Travel in the Time of Coronovirus

SD seatingWe made it.

Home, that is. Deeply worried that coronovirus infection rates could strand us in a quarantine, lockdown or even illness if we stayed as planned in San Diego through March, we fled home to DC three weeks early. Within 72 hours of our departure, California became the first state to go on full lockdown. Talk about travel karma.

This wasn’t the first time COVID-19 touched our travels this winter. Already on the road when the first cases were reported in late December, we had been traveling with local COVID-19 advisories in Latin America for two months, long before any were coming out of the US government.

At first, the virus just lived up to being “novel” – a new travel experience. Way back in the good old days of January, when Americans were being told the epidemic narrative was a media hoax, public health nurses in masks were meeting our flights in Ecuador, handing out fliers about symptoms and preventions. Although the country did not have a single case of the virus at the time, signs like the one below were plastered inside airport bathroom stalls even in little Cuenca, where we wintered over,
Cuenca - feb 2By February 2, when we landed in the Galapagos, the disease produced an even more novel experience as every passenger’s temperature was taken before admission to the islands. The thermometer guns the masked nurses applied to our foreheads were a little creepy, but the proactivity was impressive, especially since the country still did not have a single case of COVID-19.

Less impressive was our arrival Mexico City exactly four weeks after that. No Ecuador-like precautions or advisories were apparent at the international airport of the world’s largest city, which made the jam-packed, hour-long line for immigration another kind of creepy. However, Mexico’s first case had been diagnosed only one day before. Just across the border, President Trump was assuring Americans coronovirus was “very mild” and would soon just “go away.” Under such circumstances, Mexico’s laxity felt forgivable.

CDMX landing

Only passengers who appeared to be coming from China wore masks

What’s more, by a week later when we flew to the States, Mexico had stepped its communications up at least one small notch. Posters like the ones we had been seeing in Ecuador almost two months earlier were now on prominent display at the airport, albeit addressed entirely to passengers traveling to China. (The rest of us had nothing to worry about?)

CDMX - Mar 6

Note this is a “Preventative travel notice to China” but nowhere else.

That was more than the United States was doing when we touched down two hours later and walked across the skybridge from Tijuana into San Diego. Even as the U.S. was hitting 100 diagnosed cases, there was not a mask-clad public nurse to be seen, no fliers in the hands of immigration agents, no bathroom notices, no advisory posters, no thermometers. When we left San Diego for home a week later, there was not even a drop of hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas of the airport.

SD sanitizer

Welcome to America! Preventative health measures are out of service!

Still, we feel lucky. We left home before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China, holding tickets for 21 flights in five countries. We made it to all of them without disruption or much risk of infection, mostly because Latin America lagged so far behind the rest of the globe in being touched. We got home safe and well.

Since our return to the States, LATAM, the Chilean national airline we flew on seven of our 21 flights, has cut capacity 70%. The Galapagos has banned tourists. Our intrepid guide to hiking in Cajas National Park outside Cuenca reported in to say the tour he led to Argentina shortly after we saw him escaped only hours before the airport was shut down to international travel. Our AirBnB sent the photo below to illustrate what the virus has wrought in Cusco, where we based to visit Machu Picchu.


Anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu knows how bizarre this scene in Cusco is

We did not dodge a mere bullet on the road this winter. We dodged a cannonball.

So what if we arrived to a house we had largely run out of food before leaving four months ago and supermarkets that had been run out of food by panicked shoppers? There are worse fates than a little involuntary dieting. For one, a fellow passenger on our Galapagos cruise was a Chinese national. She was quarantined for four weeks after returning to her homeland, even though she had not traveled to heavily impacted countries and lives in Harbin, Manchuria, far from the China’s virus epicenter. Heck, at last count, 2,000 American tourists are still stranded in Peru with no prospects of leaving soon. That could have been us.

But we made it home, or what we call home now. The purpose of the month we planned in San Diego was to scout for our next home, on the other edge of the continent. When that move will take place, like so much more in our lives now, comes down to the course of coronovirus. Only time will tell.

For the time being, like the rest of you, we are hunkered in place and grateful to be here. In a pandemic, there truly is no place like home.


Our Chinese shipmate in the Galapagos the day before she headed back to China – and immediate quarantine for four weeks

Tips from the Partout toolbox: We may be grounded for now, but we never stop thinking about travel. One of the ways we make sure to have all the “essentials” (a word taking on new meaning these days) when we leave for our next trip is to restock every last one of them when we unpack from the last one. Every travel-size container of shampoo or moisturizer gets topped off, every trip-size holder for over-the-counter medicines gets refilled, every half-used dental floss dispenser in our travel kits gets replaced with a full one. When life returns to normal (and it will), and we hit the road again (which we will), our kits will be ready to fly.

COMING SOON! Reflections on Staying-Put Travel








Never Say Never

Mexico historyThis Partout comes to you from one of Doris’s “never” cities. As in “I will NEVER go THERE!

The mere fact that we are sending this from Mexico City, where we will spend most of this week, is a perfect illustration of the problem with applying never to any travel destination.

Times change. We change. Places change. Our willingness to defer to each other’s travel wishes and whinings changes. Yesterday’s never becomes tomorrow’s must-see. And it’s not just us. We have dear friends whose travel rule has always been never go to the same place twice (you know who you are). At last count, they have been to Uganda three times in the last decade and have not discounted another visit.

With a big slice of humble pie, then, we submit this confession to our most recent never-land travels .

Never Mexico City

beautiful Avenue Paseo de la Reforma

Just walking the streets and parks of CDMX in its eternal spring is enough to keep us coming back

This is our second trip to Mexico City in a year, a doubly humbling example of the pitfalls of consigning destinations to never-land.

Doris lived in Mexico in the early 1970s. While there, she suffered recurring bouts of intestinal distress, found living under Napoleonic “guilty until proven innocent” law to be nerve-wracking and was appalled by the dire poverty and human degradation that were routine in the big city of Guadalajara. For years, her line about traveling anywhere outside the developed world was, “I don’t consider poverty to be a vacation.” There are those among you who heard those very words.

What happened? Doris became less averse to personally witnessing human distress. She came to see that dollars she spends in undeveloped countries sometimes provide an infinitesimal degree of improvement in the welfare of struggling people and to believe that knowing more about the world outside the privileged Western bubble is instructive. At the same time, Mexico City was transforming itself from a bedlam of smog, crime and food that made her sick into a vibrant, modern metropolis people visit just for the dining pleasure.

Bottom line: We don’t expect this week in Mexico City to be our last.

Never South Africa

South Africa

It’s hard not to enjoy a place with residents as cute as these

More humble pie for Doris.

Doris’s objections to this particular destination were parts logistics (it is a loooong way from anywhere she has ever lived) and part ideological (disgust with the country’s long-standing apartheid and apartheid’s successor pattern of segregation).

What happened? We were already in Africa, visa problems had crushed our plan to head to Europe from there, and Louis had always wanted to see Cape Town. Needing to park ourselves somewhere, anywhere, outside the EU for three weeks and being only a five-hour flight from South Africa, off we went.

There is a helpful corollary to never-say-never: when you have low or no expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Expecting little, Doris found Cape Town a constant surprise – its racial history a subject for study and discussion with locals, its landscape breathtaking, its weather sublime. For the two of us as former newsies, landing the day after the nation’s president was ousted and in the midst of an epic water shortage was icing on the cake.

Bottom line: The logistics of visiting South Africa are still daunting, but we would never say never to going back.

Nearly-Never South America


Seen on the streets of Ecuador

Having now spent nearly five of the last 14 months in South America, this is not just a slice; it’s a whole  humble pie.

Again, dubious Doris was the one who long foreswore South America, albeit with exemptions for the Galapagos (a lifelong dream destination) and Inca Peru. Having lived in former Spanish colonies (Southern California and Mexico) more than half her life, she feared the whole region would feel same old/same old; her standing line was been there/done that!

What happened? In Partout’s perennial quest to keep Louis warm in winter, South America was simply too obvious a choice to ignore forever, plus Colombia was one of the few countries on earth Louis had never visited. Thus, off we went, first in January 2019 for more than two months and then again in December 2019 until Leap Day 2020.

The “again” is the tipoff to how Doris found South America – at least Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, where we have spent all our time. Geographically dramatic, culturally fascinating, full of welcoming people, cheap (cheap is good when you travel for four or five months at a time), South America has proven pleasantly familiar without being same old/same old.

Bottom line: South America is now so far from never-land for Partout that we are considering a unique tour of Bolivia and the wine country of Argentina in 2021.

Never Machu Picchu and Prague (and Meh to the Galapagos)


Visiting Prague for a winter market was a different experience than being there for a revolution

Louis was never as adamant in his nevers as Doris, but he has been to more than 130 countries, mostly on the job as a network cameraman. Talk about been-there/done-that. In the case of Machu Picchu (where he had filmed in the rain) and Prague (where Doris wanted to go in the dead of winter for the Christmas market), his reaction was magnified by weather dread. At the same time, Doris’s dream Galapagos was not exactly never-land for him, but he long regarded the islands as overhyped and overpriced. Though he rarely says never to anything involving an airplane, Louis’s shoe-tips were pretty thin from his foot-dragging over all three of these locations.

What happened? Doris put together a Peru itinerary dominated by places her travel mate had never visited and a Prague visit that was short and included a house exchange living in a neighborhood, which presents its own novelties. Both destinations turned out to be like nothing Louis had experienced while visiting them on the job (duh?). Meanwhile, the corollary of never say never kicked in for the Galapagos: with low expectations, the trip proved so full of discovery that Louis is now firmly of the opinion the archipelago is one of the few must-sees on earth.

Bottom line: Seeing any place through a viewfinder with one eye is no substitute for visiting in living color with both eyes wide open.

We Still Say Never

There remain destinations and experiences that are not on Partout’s horizon, not for ideological or idiosyncratic reasons or pure bull-headedness but because, no matter how long we remain fit and road-worthy, we only have so many trips left in us. It makes sense to be discriminating, and some places just plain appeal to us more than others. We are also learning more about our appetites for marathon travel, and that is bringing some new nevers to our lips.

We’re not confessing what they are, though. We have eaten far too much humble pie already to admit to a never that, without warning, could become a must-do.

Louis on boat

Is that guy with the mask on his forehead happy he cruised the Galapagos? You betcha.

Tips from the Partout toolbox: We try to avoid killing trees with our printer, but we have taken to printing out and packing complete flight purchase details when we are going to be traveling on foreign airlines. Frustratingly often, we find that, when we start to check in with them online, we are asked to pay for upgrades (e.g., checked baggage, extra legroom, priority boarding, seat assignments) that we pre-paid with the ticket. It almost seems airline websites are deliberately wired to double-sell upgrades. Because we are often holding so many tickets we can’t remember what each and every one includes, we have decided it is best to carry the proof of our purchases in hand to present at check-in counters when online check-in does not recognize what we already bought.

COMING SOON! Reflections on Staying-Put Travel