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Travel and ruminations in the time of COVID-19

While archiving images, I found the photo above. The sun had already set in the midst of enjoying the sand dunes in Paoay in Ilocos Norte. Dusk is settling in and we had to stop to enjoy the vista. Seeing this image, I can’t help but ruminate on travel and these trying times.

It’s Saturday, 21 March and in a few hours, I will have spent a full week staying at home here in my room back in Cebu. This is just the first half of the 14 day self-quarantine I have to undergo as part of COVID-19 protocol for those arriving from Luzon to this province. Half an hour ago, I had my breakfast of spam, eggs and rice, served on a paper plate that my niece, Enicka, cooked and prepared then placed on the small table just outside my room.

As I’m writing this article, I’m staring outside my window, a beautiful and sunny day with blue skies. The weather is perfect for a day at the beach. But like most Filipinos around the country, this moment is better spent inside the house as the reality of a deadly viral pandemic is sweeping in much of the country and the world.

March would have been an opportune time to plan for summer outings to the beach, to islands with white sandy shores. For others, it’s the perfect time to visit relatives in the provinces. The school year would be ending as the Holy Week will kick in early April. But we are in the time of COVID-19 and all these have come to a standstill. Cities, provinces are on quarantine or lockdown, minimized mobility for much of the citizenry. Malls are closed except for banks, pharmacies, markets and groceries.

Travel plans shelved

Tomorrow, 22 March, me and a friend would have boarded the fast craft from Cebu to Ormoc, took the bus to Tacloban to stay overnight. I planned to visit the McArthur Landing in Palo as well as its now modern church with its ornate and antique retablo. We would have toured around the city, ate binagol and had a seafood dinner. The following day, we would have crossed the San Juanico Bridge and travel all the way to Guiuan to see the restored historic church. It is a National Cultural Treasure with beautiful shell mosaics at its walls but got badly damaged by the supertyphoon Yolanda.

From there, spend a night in Borongan, supposed to be my second visit. Then head the next day to Calbayog where we were supposed to stay for the next two nights. Waterfalls, a cave, a spectacular zip line, a river cruise and local food. Then pack up and head to Lavezares in Northern Samar for Biri. Sweeping vistas, spectacular rock formations, lagoons and natural pools. These for two days before heading back to Tacloban where I will send off my friend back to Cebu. I planned to stay overnight there then travel to Legazpi City the following day then on to Catanduanes for an Ingress game event. I would have toured around the island province for much of the Holy Week.

But all these won’t happen. COVID-19 infection is rising day by day. Catanduanes is on lockdown. Cebu has stopped air and sea travel. I am on self-quarantine till 29 March. I can only stare out the window or keep myself busy while scraping the bottom of the small peanut butter container.

These are not normal times

It’s kind of shocking. Shocking in a sense that what we take for granted before can’t even be done now. Shocking in a sense that at any time, in the next few days, few weeks or even few months, one can get infected by this virus that for others can turn out deadly. Shocking in a sense that we have to stop and shelve or even reassess our plans for the future that may be bleak or hard. The world’s economy is forecast for a recession and with this shutdown, businesses, livelihoods are all at stake. And this also what scares me. I’m a freelancer. There’s this lingering feeling that I might have limited or even no work in the coming months. The political situation in the country is adding to the confusion with the troll farm still thriving, sowing division and spreading fake news.

We have to wait this out

The next few weeks seem bleak. There are mathematical models that say COVID-19 in the Philippines will peak in June. That’s scary. We don’t know what will happen after the lockdown/community quarantine will be lifted middle of April. Will they extend it if the virus is still on its march across the land?

I’ve kept myself busy these past few days that’s why I was surprised that its already Saturday. I’ve been editing photos that I needed to edit. I was able to archive and clear my phone’s gallery, thus freeing up needed space. I was able to post in my blog. I’m in the middle of fixing my other domain. Next few days, I will finish a book that I haven’t read in a while. I will also go back learning a new skill online hoping to mitigate the dearth of photography work that might happen.

Looking ahead

These are exceptional times. Times that test our mettle. Times that show us what we are made of. For now, we just have to wait this out and keep busy. Follow what the authorities say. Keep social distance and wash our hands. We need to pray too, for ourselves, for our countrymen, for the Philippines and the world. Contemplate on our morality and mortality. If you are capable, donate. It’s the least we can do to help our less fortunate fellowmen. Volunteer too, with the necessary precautions. And lastly, we have to hope. Hope that this COVID-19 pandemic will end soonest. That a vaccine will be found. Hope that we can weather this and keep our sanity intact. And hope that after this calamity, we can get back on our feet and face a new and bright day.


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