CORONA VIRUS AND THE OVERLANDERS CRISIS
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2020 is a year for the history books! Covid-19, a strain of flu like no other is unleashed on the world and suddenly everyone everywhere is plunge into lockdown. As the months roll by, Corona has grown from nasty virus to a Global Crisis, now effecting much more than just health, it’s a social, economic and political crisis that will undoubtably have long lasting & devastating effects, including the birth of ‘Social Distancing’ & rise of social stigmas such as judgement and discrimination.
The Overlanding community are taking a direct hit. Those who could leave did, some stored their vehicles not knowing if or when they’d be able to return and flew out, others were able to make exhausting long drives home. The rest of us ended up stuck, trapped or stranded for months. Some were able to gather together forming little communities, others were solo. Striving to stay positive and made the most of it, even though that ‘Covid Coaster’ continues to play tricks with our hearts and heads as we wait for the unknown…
Throwing the question on Facebook, I wanted to know who was where and how their travels were affected, I received many responses, here are some of their stories, but first let me tell you ours…
We were only 3 months into our much anticipated, long awaited 18mth road trip from BC, Canada to Ushuaia, Argentina when we first heard about this ‘new and deadly virus from China’. We were somewhere along the Pacific coast not far from Mazatlan, Mx. I remember saying, “hey, they named a virus after my favourite beer!” and that was that, too far away, I didn’t give it another thought. Mid February we were camped for a week on Isla Blanca, along the sand spit in the Northern tip of the Yucatan, a well known hotspot for kiteboarding, and far away from reality. By this time, the Virus was gaining momentum in Spain & Italy, with steady news reports of increased deaths. Covid was now very real as it had arrived in Canada & USA and people were starting to get very worried. That week our 6 yr old son was in bed with a nasty fever and was down for a good 6 days. Tim wasn’t feeling so great either and took a couple of days off kiteboarding, later telling me he thought he had a chest infection. Hmm, could we have Covid?
A week later as we rolled South towards Chetumal and to the Belize border, Tim noticed a developing skin rash, at first we thought it was bug bites, but it continued to morph and spread, there wasn’t a bug to be seen, and no one else got a rash or any bites. Our family doctor later confirmed the photos I sent her as ‘likely Covid rash’!! Seriously?? Was I the first to get it back early Feb? My symptoms were acute sore throat/ear infection, which I just assumed was a bacterial infection from swimming in Cenotes. Antibiotics had zero effect, which meant it was viral…. Late February – early March, Dad & Jenn were both sick with ‘flu-like symptoms’ in Belize! I seriously wonder if we’ve all had Covid, we each experienced ‘something’.
Crossing into Guatemala, our temperatures were read at the border, no problem there. Speaking to friends & family back home, they really impressed upon us the seriousness of the situation, and that it had now been declared a World Pandemic. They urged us to come home, or find a safe place to hunker down for 4-6 months minimum! OK, so we can’t outrun the situation much longer, no more ignoring, the next morning we made our way to San Marcos la Laguna, a known Overlanders gathering point on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Three days later we arrived, to hear that the Guatemalan government had closed all land borders at midnight. Over the next two days several other Overlanders arrived before the gates were locked, Dad & Jenn were the last. As Dad stepped out of his Land Rover, he said “so is this home for the next 6 months?!” could it really be?
Life in ‘lock down” at Pasaj-cap wasn’t off to a great start. We were all forced to move from our vehicles into rental units by the owner. Many didn’t appreciate the way this unfolded, the next morning first convoy of 4 vehicles departed. Our accommodations strained the budget, but gave a certain comfort factor of being in an apartment, the luxury of having your own flushing toilet was pretty nice.
Time both dragged and sped by, as beautiful as it was, we were slowly restricted more and more. We weren’t allowed off the property, the door was locked and we needed permission to go to the village for essentials, like food, where other travellers were able to move about freely. Several times we used the paddle boards to go for groceries rather than face the owners wrath. As Easter rolled around the lake was closed, we couldn’t go for our daily paddle and swim, the gate to the lake was locked. Gratefully the owners organized a weekly fresh fruit & vegetable truck delivery.
Passing day after Ground Hog Day boredom set in, how could this be happening? As days faded into weeks then months so did our dreams of being able to continue South. Mentally & emotionally we were all being effected, each taking our turn on the ‘Corona Coaster’, that dizzying ride of indecision and doubt. We made the most of it and were lucky to be stuck with family and a fantastic crew of other travellers. Together we shared pot luck dinners, poker & quiz nights, yoga and even outdoor movie nights! Mornings were spent drinking too much coffee & reading too many doom and gloom news reports. Then another group had had enough and a second convoy left for Mexico, again we wondered over and over if we should have joined them, damn these times!!
Then it happened all rather quickly, covid numbers in Guatemala started raising sharply and the President had announced that he would shut down the country competly for 7 days if numbers continued to rise. Not wanting to do another unknown length of lockdown, we decided it was time to head back to Mexico. The rainy season had also arrived, delivering daily torrential downpours. Tropical storm Amanda was also gathering on the Pacific side and was about to unleash her fury, which could potentially cause road blocking landslides, it was time to go. The next few days were spent organizing the necessary paperwork to leave the Municipality, letters from our embassies and pack up the trucks for Friday’s dawn departure.
After living behind gates for 3 months, we had to pass through 3 security checkpoints to leave, we felt kinda strange, my view from the passenger window showed life as normal. People were going about their lives as they do, just wearing a mask. Once back in Mexico, sadly we all dispersed, Dad & Jen shipped their Land Rover back to the UK and flew out straight away, Suzie & Martin stored their van and returned to Switzerland, Victor and Tammy remained in Oaxaca renting houses to wait it out, while Shannon & Greg continued North back to their home in Colorado. And we were wandering around Mexico aimlessly since, nothing is open and nobody is around. For now we’ve rented a small house in beautiful San Miguel for the next 6 weeks. Secretly hoping that someday soon the world comes to her senses and some kind of normality is restored.
The Wild Wills Family
Betty & Gerard we are travelling the world in bits and pieces. three four months on the road and about the same time home. beginning of march we flew back to lima, where we picked up our car. covid was starting up in our homecountry (the netherlands).
this was the beginning of a “covid” part of our travels. real soon we skipped our planned trip (peru, chile, argentina, bolivia, peru, ecuador and then home for some time. instead we decided to drive to uruguy, where we could leave our car for a year. we never reached uruguay. had our self chosen quarantaine in the argentinian puna and two periods of obligated (locked up) quarantaine.
with the help of our embassy and a lot of luck, we were back home the 1st of april. we left our car in ba at andean roads, from where cris shipped back our car.
this means the end of our planned worldtrip (south, central, north america, canada, japan and then from russia overland back home). (website: www.exploringtheworld.nl)
now happyly home and waiting till “better times” to spend our “old days” in africa…
FAMILY BUSH LIFE
We are were in Cape Town and had been traveling for 14 moth around southern part of Africa with our two small kids age 4&5.
We where at the end of our trip with 25 days back. We where following the development of COVID19 back home in Denmark. First we thought they where overreacting and thinking that here in Africa there were lot bigger battles with HIV and malaria and that Denmark/danish media was hyping the news.
But we got more and more news from friends and family saying come home. The day before the Danish government asked all Danes to come home, we lucky had changed our ticket-we got on the flying company’s last flight back to EU and the day after, all boarders closed down in South Africa.
The “waiting days” between changing our tickets until we where actually on the flight was a weird nightmare. We where so scared that S.A. would close down before we got out and still on the other hand reality hadn’t hit the country yet. We could still go out for dinner and only on the last day people where hamstring at the shops.
Also we had to pack 14 month of traveling down in such a short time and get our trailer fixed after all the tough roads. Our car we had sold (but because of corona, the sale hasn’t gone through) and our trailer is still in Cape Town waiting to be shipped out of the harbour.
But we made it safe back home
My wife and I are both marine scientists with a desire for adventure. We sold our house & everything we owned at the end of 2017 and left Perth for Brisbane (Margie was 37 weeks pregnant with our baby then!!) We had Sebastian a few weeks later then spend the next 12 months travelling the east coast of Australia, seeing friends and family we hadn’t seen for years At the end of 2018, we drove from Brisbane to Darwin and put the car on a ship to Timor Leste. The adventures began straight away, with the shipping company basically losing our car (have a look at the story on our website http://rulesoftheroad.com.au/?p=406). We then spent two months in Timor before heading to Indonesia. We had been in Indonesia for 6 months when we had the accident in Yogyakarta. We were planning on heading to Borneo to renew our visas then spending another few months in Indonesia before heading to Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore etc. The plan was to spend 2-3 years driving to the UK but the accident, and subsequently, Covid, have stopped us for now. The car repairs were an absolute nightmare and ended up taking 8 months to complete. We needed a new roof and a few side panels, but there were none of these in Indonesia, as the LR is classed as a luxury car and is very rare. There are plenty of series II and III land rovers but very few defenders. As a result, we needed to get a new one shipped from the UK as we were not allowed to import second hand parts into Indo. This took months then everything got held up in customs for weeks and weeks while we tried to come up with solutions. Even the official Land Rover dealer in Jakarta who was bringing the parts in didn’t know how to do it the ‘Indonesian way’, haha! We finally got the car finished and repainted, picked it up and started packing it only to have to abandon it to come home because of Covid. It has been a crazy 12 months for us and we do not know if, or when, we will be able to return. Everything we own is still in the car; I even left all my camera gear behind because everything was so desperate when we left and we just couldn’t carry it!
Today marks one year since we had the ultimate mishap and our car fell into a hole in the road in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The repairs were estimated to take six weeks but we ended up being stuck for eight very long and frustrating months. In a cruel twist of fate, two days after we finally got our car back, Malaysia closed its borders because of Covid-19. We followed the official advice from the Australian government and made the heart-breaking decision to return home. We packed up all we could carry and left our car in the hands of friends. The journey over the last 12 months has been extremely challenging and has tested all of us as we watched our dreams of driving across the world slowly erode around us. In the end, coming home was the right decision. The situation in Indonesia is concerning, and we hope all our friends are safe and healthy. We find ourselves living in a pretty little town on the water in Tasmania, which, had we been asked 12 months ago, was about the last place on Earth we would have expected to be. For now, our plans of driving are on hold and we have no idea when, or if, we will be able to resume our journey. But we are safe, we are together, and we are in a better position than so many others right now.
On March 11th 2020 we arrived at Pasaj Cap, a campground on the edge of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Here we met a few new friends and were reunited with a few old friends who would very quickly become our support system. That evening, we found out the borders South had closed. We managed to laugh it off over a few beers in camp that night, but things changed pretty quickly in the following days when Guatemala went into lockdown.
The emails started coming in from the New Zealand government urging us to get home ASAP while flights were still available, but the New Zealand Embassy in Mexico was telling us that the border into Mexico was closed and we were essentially stuck in Guatemala (which was incorrect).
In the meantime, we had organized for our van registration to be changed in the USA to a motorhome, which would give us a 10 year TIP for Mexico instead of 6 months. However, we couldn’t receive the new registration by post, as the nearest DHL was inaccessible due to the lockdown in Guatemala.
We instead organized to have it sent to Tapachula, the border town we would pass through upon entering Mexico.
We left Pasaj Cap with a caravan of three vehicles and two extra passengers in our van that had been holidaying in Guatemala. After arriving at the first border which was closed, we rushed to the next border, arriving just before curfew started for that day.
We had no luck getting a TIP for our van with a printed version of the registration, however we were advised that we could go to Tapachula without a TIP as it is within the border free zone.
The following day we said farewell to our passengers and the remaining five of us headed out to the beach for four nights, while waiting for our registration.
Once we received our registration we had an early start to the day back at the border, where we received our 10 year TIP, then drove 10 hours to Oaxaca where we slept, woke up early, put the van in storage, and went to the airport. We managed to get flights to Mexico City that day and once we were boarding we emailed our travel agent to book the rest of our flights home, which he said were the second to lasts flights on that route flying back to New Zealand for the foreseeable future.
Now back in New Zealand and life mostly “back to normal” we wait and see what the future will bring with this situation and when we will be able to get back to our van. We are www.churkiwi.com
My name is Dan Byers and I’m from NE Ohio, Cuyahoga Falls. I’m a 59 year old divorcée and Father of one Son and an avid motorcyclist. Shortly after the 2016 election I gave notice at my Corporate job (Buyer/Contract Negotiator for a Pharma Company) and began liquidating my possessions and cutting my ties to a life of normalcy. In June of 2018 I left home with the goal of riding to Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego and returning. Initially I made it to the Oaxaca Mexico city of Salina Cruz where I fell ill because of a ruptured colon infection, resulting in nearly dying and spending more than three weeks in the hospital in Salina Cruz. Upon release, I was warned to not continue the trip and told I needed specific surgery done within six month’s time. Turning around I rode back to Ohio (taking the long way, riding the TAT in the US West to East on the way). After a few months home I was able to fly back to Mexico and have the surgery. And I came through it well and left Ohio for the second time in May 2019 for another attempt at Ushuaia! I actually successfully made it to Ushuaia in Feb of this year after 45,000 miles of travel.
At the start of this I began a blog on Adventure Rider website, a home for moto-travelers. Here is a link to my blog!
After reaching Ushuaia I started hearing news reports of a virus running rampant through parts of China. I was in Argentina at the time, riding with several other moto-travelers. Sam, the UK rider, had just barely scheduled his bike’s shipment and flight home when we heard of borders beginning to close. Olaf, the German rider I am with (still) was unable to secure a shipment for his bike. As I was planning on riding North all the way home, Olaf decided to ride further with me, to see Iguazu Falls at the most Northern border of Argentina and Brazil. After the Falls, Olaf decided to ride up the coast with me a bit longer through Brazil, before he would turn back to BA.
All borders closed the very day after we crossed into Brazil. We found an affordable apartment in Joinville Brazil with an understanding, supportive owner. We spent 5 weeks here in self-isolation. Eventually I became friends with a group of local motorcyclists through FB and they knew I was looking for more long-term lodging that costs less. One of them, Luis, has parents that own a beach resort in Praia do Estaleiro Brazil that is closed to the public. That is where I now reside, whiling away the days, forever looking for info on the borders reopening. In Brazil, the restrictions are nominal, with their President Bolsonaro is taking a lot of heat. Half the folks you see around are wearing masks, which are needed to grocery shop. On the streets there seem to be no travel restrictions, unlike neighbouring countries.
I contacted the US Embassy in Brazil multiple times, signing up for the STEP program, but to be quite honest, all they have done is repeatedly suggest I abandon my bike here and fly home at the earliest opportunity! My motorcycle is all I own. I will not abandon her now. There are indications that Brazil will extend the 90 day visa (and, by connection the vehicle TIP). My Embassy has offered no help. My Government if offering NO repatriation flights. Money is tight. The future goes, I can afford to stay here 2-3 months to be able to ride home. That means the borders to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia (and, of course, all of Central America) all reopen and allow such travel. I feel safer staying out here than travelling in airplanes right now, or being back in Ohio, where the virus is rampant.
I hope that some day this is all just part of the stories we tell our friends. All part of the adventure. Stay safe and stay well everyone!
Traveling Clown Family
As clowns, my wife and I where performing in small schools and institutions in our trip, sometimes giving workshops and teaching clown and theatre techniques, but what we really love doing is visiting hospitals, as we are both experienced hospital clowns (yeah, like Patch Adams). We believe healthcare has lost some tracks and we where doing a research, interviewing people about art and health, trying to re-define what healthcare means to everybody, no matter what education they have.
We where making plans about Medellín and Bogota and surroundings when Covid hit Colombia. Our plans vanished, blown away like leaves in the Autumn wind. We saw people panicking and buying tons of toilet paper and we really felt completely outside of that paranoia (the fear remains). At first we moved to the countryside with little phone signal, that was the healthier thing we could do, don’t listen to any paranoiac hysteria and breathe, hear the birds, play in the mud with our kids… the first month was ok there… but we needed some touch with people, being confined doesn’t make sense to the mental health, and stress lower your defences, if you want to face the covid, your mental health must be ok, so we ended craving for human touch and sharing with people and, well, we arrived the place we are now, where others Overlanders (some really in fear and others quite relaxed about it like us) where staying and we are having a nice time of no-time (anxiety is strong but remain confident and peaceful, breathe good air, do exercises is what will keep away the virus, inner peace is healthier for the immune system than being stressed.)
But, then again, Colombia has nothing to offer us now. No schools, no cultural places, no hospitals (very hard to visit with Covid hanging around) so our work is really paralysed. We drove back to Paraguay (where I and one daughter are from, my wife is Swiss and first daughter is Argentinian) is not possible and who knows when it will be again. Leaving the skoolie and come back to search it when it ends is just too expensive: will be 5 plane tickets after November as we are expecting a boy! Shipping to Paraguay also is too expensive and anyways, the skoolie will be too little for the 5 of us… So we put it on sale… yeah, tears came down as “Eugenio” is a part of our family already, with all the mechanical issues and the paintings the girls had made in the walls and ceiling…
But the story doesn’t end yet. After some days of sharing the post of sale, another family of traveling clowns, friends and companions of our friends and companions clowns from other different countries (Peru, Chile and Argentina) spoke us and we decided they will continue their traveling circus/clown family in our skoolie. We arranged a small amount for start, and then a crowdfunding for complete the payment (is hard for us traveling clowns, without working 4 months already to buy a camper motorhome or such). We already have plane tickets to Paraguay, where we think our newborn will arrive in November. After that, we think in getting another bus and start over the building of the home inside, so maybe we will be reunited both families next year and continue traveling together, or at least traveling…. Gracias!