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Should snowbirds travel to Yucatan this winter?

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Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado is a writer, artist and educator from British Columbia, Canada. She has lived in Merida, Yucatan, since 1976, where she co-founded the TTT school and raised two children. Joanna blogs at Changes In Our Lives.
Going to Yucatan this winter? Think through your decision. Photo: Weerayut Ranmai / EyeEm

This past New Year’s Eve, I thought that 2020 held particular promise. The sound and symmetry of the year were pleasing – four crisp syllables, nicely rounded numerals – and then too, the last 20s decade had a “roaring” reputation. I felt optimistic. But the resurgence of perky flapper girls dancing the Charleston, and novels like “The Great Gatsby” never materialized.

Our expectations were completely dashed on March 11 with an official declaration by the United Nations — the coronavirus crisis had morphed into a pandemic — and staying healthy became our all-encompassing preoccupation. People over 55 embraced self-isolation with the zeal of hermits. Face masks, acrylic shields, latex gloves, chlorine bleach, Lysol antiseptic, and alcohol-gel appeared at the top of every shopping list. We were terrified of this unknown virus.

Six months later, we all know a lot about COVID-19. And there have been scores of manmade and natural disasters to accompany the scourge. More than one doomsday theory has made the rounds. We have grown accustomed to living with “the new reality” — also known as “confusion” — and we are sick and tired of being cooped up. We want “the old reality” back; it was not perfect, but we could plan our lives and certain activities were a given.

Tourism is the mainstay of Yucatan. After six months with virtually no tourists, our economy is on the skids. Our formerly vibrant entertainment and restaurant scene is in tatters and even the venturing out to buy provisions takes nerve. And of course, the permanent foreign residents receive regular emails and Facebook messages from concerned family and friends living north of the border. They want to know how we’re managing — and BTW — is it “safe” for them to fly down for the winter? The prospect of spending a cold six months is not appealing and our friends have also realized how much they love many aspects of their winter home.

What can we tell these people? Is it totally irresponsible to reassure them that all will be well? Don’t worry, be happy? On the surface, it sounds like we should answer with a resounding no! But the truth is not so one-dimensional.

In July, I traveled to Canada. I spent two weeks in quarantine and one month doing the banking, “rendering to Caesar” and of course seeing friends and family.

For me, a summer trip to Canada is usually a whirlwind social extravaganza, visiting with my sisters, cousins, aunties and friends whom I’ve known forever, meeting new grandnieces and grandnephews, picnicking in parks, walking around lakes and hilly trails, eating at restaurants, finding great sales in the malls — I love, love, love it.

And how was it this year, in times of coronavirus? Well, it was not like what I am used to. I felt nervous when I had to go outside my living space, I had much trepidation about going into stores and I was maniacal about hand sanitizing and social distancing. I felt afraid of restaurants and anywhere many people congregate. Getting through the airports and actual air travel was particularly crazy. Nonetheless, for many reasons, I am so glad I went; I accomplished what I went for and I got to see many of the people I love. I know my family and friends felt nervous around me too, but our need to see each other was greater than our fear. We took every precaution possible.

And so to my friends who ask if they should come to Yucatan this winter, I say that yes, come here. But do not expect that you’ll be able to carry on as you have every other year. Socialization is available, but limited – you need to be careful – just like at home. As far as the reopening of services is concerned, this changes according to the infection stats. But the current calendar was published in Yucatan Expat Life and elsewhere.

Hospitals and other medical facilities are open, and yes, there are available ICU rooms, should the worst happen.

To reiterate a few points:
• I am not offering a blanket endorsement for travel or staying in Yucatan for an extended period. The decision should be made with care by each person.
• If you do decide to visit Yucatan, please help the local population with their needs. They have endured much hardship the past 6 months, so if you have clothing, small household items, tools or food staples to spare, consider bringing an extra suitcase with donations. Kimmy at Yucatan Giving Outreach or Pastor Jose V. Arruda at St. Luke’s Church can help you get your donations where they are most needed.
• Anyone who has autoimmune, cardiac or pulmonary issues should probably stay put.
• If healthy northerners who have spent their winters in Yucatan for some time now decide to return this year, they must take care to not get carried away by the warm sun, sultry Latin vibe and the potent margaritas.
• As for first-time travelers to Yucatan, do your research. Choose airline, other transportation and accommodation options that have secure ratings. This is not the year for backpacking and sleeping on the beach.
• For everyone — spending part of the winter in Yucatan will be as safe as you make it — and as British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry says, “Be kind, be calm and be safe.”

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