We Will Plan Better Next Time!
My wife and I first experienced the craziness of COVID in March of 2020. We had long planned a Puerto Rico trip to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. As the dates rolled closer, it was becoming more and more apparent COVID could affect our plans. After much consternation, we both opted to proceed ahead with the thought, “what could go wrong.”
My wife’s parents drove down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and planned on spending the week with our kids. Upon their arrival, we were off to the airport. The news was littered with various tidbits describing the illness that would soon affect the entire world. I was naive in thinking, how bad could it get? Keep in mind that we had never experienced anything like this in our life until this point. Sure, there were certain “illnesses,” but the last pandemic was back in the 1920s. We believed we were safe in our little bubble. Upon our arrival in Puerto Rico, the weather could not have been any better. We quickly switched our mindset to “vacation” mode, and away we went.
Our flight took off from Detroit, MI, and landed in San Juan just before noon. We had rented an updated, furnished condominium in Luquillo near the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Street (media by Jeff Clos)
Our main goal during our visit was to snorkel as much as possible. We quickly checked in, received our keys, and we were off to partake in snorkeling. Heading east, we found a lovely beach and spent the better part of a few hours exploring the area. The snorkeling wasn’t spectacular, but it was interesting, and the weather could not have been better. Between the two of us, we saw various fish and marine life. We weren’t too disappointed as this particular area wasn’t known for snorkeling. We also knew we had six additional days and a few excursions planned. I would have plenty of footage captured by my GoPro camera by the time we returned home. After having spent several hours exploring the beach, it was time to get some dinner. We found a nice restaurant just across the street from the beach. I believe we spent a few hours here eating and drinking. Unfortunately, this was one of our better days on the trip. It would have been nice to have a few more like this.
We had flown into Puerto Rico on March 13th, and on March 15th, the Puerto Rican Governor signed an executive order shutting down all non-essential businesses. All citizens and visitors were to follow a curfew and remain indoors, isolated from the general public. The goal was to mitigate any large group gatherings and reduce the possibility of spreading the disease. All non-essential businesses closed or considerably shortened their hours. Our new favorite store became a Wal-Mart-owned establishment. It was the only store we could rely on during our stay.
I give Puerto Rico all of the credit in the world for responding as quickly as they did. Unfortunately, it put a significant damper on our vacation. All government operations were closed, which included the El Yunque Rainforest, one of our planned visits. In retrospect, our trip could have been much worse. We could have been on public property, like a Marriot or Hilton, which was patrolled more often. We imagined how difficult it would be to have to confine to one’s hotel room. We were lucky to have a relatively large condo complex to traverse.
Skyrise Condominium (media by Jeff Clos)
As it stood, we were in a private property on a private beach. While these were surveilled, it was done less frequently. We were able to escape to the private beach, albeit illegally, and continue to explore the surroundings. At times this was stressful, but we believed it was worth the risk. We would plead ignorance if we were caught.
As the trip continued, we contemplated cutting it short to return home. Indeed, whatever the Puerto Ricans were experiencing would translate to the states. Quickly our thoughts raced to our kids and their grandparents. That specific week would be our kids’ last day of in-person school for quite some time. The grandparents made a snap decision to pack up the kids and head back to the U.P. as things were a lot less hectic there. They felt, understandably, more comfortable in their surroundings. After repeated calls to the airport and online searching, we opted to roll the dice and continue our stay. Any time we left the condo, It felt like we were committing treason. There was nary a soul to be found, and the beaches were genuinely empty. You could see the occasional police car enforcing the curfew. If they pulled you over, you had to be on the way to a supermarket or to your job. To say the city was a ghost town would be an understatement.
Puerto Rican Beach (media by Jeff Clos)
We stole away to our private beach and continued our snorkeling excursions. In a way, it felt as if we were on our deserted island, except for the constant fear we would be found and reprimanded for violating curfew! The rest of the week was pretty much the same. We had a daily routine that involved visiting the local Wal-Mart for goods and breaking curfew to visit the beach. I just remember constantly worrying about how things were going back home and how we were going to be handled when returning to the airport. This was all new territory to us. It made the rest of the trip seem like a blur.
When we returned to the airport, it looked like a HAZMAT crew. It seemed as if everyone was wearing bodysuits. We were, as I understand it, quite lucky in getting out when we did. When we landed back in Detroit, we had missed the quarantine period. In retrospect, we probably should not have embarked on the trip knowing the threat of COVID as we do now. Of course, in hindsight, I should do many things differently!