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We may not be on board yet, but we’ve travelled 4638 miles of our 4639-mile journey!
From our quarantine accommodation on Bequia (pronounced Beck-way or Beck-wee), we’re looking down at the anchorage where we spent our first night on a bareboat charter. It’s also the bay we expect to call home, until July and hopefully regularly after that.
Travelling during Covid-19 has definitely been different, so let’s recap our last week!
Wednesday 24 March
Today is the day we say goodbye to our home, our cat, and our family. We’ve spent months making the property look perfect for Airbnb, then we lived in it. It means that we need to do at least some work to make it perfect again!
We spend the morning doing some final bits of housework, including setting up “our room”. This is Ailsa’s childhood bedroom next door in her dad David’s house, which we’ve redecorated and stored everything in. Whilst “our” flat is there for us to use, we’d rather it be free for AirBnB guests!
The saddest goodbye
It’s a sad morning, with lots of cat cuddles. Saying goodbye to our cat Schrodinger after nearly 16 years together is definitely the hardest part of leaving. Sure, we love family, but they don’t sleep in our bed and show us unconditional love! Any spare minute we have we sit down to play with her.
At 10:20 Colin’s brother Alastair and his wife Rose arrive. They are collecting Schrodinger to take her to her new foster mum, their friend Celia. Schrodinger already knows and loves her, so we know she’ll be happy (though she’ll be living with another cat!). We tearfully wave them off at 11 and then turn our minds to loading the car. Ailsa also takes time to say goodbye to David’s two cats, Willow and Kasha, who have become very attached to her.
We set off with David at the wheel at 11:51, and take first the A68, then then the A1. It’s a beautiful day and it’s lovely to see the spring lambs and countryside as we travel. We avoid stopping in busy places to be on the safe side, and eat sandwiches in the car for lunch.
It’s just after 5 pm when we arrive at Ailsa’s brother Richard’s house in rural Lincolnshire. It’s nice to have a reason to visit. The Scotland/England border has been effectively closed since Richard moved there 6 months ago. David stays for a cup of tea, then leaves to drive home. We enjoyed some time with Richard, chatting and watching Adventure Time. Ailsa also enjoyed some lap time with his little cat Indy.
When we went to bed at 11 pm, Indy came too.
Distance travelled – 252 miles
Thursday 25 March
We slept well after stealing Richard’s bed, and he cooked us delicious scrambled eggs and sourdough for breakfast. Such a good brother.
It’s just after 9 am when we get on the road again. We’ve left plenty of time just in case because we have a fixed appointment for our PCR test. Once we get close we realise that we have time for a rest, so we stop at a service station and drink Starbucks in the sun. The door to the services squeaks, and Richard, keen on sound sampling, can’t resist recording it.
Our first PCR test
We arrive at the PCR test place 45 minutes early. There are people there, but they won’t see us early so we have a wait in the car. When it gets to our time, we have to wait a moment in the rain as one person has arrived before us. The test, done at a window, is a quick and easy back of throat swab. We booked a test with results within 3 hours – we need to be certain both our days of travel are covered.
It’s an annoyingly quick drive to the Terminal 2 drop off point where we have to say goodbye to Richard. Then it’s just us.
With some relief, we check into our room at the Garden Inn straight away and ditch our luggage. We’re getting hungry by this point so we go in search of food to take back to our room. So much for avoiding the terminal – the M&S at T2 is shut! We have a tradition of having an M&S bed picnic when we’re at an airport hotel we don’t want to miss. In the end, we take the train to Terminal 5 – it’s so quiet it doesn’t feel risky. On the way back we pick up hot sandwiches from Caffe Nero for a late lunch.
When we get back to the hotel room, and my phone (which I had forgotten), there’s good news. Our PCR tests are negative, so after eating we send these to the Barbados and St Vincent authorities in line with entry protocols.
We enjoy a lazy afternoon and evening in the hotel, watching TV with foot masks on. Ailsa even has chance to log in to a former boss’s leaving do. We drink cava with out M&S picnic, and have a sensible 22:30 bedtime.
Distance travelled – 146 miles
Friday 26 March
We’re up with our alarm at 6:45, and out of the room not long after 7.
The terminal is quiet but not deserted, but there are no queues. We go straight through bag drop with just some extra checks that we have a negative PCR. We chat to the check-in agents about our big move, and it’s a cheery start to the journey.
Security is easy and fine, again with no queues. We’ve still tried to make life easier by putting our electrical items in separate bags as we have so many. Once again, everyone is very friendly – we wonder if everyone enjoys the airport being quieter?.
We settle into some socially distanced seats, surrounded by closed shops. It’s not as eerie as people had suggested, more like being there early in the morning or late at night. It’s much quieter noise-wise than an airport usually is which is great. Colin buys drinks and food, and we eat. I take a separate walk to grab a coffee and some eight hour cream from the open Duty-Free. By the time I’m back we have a gate.
It’s a long walk and difficult with our bags. We’ve used holdalls instead of wheels as they weigh less, but it’s not that manageable. I’ve pulled my shoulder muscles by the time we’re there. We’ve only been at the gate 10-15 minutes before we board.
There’s no jostling or queuing to board. We’re excited about having a row without anyone in front or behind at first. In the end, it does fill up a bit. A woman sits behind me, so Colin and I switch places (I hate pocket jostlers). A large family ends up in front and nearby, effectively leaving us surrounded when we can see plenty of space elsewhere. We check with a member of the crew that we can move when we’re in the air – it seems daft to end up on a flight at 40% capacity then have someone recline on to you!
We have our glimpse of the UK as we take off – it’s a grey, overcast day.
Once we’re in the air we move to a middle row, with nobody in front or behind, and get comfy. Lunch is chicken tikka, served in a neat box. I much prefer meals being served like this to the usual palaver of silly plastic trays. There’s also a delicious chocolate and sea salt pudding which is in little cups that will make very useful rum glasses. Because there haven’t exactly been any big releases in the last year, we both watch shows on our iPad instead of taking our usual dive into the inflight entertainment.
Our flight lands as scheduled at around 3 pm. We dutifully wait until others have disembarked to make sure we stay socially distanced. Once off the plane we join the “negative test result” queue and are given red wrist bands.
Everything gets a little bit scary when an official tells us our PCR tests aren’t valid…
They explain that we had the wrong test as it was a “rapid test”. When we booked there was no mention of there being different types of PCR. The whole thing is pretty confusing. We later work out it’s because we had an RT-PCR, not a regular PCR. Barbados doesn’t actually specify that an RT-PCR isn’t valid. Thankfully we don’t get turned away or fined.
A warm welcome and a hot meal
We go back to the “no PCR” queue and have lots of short chats with different officials, all very friendly. Each one checks our travel and quarantine plans. We’re led to a nurse for a nose and throat swab and a temperature check, again, very friendly. The nose swab isn’t as unpleasant as some people have made out thankfully!
After seeing the nurse we need to wait for our luggage and transport. Another friendly official fits us with tracking wrist bands and shows us how to connect them to an app on our phones. It’s all very high tech and efficient. We’re also offered our choice of hot meal to our great surprise!
We munch on salt fish with rice, plantain and other local veg. It’s very tasty but we try not to eat too much as it’s around 4 pm and we don’t want to ruin our appetite for dinner. We get the okay to take our bags and are led to a shared transfer. All in we’ve only been at the airport for 1.5 hours, not onerous at all.
On the familiar drive, we see a lot of new developments, along with plenty of familiar sights. We’ve done this drive so many times in the past that it feels like coming home. Our one and only night in Barbados is at the Rostrevor Hotel in St Lawrence Gap. We’re delighted to be back at the hotel where we stayed when we got married.
Things get a little awkward when we arrive at the hotel as we have no cash for the transfer, which is 30 Barbados Dollars each. Thankfully the front desk can provide cash, for a small fee. We arrange for Silvester, our taxi driver, to come back to take us to the airport tomorrow. After checking in, with compulsory hand sanitising and temperature check, we can go to our room. We feel sorry for the security guard who helps us with our extreme amount of luggage!
Quarantine, part 1
We’re in Room 217 which is one of the ones we like, albeit on a lower floor. In the end, it’s probably best to have the shade the next day. We shower and change, and phone Harlequin, the restaurant next door, to order dinner. It’s one of our favourite restaurants and we had a memorable wedding meal there. As well as dinner we ask for 6 Banks beers to be brought around ASAP. They arrive in minutes. We text our friend Johnny who owns a bar nearby to say hi and he calls back for a chat. It’s sad to be so close and yet so far, and great to hear his voice.
We do a minimal amount of bag sorting. There’s nothing left to do but relax on the balcony with a beer until our dinner is delivered just before 8 pm. We eat flying fish and blackened mahi-mahi with rum punch, followed by chocolate fudge brownie. This is so dense it has its own gravitational pull, but delicious. Then we have a flashback. We were given the same dessert on our wedding night as a surprise. How could we forget four of us, hot and stuffed, battling through it. We were so full but it tasted so good!
We try to watch some Bob’s Burgers, but after the long day we’re falling asleep by 9:30.
Distanced travelled – 4230 miles
Saturday 27 March
We’re awake just before 6 am. We can’t order breakfast until after 7, so we get up and potter about to rearrange luggage. We need to turn two carry-on bags into one checked bag. It’s close to half 7 when we finally get the bar on the phone to order food, and 8 when we eat our delivered breakfast.
After we finish repacking we alternate between sitting on the balcony and on the bed. We order lunch at around noon and it arrives half an hour later, leaving us just enough time to eat it at a comfortable pace before we have to carry our bags down to reception to check out at 13:15.
Silvester is already there, so Ailsa helps him to load bags while Colin checks us out. We chat with Silvester about Flying Fish on the drive.
The check in desk at the airport is deserted. When someone arrives, 20-30 minutes late, we soon forgive them. They don’t charge us the $124 US we’d expected to pay in excess baggage.
Through security, the airport is very quiet, with most but not all shops closed. We can’t go through to our gate yet, an hour before the flight. The security guard tells us to wait until it’s called. Ailsa looks at shops while Colin looks after bags. Stringent sanitising at each door. I buy a cookbook and tea towel at Best of Barbados.
Bus of the skies
15 minutes before the flight we decide we’re going through to our gate regardless. On the way, an official quickly removes the tracking tags on our wrists. We walk straight into the queue once we’re through, then board the small plane immediately. It’s a typical Caribbean bus-plane, old and shabby, with the pilot and co-pilot visible through a plastic screen. Being so small, we just sit anywhere, and there’s no safety talk. It’s also a very fast boarding/take off process – we’re taking off as scheduled at 4 pm. We enjoy seeing the pilot and co-pilot rubbing the flight log sheets in the condensation on the windshield so that they stick – it’s how they shade their eyes from the sun.
In less than an hour, we land in Bequia, and we’re the only passengers (of 5) getting off – it really is like a bus! We watch our bags being unloaded, and nod to confirm ours are all retrieved before going to the tiny terminal. As we wait outside for the health official we chat with a very welcoming member of the ground crew. He’s waiting to finish for the day, but has to guard us as we’re standing airside. He doesn’t have to wait long – the official soon arrives and carries out our health checks in the old VIP lounge. The airport is undergoing renovation so everything is very rustic.
Immigration is fine – our passports are stamped for a 6-month stay. The only difficulty is struggling to hear everything said because of post-flight hearing and the plexiglass screen.
Customs is less easy. The official looks in three of our four checked bags. We explain that we have a lot because we’re moving on to a boat and have things for said boat. He explains that he may have to charge duty on ‘boat items’, a new measure brought in since Covid. We don’t think he’s realised that when we said we had boat items we meant towels and kitchenware as opposed to fancy electronics! In the end, he explains that he could charge us for some items, like our walkie talkies, but he won’t. It feels a lot like he’s just trying to feel important and make a quiet day more lively. This is an approach we’ve met before many times at Caribbean airports and customs offices so we don’t take it to heart.
Brendan, a local driver booked by our quarantine hosts, is waiting with his open-air taxi. We drive through an island that looks like normal life is happening. Late-afternoon gatherings are taking place, vendors are selling by the road, and chickens and dogs run around. It would look like normality completely if it weren’t for the face coverings some people wear. As we drive up to the saddle of the island, we get a distant view of Mangwana, where we will be staying in a couple of weeks. Fifteen minutes after we set off, Brendan performs the amazing feat of reversing up a very steep drive with a bend in it, impeccably. It’s really quite amazing.
Chris and Louise Smullen, our hosts at The Lookout, are waiting for us at the top. Chris says the words “fancy seeing you here”. It’s far from an uncommon phrase but our dear friend Heather used to use it a lot. It makes the welcome feel all the more special. He instantly starts lugging our bags up the steps to the Hummingbird Deck apartment, our home for the next two weeks. It’s a truly beautiful apartment, renovated to perfection by the Smullens. They show us around and chat for a while, letting us know they’ll be back regularly and can get us anything we need from town.
After Chris and Louise leave, we get unpacked enough to find clean clothes, then shower. After a truly glorious sunset, the Smullens return with two pizzas from Macs, which they had suggested would be a good way to save us thinking about food. It is, and we enjoy a few slices on deck with a beer. We’re finally at our destination, and exhausted from an exciting day. Naturally we’re in bed by 8:30pm.
Distanced travelled – 10 miles
Home, for now
We’ve now been at The Lookout for a few days, and we’ve fallen into an easy routine. We took Sunday off as a day to rest and relax, then went back to work on Monday. We’re both still doing our normal jobs remotely, so not much has changed, except we start work at 5 am and finish at 1 pm.
Quarantine, part 2
We spend the afternoons reading, napping, pottering, and relaxing. We watch the ever-changing view of Admiralty Bay. Chris and Louise visit daily, bringing any supplies we need. It’s actually more human contact (beyond David) than we’ve had in months.
We’ve been getting more interested in cooking after a hectic few months of “whatever’s easiest”. So far the success has been a very good green herb chicken, sweet potato and salad, an accidental bizarre green papaya scramble, and a chicken and plantain pizza.
We have been lightly tinged by the sun, and heavily bitten by the bugs. Every night we crack open a beer as the sun sets, then we invariably fall asleep trying to watch TV before 9 pm. We are sleeping better than we have in months.
The days are passing slowly and quickly at the same time. This time to decompress, to just be, is so essential to us after months of non-stop activity. Far from feeling trapped, we feel at peace, and free – free to rest.
We will have more PCR tests next week. Once we’re released we will move to the home of Mirounga’s current owner, who is quarantining in St Lucia before sailing her over. It might be, we think, around 3.5 weeks until we meet Mirounga…