CA. It was time to take their travel fantasies to the next level! And then, one month later, the coronavirus hit.
The end. Kinda.
Of course, this story is our story. And it’s not quite finished.
Covid 19 almost ruined our travel fantasies, but not really. After all, we’ve been in Mexico for pretty much the entire Covid era (minus a five-day trip to San Diego at the beginning of October).
And recently, as we approached four months in Morelia — which followed two scheduled months and two unscheduled, stay-put Covid months in Zihuatanejo — we decided to embark on a new adventure.
But where would we go? We really wanted to visit Asia (Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and/or Korea), but sadly most of Asia remains closed to tourists. Many Caribbean islands are open, but tropical island living isn’t super appealing since we plan to return to beachy Zihuatanejo, Mexico for February and March.
We thought long and hard about moving onward, not knowing if we should hunker down in Mexico or leave. For a few weeks, we were mentally immobilized unable to make a decision. Every day I would scour the internet to see which countries were open to tourists, which were anticipating an opening, and which ones probably wouldn’t open up until 2021. And we carefully looked at each country’s Covid restrictions and statistics. I was mainly interested in three things: Warm weather, low rates of Covid (far lower than Mexico) and a location where we would not have to quarantine upon arrival.
Now, after lots of research, and recent bookings, I am here to say our backpacks will soon be rolling again.
But first, a test!
A big test helped us feel confident that we could indeed travel. In early October, we flew to Tijuana, entered the U.S. from the airport using the Cross Border Express and “vacationed” in San Diego for five days, largely to get medical tests (we both keep ticking and remain cancer-free). In order to feel comfortable flying, we bought special face shields and paid extra for exit rows, to ensure better social distancing (only one other person was in the 12 combined exit-row seats). As an extra precaution, we wiped down our armrests and tray tables, and took careful measures in our hotel rooms. Everything went fine, giving us confidence to feel like we could begin to safely travel again.
We’re moving to Panama City, Panama
Our adventure will begin on Nov. 1 with two days in Mexico City, then catching a 3-hour, 41-minute Copa Airlines nonstop to PTY (Panama City). Upon landing, we’ll get a instant Covid-19 test for $50 each before baggage claim. Results should take 30-45 minutes. If we wanted to, we could arrive at PTY with a negative test and be waved right in, pretty much, but the 48-hour window and the costs ($140-$170 USD per test in Mexico City) helped us make up our mind.
Before we check into our first Airbnb, we’re going to be staying three nights at a swanky, downtown, high-rise hotel with a view of the Pacific Ocean’s Panama Bay. Why? Because we’ve got something wonderful and incredible to celebrate on Nov. 5. But more about this in a later blog post, coming to you on … Nov. 5.
We actually know very little about Panama as of right now. It wasn’t high on our to-visit wish list, but it’s close to Mexico, and Panama City is considered by some to be the Hong Kong of Central America. Plus, it’s a Spanish-speaking country so I can continue to work on my Spanish while we live there. While not ideal — due to its well-developed, U.S. feel (they even use U.S. currency there) and an overabundance of retired Americans and Canadians — it does have a lot of interesting features including beaches, modern city living, tons of nature and good weather when we’ll be there.
For the bulk of our time in Panama City, we have rented two Airbnbs. The first one is a hip loft in the old section of Casco Viejo. The neighborhood of cafes and restaurants (some outside! many on rooftops!) in old buildings is supposed to be fantastic, albeit maybe a bit too well-scrubbed, and the loft is modern and has two lovely sitting areas. It’s also got parking if we decide to rent a car for a few days. We’ll hang our sombreros there for 15 nights. The second location is a three-bedroom, five-bathroom, ocean-view penthouse in a high-rise building with a gym and with a pool (gulp, both are open — we’ll have to see if maybe a sit by the pool will be OK). We’ll be there for nearly a month.
In both locations, I was able to get a good deal, well below list price on Airbnb, from the owners, as they don’t want their properties to sit empty (although Panama did reopen to tourists on Oct. 12). It’s a win-win for both them and us: They get renters for two weeks (the loft) to almost a month (the penthouse), and we get killer places!
From what we have been reading, Panama is just starting to come out of some heavy quarantining. For months, they have had very strict regulations, namely restricting people from going outside by employing an every-other-day policy (men can go out one day, women the next) — and on Sunday, everyone was fully quarantined. And overnight hours every night were quarantine hours. The men-one-day, women-the-next system has recently ended, and this weekend they are ending the Sunday quarantine, though the overnight quarantine will remain. Beaches reopened this weekend, too, with strict regulations on gatherings and spacing, but bars, gyms, schools and other places remain shut.
It’s not perfect, but this strict, smart way of living has kept Panama in pretty decent stead in terms of Covid — less than 20 deaths per day countrywide since mid-August, and a flattened and even downward-in-places curve in number of active cases since late July (although their cases per 1 million and deaths per 1 million residents is in the same ballpark as the U.S.).
After Panama City, toward the end of December, we’ll go someplace nice to celebrate our 24-year wedding anniversary (perhaps to a nice resort in Panama, or maybe even to neighboring Colombia) before heading back to Mexico, where we will put down roots in Oaxaca for January, staying in a modern property named the “architect’s house”.
After we get to Old Panama, I’ll post more about our first Airbnb, as well as my take on how people there are following (or not following) the Covid guidelines. Stay tuned. And don’t forget to look for another blog post on Nov. 5 with details of a special anniversary.