We plan our trips well in advance. Barbados has been on our bucket list for quite a while, so in August 2019 we bought airline tickets and booked a VRBO for travel to that destination. Six months later, we hear vague rumblings of a pandemic, but since we don’t watch TV or pay any attention to the news, we discount it.
Within a month, we realize we have to postpone all our 2020 international travel. Sigh. The airlines are very accommodating, as is the VRBO host. We reschedule the flight, rebook the property, and hope for the best.
By spring 2021, we are still suspicious. Barbados does not seem to have its act together. All travelers are expected to quarantine for 14-days after arrival and will have a tracking device on their ankles. In other words, the only people who would travel to Barbados are those who plan to stay an extended time. We express our concerns to our VRBO host. He tells us to withhold making our final payment until the last possible moment, just in case the situation changes. Well, the situation changes somewhat: the Barbados government is making a small effort to accommodate reality, by allowing a little leniency to travelers who have been fully vaccinated – which we are – so, we take the plunge.
Jumping Through the Covid Hoops
Despite being vaccinated, we must have an official Barbados-sanctioned Covid-19 test, costing a mere $450 for the two of us. Yikes! Just the cost of travel, I guess. But, the test must be administered within 72 hours of arriving in Barbados. And it takes approximately 24 – 48 hours to receive the test results. What if there is a delay in the results so we don’t get them in time? What if there’s a delay in the flight so it’s outside the 72-hour window? Worse, what if we get a false positive?
So, within the 72-hour window, we get a free Covid-19 test from the county, then the next day, official over-priced test from the official source. Both come back within 24 hours, Covid-free. Yea!
We scan and print the small hand-signed card showing we are vaccinated, along with the official record from UCSD Medical and from Kaiser Permanente. We also put PDFs of those same documents on our phones and email them to ourselves.
We access the non-intuitive BMISafe app mandated by the Barbados government and upload the necessary documents.
Good to go! We head to the San Diego Airport for our redeye to Miami.
At the airport, they need to verify that we had all the documents mandated by the Barbados government. We have them. They allow us to proceed. We are TSA-approved, and quickly accommodate their Byzantine, but familiar, requirements.
We board the plane and settle in. The disembodied voice tells us to keep our masks on at all times, even when sleeping, or the flight attendants (what a great name for a career!) will awaken us to correct that faux pas. Of course, we do not, and they do not. They also add “in the case of an emergency, please remove your face mask to breathe the air from the oxygen mask”… Yes, we are that stupid.
At 6:30am Miami time, 3:30am our biological time, we arrive in Miami and head to the Admiral’s Lounge. Food, drink, and quiet. We rest, then board the flight for Barbados.
We spend three hours watching the ocean vary the color of blue waters, silent and wonderful, then land on this tiny, beautiful island. We disembark and walk about 50 feet to a bus. The bus is allowed to carry only 30 people, for reasons. The doors close, and the bus drives us about 200 feet to the entrance. Yeah, that saved a lot of time.
Okay, let the fun begin!
We are in a line, six feet apart, waiting for — something. There is someone six feet in front of us and six feet in back of us. But wait! It’s a Disney-esque line, a serpentine queue of people separated by a velvet rope. So, although we are separated by an arbitrary distance in front and in back of us, there is someone next to us on the right and on the left who we could easily reach out and touch. Alrighty then.
I pull out my camera to photograph the insanity and am told, “No photographs!” Yes, they, too, are embarrassed.
Eventually we get to the front of the line and show them the paper we had to have to get on the plane. They put a green band on our wrist. Not as bad as a tattoo, but still….
We are directed to a room that looks like a bus station and told to sit in chairs that are about six feet from apart, except that there is someone directly in front and in back of us.
Then we are called to the Covid-19 testing room, so the vaccinated travelers who could not get into Barbados unless they were certified Covid-free can be tested for Covid.
There are…people…perhaps nurses, perhaps day-laborers…who direct us to sit, then spray our hands with an unknown liquid. We are given a paper towel which is sprayed with the same liquid, and told to blow our nose. We put the paper towel to our nose and inhale. Psych! The liquid is alcohol, and we’ve just inhaled enough for a DUI! We cough and do our best to simulate blowing our nose. The attendant sprays our hands again with this substance, as though we caught Covid by touching the alcohol-laden paper towels.
The attendant puts a cotton applicator too-far up our nose and rubs it around, counting ten rotations. We endure, hoping we don’t get a brain aneurism. When finished, we are sprayed once again and now all of our documents have this liquid on them, making them clean as clean can be!
Ah, finally, it’s over.
A bit dehumanized for the wear.
We are directed to leave the area, but first, we must put our hands in some kind of liquid dispensing device, then rub the liquid on our hands. Even though we haven’t touched anything since the last time we were sprayed. We are directed by bored workers to walk down a corridor, hopefully to our luggage. We enter another room and must again put our hands in the liquid-dispensing device. Just in case, as we walked down the corridor, Covid jumped onto our hands.
The liquid smells of alcohol. Alcohol, as you know, dissolves fat. The very fat that covers our skin and helps keep out foreign bodies. Such as viruses. Alrighty then.
We search for our luggage. Nope. They can’t seem to get the hatch open on the airplane. So, we wait. Some time passes, and our luggage appears. We leave the baggage area through the “Nothing to declare” gate (like, does anyone actually go through the “Something to declare” gate?), and to the final passport check, just in case we got this far without a passport.
Finally, into the car that takes us directly to The Crane Resort, where we must wait until our latest Covid test shows us to be Covid-free!
The Gilded Cage
Why are we at The Crane Resort? Because it’s one of the few hotels that are government-certified to accommodate guests as they await the results of their test. We think they got certified because they have an abundance of those machines that remove the virus-protecting fat from our hands, the very hands that do not spread Covid.
So, how would we describe The Crane Resort? The first impression is that it’s where people go to die. There is no nightlife, no daylife, and very little else. People sit around and watch time pass. There are no Caribbean restaurants, no Barbados cafes, no island music, nothing that would indicate we are anywhere but a resort for old people. Indeed, we see no small children at all.
Still, it’s pleasant enough, a prison to hold us until The Man sees fit to set us free.
We check in, and they give us yet another wrist band, one that indicates we may stay here but cannot swim in the pool. Because Covid lives in fresh water chlorinated pools, just waiting for hapless victims. Fact!
We walk the grounds. The entire place can be explored in perhaps 20 minutes. Many establishments are closed. We don’t know if they are closed for the season, for the day, or just not open yet, as there are no hours of operation posted. But, okay, foreign lands have foreign rules. No problem.
The apartment we are in has plenty of air conditioning, with a unit in the living room and bedroom. They both work well, and we turn them up, leaving the windows open, so we can stay cool and still feel the ocean air.
(This is one of those vases used in bad comedies. It is an extremely expensive pre-Columbian artifact which also holds Grandma’s ashes, yet is balanced precariously in an exposed part of the house. The clumsy protagonist brushes against it repeatedly, barely managing to catch it before it hits the floor. Finally, when he kneels to propose marriage with the whole family present, his foot hits it and it comes crashing down just as his fiancée says something, but we can’t hear it because it is muffled by the crash.)
On the other hand, our room has a very nice bathtub.
Banana bubblebath are happy. ?
But, we are not really in Barbados.
We are on the island, but there is no island life. Just tourists and staff. This is just another resort, interchangeable with thousands of other resorts in the world. We might as well be on a cruise for all the “island” we are getting.
We find ways to make the time pass. Any building we enter requires us to put our hands in the liquid-dispensing device that removes protective fat. We purchase hand moisturizer, as our hands are feeling chapped. And we quickly learn how to avoid the liquid and just imitate rubbing it into our hands.
Less than 24-hours from landing on the island, we finally receive our official government reprieve: we are Covid-free!!! We go to The Crane’s front desk, where they cut off our two wrist bands and give us another, one that indicates we have been emancipated and may now wander the grounds as full citizens of The Crane.
Nope. We contact the rental car company and they deliver our car within the hour. We sit with the representative and fill out the paperwork. He is a helpful man, yet constantly distracted by the island women (resort staff) who pass by. As in, stopping mid-sentence to watch them. Well! It seems not everyone is dead in this place.
He shows us to our car, we sign the final paper and, as he is walking away, he asks, as an afterthought, “Have you ever driven on the left side of the road?” We wonder if there are people who reply, “Ha ha, nice one!” or “Wait, what?” We reply that we have, we climb in the car, and we are off. We leave The Compound, er, the resort, driving through the exit. We must show our wrist band to the guard before he will open the gate. I suppose it’s to ensure we didn’t forget it, because that’s our ticket back in.
We drive aimlessly for two hours, doing nothing but enjoying the scenery. It is Sunday and, except for an occasional restaurant and gas station, everything is closed. No matter. We are happy.
We return to the resort, have dinner in our room, and enjoy the stiff Atlantic breeze bringing salt and moisture, reminding us that we are on a tiny speck of land in the ocean.
The next morning, we awaken before dawn and walk to the east side of the resort to photograph the sunrise. Although it is a beautiful, warm morning, no one else is up and about. Since the one restaurant does not open until 8:00, and there is absolutely nothing else to do, I suppose that is to be expected.
We take photographs of the resort, a Caribbean ghost town devoid of people, then eat a quick breakfast. We decide to swim in the resort’s pool. (There are two pool areas, but one is closed, seemingly for maintenance, but we see no one working on it.)
Remember that the resort is for the dead and near-dead, so there is no waterslide, no diving allowed, and no place to swim for exercise. The pools are just places to float for a while. It is beautiful, yet strangely sad.
Enough time passes. Our VRBO rental will be ready soon. We pack the car and check out of the resort. At the gate, the guard uses scissors to remove our wrist bands, symbolically freeing us. In my head I hear Bob Marley, “Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom? ‘Cause all I ever have, Redemption songs.”
And, after two years in the making, we are finally on Barbados!
Due to Covid
The people of Barbados are unfailingly friendly. Even the street workers near our VRBO will ask, “Are you enjoying the sunshine today?” or smile and say, “Alright” as a greeting. We’ve come to accept it as a cultural constant here on the island.
Of course, that was before we went to the Post Office.
We park our car in the parking lot, backing in as is the custom here, and enter the door marked “Enter.” Inside is the obligatory alcohol-dispensing machine, designed to remove the protective oils from our skin. We have learned to put our hands in the opening, but keep them to the outside and thereby not trigger the spray. We dutifully rub our hands together as if the caustic chemical is indeed damaging our skin.
Behind a desk sits a woman lifted out of Soviet Russia, unsmiling, thick features, unmoving. We look briefly at her, wondering if she will take our temperature (which is done in every retail outlet on the island). But she says nothing, her eyes watching us, accusing, yet dead.
We stand where the sign indicates for us to wait. Behind the glass-enclosed counter are two postal employees. One is helping a customer, the other is doing nothing. After perhaps 15 seconds, a bell dings, and we see a sign indicating we should proceed to the unoccupied clerk.
We tell her we have seventeen postcards to send, and ask for stamps.
“Are they all to America or Canada?”
“No, two are to Europe.”
“You can’t mail those two.”
“Due to Covid, you may not mail to these countries…”
“Due to Covid…,” she reiterates, as if it’s completely logical.
We look at each other, confused. How is an airborne virus transmitted by postcards? How does Covid know which country it is being sent to? Can the postcards be sent to Europe via America and thereby confuse Covid?
We decide not to press the issue with the clerk, who is trained to follow orders, and, hopefully, is as embarrassed as we are by the regulations.
She counts out fifteen stamps, spending perhaps one minute carefully trimming the borders to ensure we receive only the stamps, her gloved-hands impeding her effort. During this time, she is talking non-stop. We aren’t sure if she’s talking to us, or to the clerk next to her. And, we can’t make out the words, given that she is wearing a mask and behind glass, but it sounds like baby talk or perhaps a chant. The clerk next to her is not responding to any of her sounds, so we’ll never know what she was saying or who (if anyone) she was talking to.
Finally, the stamps are ready. “That will be twenty-seven (Barbados) dollars.”
I hand her my credit card.
“We don’t have a credit card machine.”
“This is a government post office, right?”
She does not flinch. “We don’t have a credit card machine.”
I pay her cash and receive the stamps. “Where do we mail these?”
She indicates that we are to apply the stamps on the counter behind us, then drop them in the Overseas mail box.
We go to the counter and spread out the postcards. There is a small glass container with a sponge in water. Rather than lick the stamps (which would require us to remove our masks), we must use a communal dipping pot to moisten our stamps. Yea, that’s sanitary. And Covid, although savvy in the world of international postal distribution, is probably flummoxed by sponges.
At this point, we have stopped trying to figure things out. Somehow, humanity, for all its strength and beauty and hope and perseverance, continues to elect political leaders with the scientific acumen of a witch doctor.
We dutifully moisten each stamp and apply them to the postcards.
There is a muffled voice near us. The woman from Soviet Russia is standing next to my wife, talking in a thick accent behind a mask. She repeats herself, and we finally understand.
“Ma’am, can you pull down your dress?”
Apparently, my wife’s skirt is shorter than an arbitrary standard, has offended or uncomfortably titillated this woman, or “Due to Covid.” In another time or another place, we might have questioned this woman’s authority as National Dress Code Enforcer, but we are already too far down the Bajan Post Office’s rabbit hole to see this as anything but normal. She pulls down her skirt, and we finish applying our stamps.
As we walk to the Overseas mail box, I notice people standing in line. The clerk who helped us is ignoring them. Rather, she is holding, in her gloved hand, a cell phone that is in a plastic bag, and is speaking loudly concerning some, undoubtedly, official Post Office business.
We deposit our postcards and exit the building. NO! We attempted to leave via the entrance! The Soviet Russia woman quickly points out our error and directs us to the exit, right next to the entrance. Disaster averted!
As we walk to the car, we see that our new friend has followed us out of the building and is watching us leave. My wife turns to me. “What just happened? Am I having a stroke?” We cannot contain our laughter, and watch as our new friend re-enters the building—through the wrong door.
But, of course, all of this important nonsense was well worth it! We will have a story about our adventures in Barbados soon!!