Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

Déjà vu – quarantined in the Caribbean take 2 – this time I’m prepared!

I have a real feeling of déjà vu as I embark on a 14-day quarantine in the Caribbean. At least this time I am better prepared!

It was almost a year ago when the world stopped spinning and I sat in a London hotel readjusting plans at pace – as I could not travel to New York and didn’t want to travel back to the European epicentre in Spain. I ended up detouring to the Caribbean and started the global lockdown quarantining in Antigua where I’d stay with family for the first three months of the pandemic – precious, precious time. I don’t regret a thing.

I’d planned to go back to be with family over Easter and work remotely for a month or so given I can’t do any F2F meetings or events for a while – as pretty much all of my clients are on some sort of lockdown for the foreseeable.

But it turns out 2021 has as much regard for well laid plans as 2020 did. After a phone call earlier this week it became clear I needed to expedite my plans and get back over to the island soonest.

I thought I’d go next week and have a whole week to plan things out. But as the third wave of COVID is sweeping the world and travel restrictions are tightening and borders closing – it transpired if I wanted to go, I needed to go quickly.

How long will I spend in Antigua this time? I don’t know.

When will my husband be able to join me? I don’t know but reckon it could be 6-8 weeks at least before he is able to join me and only then if I’m lucky and the stars align.

What I do know is where I need to be right now and that’s with my fam on the island of sea and sun. If I learned anything from the first wave of COVID-19 it’s to get to where you need to be as quickly as you damn well can and be prepared to stay there for a while.

My first island isolation taught me I can run my business remotely so I’m taking full advantage of that freedom to do so. There is no time for regrets in this short life!

Quarantine in Antigua

Antigua has 26 active cases of COVID right now, but it’s too small a place to let things get out of hand. The island is open but with strict checks and balances.

All arrivals need a negative PCR test taken within a week of arrival and then must quarantine for 14 days in govt approved accommodation. The full list of places is here. Antigua isn’t playing with quarantine either – there’s a $10,000 fine or six months imprisonment for breaking quarantine and I’ll need to send my temperature twice daily to my local health authority point person.

Better prepared.

Last time I arrived in Antigua I had just a weekend bag with winter work wear and not much else. I’d also handily lost most of my bank cards and left before I could receive the replacements.

I had five days of underwear I had to wash on rotation and a bunch of winter woolly dresses and no running gear, so not quite what I needed for 28° heat and to keep fit.

I also arrived with little in the way of reading material, an essential requirement of any quarantine I’ve since discovered.

Thankfully I was able to Fedex a package of supplies I had arriving at my hotel in London a week or so later to me in Antigua within a couple of weeks.  Receiving mail in Antigua is slow as hell and expensive with high import taxes. My orders from my first trip last March arrived in October and November, long after I’d left.

Packing this time, I have a ton of weather appropriate clothes, running gear, and a month’s worth of underwear, water is at a premium here and can’t afford to be doing laundry every few days like last time.

I’ve grabbed a few books from the bookshelf – my new reads have not arrived, packed some wine study & Spanish books, mosquito spray and sunnies and I’m good to go. The rest, I’ll sort out once I’m out of quarantine.

How to get there:

There are four main routes to Antigua from Madrid. The cheapest and fastest route is via the US – but transiting via New York or Miami is not an option for my outbound leg as I’m travelling direct from the EU, it’ll probably be my route back though maybe…

The second-best route cost vs transit time is via the UK. Which personally I wanted to avoid as UK airports sound hellish and I want to be far away from this new British strain of COVID and avoid any association with it. Plus, it sounds like travel restrictions are going to tighten over the coming days so I’m not able to plan even a few days ahead. And as I’m a British passport holder this route is the only one where I’m likely to get stuck in transit, and I sure don’t want to get stuck on Plague island for this third wave of hell.

Canada is a long route with a 14-hour layover where I can’t leave the airport as I’m only permitted to transit not enter. I order a Canadian eVisa as a back-up option and I am thankfully pre-approved the same day.

The fourth option via CDG Paris and SXM in St. Maarten. It is an expensive but safer route in my mind. It gets me to the Caribbean faster than any other route, and if all goes wrong I figure it’ll be easier to somehow get to Antigua from inside the Caribbean rather than if I’m an ocean away. The only logistical challenge is you need to complete a health declaration which requires you to upload a negative PCR test and can take 12 hours to process this form.

The journey:

This was arguably the most stressful trip I’ve made in a while. Time was not on my side and there were a bunch of moving parts to consider.

On Wednesday this week I’d decided to travel to Antigua in a week or two to give me time to make arrangements, close up shop in Madrid and order in supplies I’d need for a while. But waking up to the news on Friday morning it felt like the world was changing rapidly again and not in a good way.  I got the feeling of déjà vu when the borders closed rapidly last March. My husband said if I wanted to get out, I’d need to fly this weekend, if I waited until the following week, more restrictions may come in and the journey wouldn’t be possible. My cousin messaged me later that morning to say Virgin had cancelled all flights for a month.

Fuck, I’ve got to move a bit faster than planned, again!

I booked a PCR test with same day turnaround at Life Length in Madrid. They are a bit more expensive than other places (120 Euro) but promise results back the same day and could give me an appointment within an hour. Other spots for PCR tests in Madrid are Gesmedi (results in 24 hours), Unilab, Democratest (60 Euro, results the next working day between 5-9pm)

I start looking at flights for the weekend with a view to booking when my test results came back later that evening. The following morning at 06:40 departing Madrid via Paris, St Maarten seemed the most sensible route.

After a little encouragement from my husband (promise he’s not trying to get rid of me honest!) I bite the bullet and book the flight straight away and pray to God my PCR test comes back negative and in time.

I can’t do the health declaration I need for St Maarten without the PCR test results, which won’t come back until 10pm, and they need up to 12 hours to process. Eeek, It’s going to be tight!

I finish work early to hang with the husband I’ll be leaving again. Hopefully he’ll be joining me out there before long once he has a new passport and residency papers in hand, fingers crossed!

We go to Dry Bar 1862 and check out some of the new cocktails on the menu  – we start with a Filthy Filthy Martini – which is a briney, earthy, salty glass of deliciousness.

10pm comes and goes and there is no sign of my PCR results, I’m comfortable with last but this is what Alex Ferguson would call ‘squeaky bum time’!

It’s almost 11pm before the results come back. I’m negative for COVID-19 once again. Phew!

I book accommodation in both St Maarten and Antigua, submit the health declaration for St Maarten and pray it comes back in time before I’m due to board.

We get a few hours kip before my car to the airport at 4:30am. Thankfully, you can get a taxi during the curfew (as of this week 11pm-6am) for permitted reasons – travel to airport being one. But it’s best to book in advance as there’s not a lot of cars on the road at all! Good to know for future reference that I live just 15 minutes from Madrid Barajas airport with no traffic on the road.

Arriving at the airport is chaos and the queues are insane. Rules have changed overnight re entry to Amsterdam which is the 6am flight at the same check in gate as my flight – you now need a PCR test dated 72 hours in advance and a negative antigen test within four hours which almost no-one in the queue has. I have a negative COVID test and am traveling via Paris so think I’ll be fine, but the queue is long and slow, it’s an anxious wait. I’m next in line at 05:55, my flight shuts at 06:00, stress levels are rising!

All power to the Air France check-in team they are working like machines, shouting and ringing for help to keep things moving and get people checked in at pace.

There are a lot of added complications, lots of new rules to check. I see the computer decided to decline my authorisation to travel. I think my British passport is working against me here, I show my Madrid residency, negative COVID-19 test and pre-auth for St Maarten (which came in at 3am phew!) and lots of tapping on keys, two phone calls and a manual override later my bag is checked in just 20 mins before the flight is due to take off and I’m told to run to the gate.

I run! I make it and am hugely thankful to Air France for their support.

I make my connection in Paris, spend a night layover in St. Maarten during which I discover I can stay with my cousin in his self-contained cottage after all, sweet!

When I arrive at St Maarten airport this morning it is virtually empty, a world away from the crazy busy scenes yesterday. As the time for my flight is approaching, I get a little anxious as I can only see 6 other people in the entire terminal.

Is my flight cancelled? Or just super empty? Thankfully, my flight is running – the plane is just teeny tiny. This 19 seater takes all 7 of us the short hop to Antigua without issue.

I finally make it to my little cottage, my suitcase doesn’t! Oh well, I have a few bits in my carry on, and it’s not like I’ll be seeing anyone for the next 2 weeks anyway, I can hang out in my pants until my case with my shorts arrive and I’ve no need for a swimsuit for two weeks as I can only look at the sea am not permitted to go to the beach for another 2 weeks.

This is the view from my terrace, where I’ll be isolating for the next 14 days, not a bad view hey!

Quarantine won’t be so bad here, I have a ton of work to do, plenty of books to read and some pretty picture perfect surroundings. I can’t wait until I’m free to see my family and spend more precious time with them. Until then, I’ll keep myself distracted with work and might finally get around to finishing some old blog posts from Sweden, Greece and Mexico – or just ramble incessantly on twitter late into the night like last time ;-).

A little update on the situation on the Madrid I leave behind, just five and a half weeks after I arrived back.

My man at Dry Bar tells me the Toque de queda ‘curfew’ has been brought forward again, from Monday (Jan 25) he’ll have to close at 9pm for the next two weeks – an hour ahead of curfew – instead of 10pm this week and 11pm the week before. Tables can now only be a max of 4 guests.

He’s decided to postpone the reopening of his live music venue as doesn’t make sense financially to open with the restrictions as they are and things in flux.

Hospitality is a crazy hard business to be in right now and while these new restrictions will make things harder, it’s an infinitely better situation than the outlook for bars in London at the moment.

Ayuso has said she is fighting to keep restrictions in Madrid to a minimum as she won’t be responsible for killing hospitality or business. She is very unpopular in many quarters for repeatedly refusing to shut down the city. Ayuso isn’t always able to totally win the battle to stay open as much as she’d like due to government overrides, but without her obstinance bars in Madrid would likely already have been shut several months ago. Despite the difficulty of changing rules and new hours they at least have a fighting chance of survival!


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