On quarantine, memories, and the perception of time

April 7, 2021

Reading time: 14 minutes

As children, especially before the age of 10, we are constantly having new experiences. Our world is always growing, and we are always making new neural connections. We see, hear, taste, smell, feel, and learn. I fully believe that the vaseline-blur on the lens of my childhood holidays was my brain learning about new climates, new landscapes and architecture, and new tongues.

If we’ve been quiet, it’s because not much really happens in quarantine.

It’s already been two whole weeks since we left Scotland. We’ve now been in quarantine for a total of 12 nights, one in Barbados and 11 in Bequia. We have only three days until we’re free to explore the beautiful beaches we’re looking down on.

It may seem like 2 weeks in quarantine here, work aside, would feel like an eternity. A very long holiday. In retrospect, that may not be how we remember it.

As time goes by

It feels like a long time, and a short time, all at once.

It’s hard to believe that, had we been on a classic two-week holiday, it would be almost over. When we used to go to Barbados for 2 weeks, there would come this point just before the passing of the first week. A sweet spot. It would feel like we’d been out for AGES. Like we had done so much, usually because we had. And we still had so much to do. Inevitably we’d then reach a point where we didn’t have enough time. Thanks to the cost of long-haul flights and more generous leave, our trips began to stretch out, from two weeks to 17 nights, then 20 days, then to over three weeks.

There was never enough time.

We’ve always had really active holidays, with days that lasted forever. Somehow we could fit in a little read and sunbathe after breakfast, a drive and a visit to one or two attractions and lunch out, a walk to the shops, a swim, more reading, AND a night out. We would visit different restaurants, and beaches. We would chat with different new friends. We would wear different outfits, and dress for dinner.

It wouldn’t matter if it was a repeat trip and we had already done those things. Our two-week holidays to Barbados, or our one-week holidays to Iona with friends. Time was still elastic, the memories long, full and rich.

Even short holidays, those two, three or four nights away with friends felt like so much longer. On trips to Italy, France, Lapland, or to a caravan near Scarborough, time was ours. Routines were formed and friendships were made oh, so much stronger.

The absence of memories

So, how can it be that our time here has been a blur? Sure, those first couple of days felt very long. On the days where we start work at 5 am, logging off at 1 pm feels an eternity away. But even now, thinking about the past two weeks, it feels like it’s happened in the blink of an eye.

I read somewhere that the reason why our perception of time passing is so much faster as we age is to do with forming memories. As children, especially before the age of 10, we are constantly having new experiences. Our world is always growing, and we are always making new neural connections. We see, hear, taste, smell, feel, and learn. I fully believe that the vaseline-blur on the lens of my childhood holidays was my brain learning about new climates, new landscapes and architecture, and new tongues.

As an adult, the novel becomes a rarity. The final frontiers of experience need to be reached to make something exciting. Even then, our emotional state must play a huge part. Three days in an Airbnb spent laughing, joking and playing with friends will stick (no matter how many beers are downed). A week as a couple, during a trying time at work, at an uninspiring Mallorcan hotel with long days in the car, may ultimately fade away to one or two key memories.

This is part of why holidays stopped being enough. Why we wanted to travel more widely. Why we bought a boat.

Life started to feel too short to let those few short weeks of travel a year pass by in a haze.

Quarantine life

So, what of our time in quarantine?

Bliss, at The Lookout

First of all, we will remember where we spent it. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot. At The Lookout, we have a large two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with everything we could need. We have a large covered deck on our doorstep, and another larger terrace upstairs. We have the most incredible view out over Admiralty Bay, with the Caribbean Sea as our horizon, and we’re in a spot where, when it obliges, the cool breeze keeps us comfortable. The waves from the nearby beaches, the chattering of birds, and at the whistle of the local tree frogs are the soundtrack to our day. We block out any sounds of construction, for there are always sounds of construction on Caribbean islands.

I will definitely write more about this beautiful apartment, and its wonderful hosts, very soon.

Our days

We have a routine, mostly.

Breakfast, Lookout style

We start work at 5 am, and alternate between sitting outside in the breeze, or inside at the breakfast bar under the large ceiling fan. It’s still dark when we wake up, but the light appears by 6 am so it’s not quite the gloomy start we had during Scottish Winters. We don’t usually eat breakfast until much later – it’s now crept until after 8 am. Unlike at home, we prepare and eat our food together – honey and oat bread with delicious sticky guava jam, or yoghurt with granola and fresh fruit. Because of the timings, we don’t always take a discernible break in the middle of the working day. We don’t time our breaks to coincide, and we no longer always work side-by-side – time spent alone is important under quarantine together.

Work finishes at 1 pm, and usually around the time that our hosts Chris and Louise pop by for a visit. They bring us any groceries we’ve asked for and stop for a chat. I’m looking forward to a time when we can talk over a beer and a meal instead of through masks, at a distance. After they leave, we forage for lunch. It might be some leftovers from dinner the night before, cheese and red peppers on toast, or a simple cutter (the name given in Barbados to a filled salt roll).

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

The afternoon is hot, and languid. Moving from Scottish winter to Caribbean spring is no joke. There is very little rain, and into our second week, the breeze has faltered leaving the air thick and muggy.

My view most afternoons, from the bed beneath the fan

By 2 pm the sun starts to encroach onto our deck, so we seek shelter indoors. I’m usually found curled up under the fan above the bed, watching an episode or two of Below Deck on my iPad. Colin pulls a comfy deck chair out of the sun and reads. We are both prone to napping if we sit in a deck chair to read straight after lunch. I write. We take photographs. Colin tinkers with his own tech projects. We talk about our life onboard to come.

After 4 pm, the sun becomes more comfortable, so we might head to the terrace upstairs to lie in the sun (always in SPF 50), or read. I’m currently working my way through Sandra Clayton’s Voyager series, which I first read soon after our decision to learn to sail. Colin has just finished The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. At around 5 pm we take it in turn to shower. The moisturiser needed in a cold winter climate after a shower has been replaced by insect repellent.

Golden hour

That staggering first sunset

Sunset is the main event in our day. We were treated to a truly incredible display the night we arrived, and have been hoping for something just as spectacular since. At 5:45 pm we carry a beer each and a GoPro upstairs, and we sit and watch the sun go down. From The Lookout, we have a perfect view to the West, and Admiralty Bay makes a spectacular foreground to the streaks of pink that paint the sky. It’s a joy to be able to share this part of our day – every night we set up the GoPro to live stream the sunset. Knowing that our friends and families are watching our sunset as they prepare for bed brings comfort. The spectacular sunset of our first night has yet to be repeated, but we are both certain that we’ve now seen the green flash.

Closing all doors and windows after the sun sets is second nature now, to keep the hungry mozzies out. And then, we cook.

The couple that cooks together…

It’s been years since we cooked together each night. Usually, Colin is the chef, and Ailsa the shopper and pot-washer. Now, we tend to invent and cook together. Invent being the keyword – we’re trying to throw ourselves into using local ingredients as much as possible.

Balahoo with salad

Once we’ve figured out whether its a squash or a papaya, or a banana or a plantain, we tend to create some very tasty meals. Pan-fried Balahoo and salad, chicken and plantain pizza, Mahi Mahi with sweet potato and callaloo, a Caribbean take on the classic Scottish mince and tatties…

We’re learning too. Already, Colin has mastered homemade tortilla bread, and I’ve learned that excess overripe papaya mixed with egg white and honey makes a very effective face mask. We’re learning to cook much smaller portions too – my appetite, in particular, has shrunk dramatically since we moved. With food though, new memories always form. It’s often what I remember the most from a trip.

We eat outside, with a glass of rum punch or a second beer, and then retire to the sofa to watch an episode or two of something for an hour.

We’re usually in bed and turning off the lights before 9pm.

The novel

Will we remember this? These long, routine days?

Our days off work, frequent because of the Easter holiday, have really been more of the same as our post-work afternoons. There hasn’t been much out of the new ordinary, but there have been some highlights.

I’ve tried to exercise, using my yoga mat for a class or walking up and down the stairs to a podcast. The reality is that my body isn’t asking for the exercise I’m able to do here. The pain in my hips and back that calls for movement at home is gone. The only exercise I’m craving – a long swim or hike – can’t be done in four walls. So, for now, I rest. The most movement I’ve bothered with some days is mosquito-tennis with an electrified bat.

For once, a little laundry or housework is enjoyable – we love The Lookout so much that we want to keep it looking beautiful.

A video chat with friends or family, or spending some time on WhatsApp, keeps us connected. Some days though, I feel it’s not enough. I delight in the voices and smiles of my loved ones. Although cooking is a joy, takeout brings the promise of no washing up. Louise happily managed to manifest our favourite dishes, conch roti and conch fritters, from Petra’s at Lower Bay.

The scenery changes. The boats in Admiralty Bay change, and we had the best seats in the house to watch the unofficial Easter Regatta leave and return. The weather paints a different landscape to greet us each morning. Different creatures come to say hello – the hummingbird, the bat, and the pretty green lizards. We’ve only had to evict one anaemic lost lizard from the kitchen, and a couple of wayward spiders.

An end in sight

Three nights left.

Yesterday Sister Simmons came to take our PCR tests, which are required for our release. It’s close enough to when we leave that our meals are all planned out, and packing our belongings is looming.

On Saturday, we should get confirmation of our test results, then we move house, up to Mangwana. There we will have freedom, and a car, and a pool. We will look at the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. We will watch sunrises instead of sunsets.

We don’t know exactly how long we’ll be there, most likely around three weeks.

My workwear and workspace at The Lookout

What we do know is that it will be our final days and weeks for quite some time living on land. This time of peace at The Lookout may have been lacking in new experiences, but I hope that I remember it, and can put myself back here. This time of peace, where we can rest and relax with no call to move, or explore, or do, is something to treasure.

Will we remember it. These long days that are passing in a blur? We can’t possibly know if we will.

So here it is, should memory fail us, should neurons decide not to fuse. A record of the hazy, lazy, yet surprisingly free days of quarantine.