Sunday, August 29, 2021

How I Got to Barbados

 Or: A Tale in International Travel in the Time of COVID

Just landed, very tired, and VERY overdressed for the weather

Traveling to Barbados during the pandemic is a bit of an undertaking. But then again, I probably wouldn't have traveled to Barbados in the first place if it weren't for the pandemic - it's not exactly a backpacker hotspot (expensive, no hostels, etc), and if I'm coming this far down in the Caribbean I would be heading to Guadeloupe under normal circumstances. But because of the hardcore protocols, they have kept their numbers astonishingly low the entire time, so it's safe to be here - safer than at home, actually! And there is some visa flexibility with the new Welcome Stamp for remote workers, and as an added bonus it is reasonably close to the time zone I still work in. I'm working on transitioning to an asynchronous work set-up, so I can move freely ("freely" - again, pandemic protocols) to other parts of the world while still supporting myself and helping out at the office. 

So, these protocols: The primary hurdles are the PCR test and the government-approved quarantine locations. I had to find a place that would do a nasopharyngeal swab for my PCR test (that's the one that goes way up and makes you sneeze on the doctor), and get the results to me quickly enough to make the 72-hour cutoff. These aren't your nice free drive-thru ones. In fact, the main follow-up question they asked everyone during processing at the BGI airport was if I self-swabbed or a trained medical professional did it for me. If you decide to follow me down here, make sure the tester is the one physically jamming the thing up your nose. 

There is also an app you have to get, the BMI Safe app, which helpfully includes a space to upload your documents and a link to the immigration form you need to fill out within 72 hours of arrival. If you are not vaccinated, or test positive, then I think you use the app for monitoring for a few weeks. I have not needed to use it since arrival, but I'm keeping it on my phone for the full duration of my stay just in case. I think it also does the anonymous Bluetooth contact tracing thing. 

I also needed to book a suggested minimum of 2 nights at a government-approved isolation facility (i.e. hotel of some kind). There is actually a huge list of them, but I chose the Coconut Court Beach Hotel and I do recommend it. Several in-house restaurants will deliver room service while you are quarantining, and if you are vaccinated you are allowed to move freely within the hotel and use the pool while you wait for your results to come in. You just can't leave the property - which includes not going on the beach. And each room is ocean-view. I chose it because it was basically the cheapest option that was still on the beach, but I actually really liked it. FYI - the unvaccinated have to take several tests after arriving in Barbados, and need to book a quarantine room for 7 nights, I believe. 

Now, for the blow-by-blow of actually getting here. 

I worked almost a full day on Tuesday, and then flew out at 9pm that night. I think it was my first time on JetBlue, and I found it to be perfectly fine, no complaints. I knew from the get-go that I was going to be very sleep deprived the whole time, as I have a hard time sleeping on planes, plus each leg of the journey was just long enough to be a long trip and just short enough to prevent me from getting a proper sleep. I did come prepared with an eye mask and inflatable neck pillow, and I think I did catch maybe as much as 90 minutes of sleep altogether on the flight to New York. 

I had a 5 hour layover at JFK, with no chance of sleeping anywhere in my terminal. Then another 5 hour flight to Barbados. I've heard from people traveling to Europe that the airlines are the ones who do most of the PCR test checking, but no one from JetBlue wanted anything to do with my results, so I hopped on the plane semi-convinced that I was going to get turned away at customs for somehow having the wrong test (spoiler: I didn't get turned away). They gave us several forms to fill out of the plane, but nothing to write with, so bring a pen! A little more cat-napping and mostly just being awake and incredibly sleepy, and we landed on a tiny little island in the southern Caribbean!

We deplaned on the tarmac (through both ends of the plane, which I have vague memories of also doing in Guadeloupe in 2008, and no other time in my life), and then worked our way through the first stage of entry protocols for well over an hour. Pro-tip for anyone else traveling to Barbados right now: choose seats right at the front or back of the plane, none of this middle of the cabin business. And don't be polite about shoving your way forward. That line took FOREVER. I made probably about 5 or 6 stops during the whole entry process, each one for another little part of the process. First was showing my PCR test and confirming that I did not self-swab. Then was showing my vaccination card, confirming that I had accommodations booked, and getting my little green wristband. Then was taking a number and sitting in a little waiting area, and when that number was finally called, giving them my information and receiving the vial for a new PCR test. Then actually getting the PCR test around the next corner. Then the actual immigrations line - WHERE THEY DIDN'T STAMP MY PASSPORT, I AM SO SAD ABOUT THAT - where I had to show them the form I'd filled out online. And then finally Customs, where I actually gave then the forms I filled out on the airplane. 

And then FINALLY I was free ("free"). I went to the taxi area, where I had pre-arranged with Coconut Court to have a government-approved quarantine taxi waiting for me (at no charge to me, yay!) to whisk me away to my hotel. Where I then waited for at least 20 minutes to get checked in. At which point it occurred to me that Island Time is probably a thing here, and I'll be a lot happier if I just realize that and accept it and incorporate it into my planning and mindset. But I got checked in, and got into my room with a view, and just became overwhelmed with happiness that I freaking did the thing, and that I'm here and it's warm and new and exciting. 

And my test results came back nice and quick, too - I woke up the next morning to my all-clear email, and was swimming in the Caribbean within 24 hours of my arrival!

Still bummed about the lack of passport stamp, though. My poor baby is still empty. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Off on Another Adventure

 I've been awake for somewhere in the vicinity of 36 - 40 hours (the resulting brain fog is leaving me unable to calculate exactly how long when you factor in the time change), I spent about 95% of that time extremely stressed out and convinced I was making a colossal misstep in my life, and for some reason my feet ache like I've been on them the whole time instead of sitting in airports and on airplanes and generally being beyond sedentary. 

But now that I'm here, I'm so happy. 

Because of aforementioned sleep deprivation, I'm going to crash in mere minutes, but I just wanted to pop on here and announce the commencement of my next long term travel adventure, pandemic be damned, and my arrival in Barbados to kick things off. 

I'm quarantining in a government-approved hotel on the beach while we wait for the results of the COVID test I took at immigration, then off to various AirBnBs along the south coast. I was shuttled straight from the airport to the hotel, so I am basing my happiness off of a few fleeting glimpses, but I'm just so happy I'm here. I'm so happy I went ahead and just bought the plane tickets even though I was terrified.