From La Paz to Liverpool: a journey during a pandemic

From this view (complete with Maria on the Garmin)…
…To this view, complete with drizzly rain.

We had several obstacles to overcome before I could be sure of setting off on my journey back to the UK. I say ‘we’ but in fact it was Paul who took on the research and tasks for obtaining all the forms and documents I would need to present.  The hardest part for me was getting tested for the virus. A negative test result was one of the mandatory requirements for travel and it needed to be taken at a specific  time before departure. I was glad to leave it to Paul to work out the mathematics involved in that, considering time differences and the consistent confusing information emanating from the UK government.

The flight had been booked  just before infection rates increased to the extent that more and more restrictions were put in place, which culminated in the UK’s third national lockdown. My intention to resume work in schools for the employment agency I work for, as well as to see family and friends would once more have to be put on hold. As the weeks went on, there was every chance the flight would be cancelled, borders would close and Mexico would be added to the ‘red list’ of countries. The prospect of spending any amount of time in a quarantine hotel held no appeal at all and when the cost of it was revealed we decided it would be more economical to cancel the flight and rebook later if necessary. All this uncertainty was extremely frustrating for me; not least because I have a tendency of needing to know ‘what is happening when’ (not an ideal trait to have during a pandemic – I’m working on it 🙄). All I could do was keep up with the foreign travel updates and attempt to adhere to Paul’s suggestion to not worry about it until nearer the time.

The place we were in was ideal for this. We had been in the marina at La Paz since the beginning of December, and without regular access to local news, politics and television updates on the pandemic, it was easy to settle in to simply enjoying daily life in the charming capital of Baja California. We were obviously aware of, and heeded, the common sense precautions for avoiding risks, while still safely socialising with our friends, Arturo, and Dirk and Silvia. The weather was just perfect. The searing heat of summer had been replaced by temperatures that allowed for walking and cycling without collapsing in a pool of sweat.

The Malecon on a glorious day
A long walk back with a punctured tyre
With Dirk and Silvia in Harkers Bar (Touched up by Neil, thanks)
Enjoying a meal in an Italian restaurant with Arturo

The days were leisurely and relaxing, so I had no cause for complaint. Not until I had the test, anyway! From various sources, I knew it was likely to be uncomfortable but I hadn’t expected pain. The procedure was explained to me by the two female nurses in the tiny Salud Digna testing centre. The language barrier meant that we had to communicate via writing, a translator app and hand signals. When they were ready for me, I adopted my usual stance when undergoing intrusive medical tests – closing my eyes until it was all over. It was the nose swab that caused me to yell out. I thought it was going to give me a pierced nostril! With my eyes still tightly shut in a grimace of pain, they had to tell me it was finished and I could leave. Outside, I had to wait until my eyes stopped watering and the burning sensation in my throat cleared before we could cycle home. Maybe I was just unlucky or it could be that I’m a bit of a baby about things like this. My dad was fond of repeating the story of how I had frightened all the other children in the waiting room once with my yells and sobbing while in the dentist’s chair when I was 10.

Outside the testing centre

Gradually we collected and completed all the forms and I had the necessary sheaf of documents, my bags packed, and a list of provisions for a 10 day quarantine period, ready for my daughter, Tess to deliver to my flat. Two self-testing kits for COVID-19 had been ordered for delivery at my address. No cancellations, and I was ready to go. I had mixed emotions on the day of departure. Although I have a return flight booked for September, it’s still not certain when we will be able to resume our nautical travels, or when Paul will be able to return to the UK. I knew I was going to miss him terribly (as well as our boat birds, Maria and Carlos). On the other hand, I still hoped to be able to earn some money and see much-missed family and friends once lockdown ends.

They gained confidence over time 🙂

The journey itself was also causing some anxiety. The first part was easy. Paul had hired a car for the drive to La Paz’s airport, avoiding the risk of taxi delays or infection.  Once inside, we discovered that we had omitted to fill out the health questionnaire, required when departing from Mexican cities. We weren’t the only ones, judging from the amount of people we saw holding their phones up to capture the QR code to fill it out. Paul (again) took that task on while I queued at check in with my bag. Then it was time to say farewell, and I just about managed to hold my tears in until he was out of sight as I made my way through to security. Once on the plane, which was almost full, it was good to see that everybody had a mask on. I had an aisle seat and the couple next to me spent the entire hour and fifty minutes looking out of the window, thus creating a natural social distance for much of the journey. They disembarked us row by row and once I had collected my bag, I found myself in the enormous arrivals hall. It was a lot busier in there, and I kept getting jostled and bumped while I stood looking up at the vast array of signs, trying to work out where to go next. I couldn’t remember if I had to go to immigration then, or after checking in. The flight to Heathrow wasn’t displayed yet as it was still some hours away from departure time and no information desks were open. I messaged Paul, but in the half hour before he replied I had managed to find my way to the BA desks, which were totally deserted, and had taken refuge in a bar near to them until they opened.

By the time I went to check in there was a small queue at each of the two desks for the Heathrow flight. It looked as if Paul’s prediction that there probably wouldn’t be many people on the plane might prove correct. At the desk, I was finally asked to present my sheaf of papers for inspection, along with my immigration card and passport. I was pleased that they were all looked at after so much effort to get them. It’s always a relief to deposit the hold bag and I now had a few hours to kill before the 9pm flight. After clearing security I spent those few hours browsing the shops and then reading in a bar near to the gate. Not many people were in the queue for boarding, confirming that it wouldn’t be a full flight. As we entered the plane and I showed my boarding card I was greeted by name and given a hand sanitising kit by smiling cabin crew, and I hadn’t been seated for long before someone came to check that I had booked a vegan meal. Next, came an offer of a glass of prosecco (with top ups when empty) – and this was all before takeoff!  I had a whole row to myself and could have chosen to move to any number of empty rows. Along with the usual airline tannoy announcements, there were several COVID-related ones. The main and oft-repeated one was that masks were to be worn at all times, covering both mouth and nose except when eating or drinking, with no exceptions. Despite this, the lady in the row ahead of me by the window kept pulling hers down and was repeatedly told to put it back on until she got the idea. We were also reminded about the strict rules regarding passenger locator forms and proof of a negative covid test at the UK border.

It was relaxation for all of the 10 hours after that. I had wine, a delicious meal of rice with roasted vegetables and a savoury sauce and then stretched out to sleep. In the ‘morning’ I asked for a coffee and looked at the flight map on the screen, amazed to see what I recognised as the west coast of Ireland.  After breakfast and more coffee,  preparations for landing commenced and we were informed that the weather in London was ‘dull’ or ‘dreary’ – something like that. At least it wasn’t freezing or snowing. It felt fairly mild in fact for the short time we were outside before entering the arrivals building at lunchtime on the 16th February. From previous journeys I knew I had to follow the purple route for flight connections at Terminal 5. As we all made our way through the corridors it was a lot emptier than I expected, even for ‘these times’. Not empty of signs though – they were everywhere! Most of them held warnings  and information about prohibited actions, penalties for disregarding regulations, new quarantine rules and so on. Frequent announcements about passenger locator forms were played, and ‘requests’ to keep a mask on at all times.  At one point we passed a solitary man holding a sign much like a lollipop man or tour guide bearing the handwritten words ‘passengers from red list countries this way’. No one went that way.

As people began dispersing towards various other gates and onward destinations, a few of us were left following the flight connections route towards A and B gates. By the time we reached the train terminal for transporting passengers to gates, there were only about a dozen people in front of me. They stopped and looked at a sign and then strode on.  The sign had arrows pointing to the train on the left for A gates, as well as straight on. A tannoy announcement made me jump, stating that passengers should board the train to get to gate B and remain on it for gate A, leaving me undecided about what to do. After a couple of moments the trains remained stationary and nobody was inside them, so I decided to follow the the route the other people had taken. They had all disappeared by this time and a long and empty corridor stretched before me. For five minutes I didn’t see another soul as I trudged along and it felt really eerie. Finally a member of staff came out of a lift and I almost pounced on him to reassure me I was going the right way for A gates, poor guy! I must have missed something about why the other passengers had shunned  the trains.

When I reached the passport and immigration area, that too was deserted. I could only see tall Perspex screens at the front of the row of desks but no one was seated at them. A Tensa queue barrier was in place but with no people there it was tricky to find the way in. In the distance to my right, I caught sight of an arm coming from one of the kiosks there, indicating for me to go to the end desk. There, I saw a man  – his head was bent down so I waited politely on the line until he would call me. After some moments I shuffled and coughed to make sure he knew I was there and he eventually beckoned me over. Tiredness and confusion was making me feel a bit irritable, and the thick Perspex screen, along with both of us wearing masks made it hard for me to hear what he was saying to me – and he had a surly manner – so I just pushed all my documents under the screen for him to inspect. Finally, he signalled for me to pull my mask down to check my passport, got me to confirm I had arrived from Mexico and waved me on. More Tensa barriers to navigate made it feel like I was hemmed in when I tried to move forward and the lady who had signalled to me earlier helped me find the way through. She showed me where to scan the passport and told me the way to security. It was something of a relief to be among people again (not something I feel very often 😉). Now it was time to prepare for flight number three, to Manchester.

The departure time had changed from 2 30 to 3pm but it hardly mattered since I was in no rush. From memory, the A gate area was normally a bustling hub of activity with shops, bars and cafes filled with travellers. Some food outlets were open but the shops were all closed apart from Boots and the Duty Free one. I didn’t have long to wait or far to go once my gate number was announced and was pleased to just flop into a seat and wait to board. I was immediately joined by a member of BA’s staff who asked me if I would mind answering a few questions for a passenger survey. I didn’t have the heart to refuse as I was the only one there at the time. The ‘few’ questions took at least 5 minutes, which is a long time to pay attention when you’re  tired and frazzled, –  I could barely focus on the answers!  As we queued to board, it began to rain and once seated we were told that the weather in Manchester was showery and chilly. I pulled an extra layer out of my carryon bag in readiness. The flight was only 35 minutes long, and was more than half full so I was surprised to hear them state that the in-flight service would be commencing shortly. This turned out to be a bottle of water and a bag of crisps. While they weren’t exactly chucked at us, you can imagine how swiftly they were delivered.

The late afternoon air of Manchester was the coldest I had felt for months – and it was raining harder there. Procedure at arrivals was a smoother affair, though and once I had collected my bag, I just had to walk to the station to get the 5 o’clock train to Liverpool. The first thing I noticed outside was that fewer people were wearing masks. It seemed strange to me after 5 months in Mexico where it is compulsory. It seems that if you are given a choice people will make up their own mind despite the risks. At the station, I was paying for my ticket when the cashier alarmed me by shouting at someone to ‘stay away’, ‘stay away’, ‘social distance’. I looked round and saw that a guy was standing right behind me instead of on the 2-metre line. He probably won’t make that mistake again!

The Liverpool train pulling into Manchester Airport Station

On the train, it was a similar story with the masks: not everyone was wearing one. Signs on board state that masks must be worn by all passengers, unless they are ‘exempt’. I gather that you can buy badges and lanyards in shops stating that the wearer is exempt, so if people don’t want to wear them they just won’t.

A short, 10 minute walk from the station and I was home in my flat. It hadn’t exactly been a dramatic journey but it was definitely different. I have taken my first test and the next one is due on Tuesday (23rd Feb). Hopefully it will be negative like the first one. I have also received a telephone call from a government official to make sure I am at home and adhering to quarantine regulations. My self-isolation ends on 26th February so at least I can take daily walks and go shopping then. The view outside is quite a contrast from the sunny one in Marina La Paz. I can see Lidl’s car park in the drizzly rain and the only birds I spot now are the huge seagulls who like to perch on the lampposts. Paul has been keeping me up to date on marina life on our daily chats (videos and pics of our birds are always welcome). I do miss it all and I know I will be back there at some point. Hopefully it won’t be long until I can travel to see family and enjoy drinks in a pub with friends. In the meantime, lockdown life consists of reading, watching dramas and documentaries on Netflix and listening to the radio – not such bad ways of spending time really.


Kathy has left the building

She hasn’t as of yet, but by the time I finish and publish this blog she will be on a flight to London praying that in those 12 hours of flight, Mexico is not added to the red list of countries that will require her to be put in kennels for a couple of weeks quarantine. Of course we don’t want Mexico to be on the red list, but it seems crazy to ban the countries that have already sent the worrying viruses to the UK where it is established and spreading, and to let people bring in the new as yet undiscovered variants from countries we didn’t even know had the new variants. I think if you want to stop new variants getting into the uk, then quarantine everyone arriving. I won’t be surprised if the killer strain from worrystan ends up defeating the AZ vaccine and we end up having to start all over again. Hope not 🙂

We continue to dine out on sundays with Arturo. We used to cook a meal for him on board, but with the current high levels of the virus here, and the fact Arturo works with visitors from the USA and Mexico city, we only meet up outdoors , keep a distance and dine in outdoor restaurants now.

Dirk and Silvia are another couple who take the situation very seriously, we meet up with them every week or so for a coffee. Below you can see us on a rooftop bar with a great view out across the bay.

Arturo and I do a walking Spanish lesson once or twice a week, when he is not working we walk around town, often with a chandlers or bakery as the target destination. As we walk, Arturo tests me on my Spanish, I must say, I’m pretty good now on Pavement, Lamppost and Car. (Banqueta, Poste de luz y Carro).

After a very hot walk, we might stop for a Raspado, Arturo likes to have Chile on his Mango, not quite sure how that works.

On a bike ride with Kathy we stopped to photograph a pandemonium of parrots, finally had an excuse to use that collective noun.

We also saw a volt of vultures, obviously I had to look these up.

Last saturday, an announcement went out for a travelling musical family, who were struggling for funds, as their usual restaurant audiences had dried up. They offered to perform at the local basketball court for anyone who was interested at sunset. We went along not sure what to expect and were pleased to see dozens of fellow cruisers who had turned up. quite a crowd, initially well separated and all masked up, that changed a little as time went one and more arrived and mingled. We sat away in the corner.
They hadn’t expected anyone to turn up and had gone off to the other side of town, leaving one of the family looking after their trailer, who had to quickly try and get them all back as we amassed. A little later and they started performing.

The musicians are one family, Father/Mother, 2 sons and three daughters. They all live in one car with a trailer for all of their instruments.

They are incredibly talented, the girls had amazing voices, and the whole family seemed quite overwhelmed with the turnout. One of the cruisers put a cap out in front of the band, and after another cruiser gave one of the cruising kids a few hundred pesos to put in the hat, the cruiser kids started excitedly running around the cruisers collecting money and filling the hat. I’m thinking they made enough money to support themselves for a good while.

A few days ago this giant of a sailboat arrived, she must be 35, maybe 40m long. I was intrigued as to where they kept the anchor as the sleek prow showed no signs of one.

Something must be broken up there?

I was in luck as the next day they dropped anchor in the marina, and I saw the anchor rise out of the deck on a huge arm that swung it up in the air then over the bow ready to be lowered. Of course the reason they were doing it in the marinas was because this slightly complicated system was broken. The arm that did the work was sticking. I watched as they went up and down with it, I’m not sure they fixed it as the anchor was left hanging over the bow.

Kathy and I took a trip over to the Mogote again and had a long beach walk, we went right around the island to the development called Paraiso del mar, This is a luxury block of apartments looking out over the sea. It’s a great spot, whale sharks frequent these waters. and you have the area to yourself as it’s not easy to get to by land. I have mentioned before that I heard the development was declared ilegal before it was completed, and recently I have heard they have problems with the water supply.

Some of the Condos have not been completed after 15 years.

Yesterday I made Guacamole to have as dinner as we sat in the cockpit watching the sunset. I’ve become quite good at taking a bunch of Cilantro (coriander) and dicing it up into very small pieces. This time the mix didn’t taste as good as normal, and it was upon closer inspection I noticed that I hadn’t completley diced up the elastic band that came with the cilantro, a few little bits were obvious. It all got tipped into the bin. What an idiot.

We also went to a local clinic to get Kathy Covid tested for her trip home. They didn’t speak English, but we muddled through and Kathy had a most un-enjoyable experience getting swabbed for the PCR test.

I love watching machines, especially ones that shape food.

Kathy spent the weekend packing and fretting over all the paperwork and procedures needed for international travel these days. I organised a car rental for the the airport trip, primarily to avoid having to use a taxi for covid reasons, but secondly, I could do some shopping and exploring later. A few days ago we heard from one of the cruisers here on the radio net that he had Covid and was isolating on his boat. Two days later we heard he had been taken to the hospital, today we heard he had succumbed to the virus. Very sad.

Kathy was most relieved late on Sunday when her test results came through as ‘Negativo’, we also got the last confirmation that her covid test pack was on its way to Liverpool and we had completed the Passenger locator successfully.

So off we went for our Sunday dinner out with Arturo. We were surprised to find the restaurants staying open late, and quite busy, when it dawned on us that it was Valentines day, not something we go mad about normally.

However tonight the local rose seller, who has been trying for the best part of a year to get me to buy Kathy a rose succeeded. I felt sorry for the guy, I thought if he can’t sell me a rose on Valentines day, there’s not a lot of hope for him, or perhaps me!

We had a lovely meal in our favorite Italian restaurant, I especially like the hot bread with dipping oils, it reminds me of our sailing days in Greece.

Monday the 15th Feb
Time for Kathy to start her mammoth trek home. I head of at 9 to collect the hire car, while Kathy does the last bit of flapping, then we are off to the airport. Of course we forget there’s an extra airport health form to fill in on the web when you get there before you can check in, but I manage that just in time and Kathy’s bags are whisked away. I say goodbye, not sure just how many months it will be before we are back together.
I take the car into town, do some shopping at the big Home Depot store then pickup Arturo, we decide to do some exploring of the remoter parts of La Paz.
At the far end of the bay we find some lovely beaches, one with a bit of a shipwreck of a ferro-cement boat. I would love to know the history of this grounding.

After the boat we take a dirt track out to the Magote, it’s a very tough ride for our little car, and not much to see, other than two giant cruise ships anchored off, waiting for a better time.

We leave southern La Paz and head north through the town to a popular beach at tecalote, this place is rammed in the summer, but has strict restrictions these days, but on a cool monday afternoon, we have the place to ourselves, so decide on some food at a beach restaurant. The variety and quality on offer is fantastic, Arturo orders clams, I have Fish Tacos and Guacamole.

Back at the boat, it’s a quiet affair, and the boat seems a tad empty without Kathy. I shall have to get to work and keep myself busy now.

I track Kathy’s flights and wake up sometime in the night to see she has just landed in Heathrow and is taxiing. I get a text later to say she has cleared through and is waiting her flight to Manchester. Later today we chat once she has settled into her flat. Job done.

Paul Collister.

Winter In La Paz

It’s been raining and cold, a warning went out that it could drop below 10 degrees Celsius last week, although it seems funny, and it meant I had to dig out long trousers and a fleece for the first time in a year, the weather warnings are real here as many people live in somewhat well ventilated shacks, i.e. a few sheets of corrugated iron over some breeze blocks, and at night they can be at risk.

Very little is happening here, Lockdown stays at a high level. I finished the real computer work I was doing. I also managed to migrate my mail from Utah to my own mail server running on the Amazon cloud. Finally I can say goodbye to Bluehost.
Last weekend we took the dinghy out to the Magote for a walk along the island. It was a gorgeous day, the wind had dropped and the temperatures risen a lot, so we wanted to make the most of it.

The Water Skiing finals got off to a slow start

Maria and her mate turn up everyday for their free meals, they seem to like Sister Midnight.

Kathy has two weeks before her flight home. So far it’s going to plan, the fear of her having to stay in a hotel seems to have receded, but this could change. We may head out next week, once the winds subside and have a final week in the islands before her flight.
Once she has gone I will touch up the brightwork on the boat and head east.
I had the hull washed, in fact the diver only did the prop & bow thruster as the hull was so clean, which is great after two months sitting here, so far so good for the new antifoul. He replaced the Zinc anode on the stern which is great.

I finally managed to locate a good supply of beer, this should last a few weeks.

No shortage of pigeons here on the Art Gallery

Not sure if this is a heron, but he/she happily wanders around the marina checking the boats out.

I thought I would drop some pictures of the fruit section in Chedraui, just because it’s so colourful and I haven’t got anything better to show you.

They love peppers here
Finally if you don’t know what this is about, then I guess you’re not on twitter.

Paul Collister