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Published: March 23rd 2020
It's a beautiful Sunday morning here in Santiago, Chile. Most of our small group arrived on Friday morning, looking forward to a lovely trip through four countries in South America, and for me, another chance to escape some of the winter's colorless cold in Maine. Our group numbers only ten intrepid travellers; eight had already cancelled for fears of the coronavirus or of the unknown. As it turned out, they were the smart ones. I hardly expected this trip to go forward because of all the shutdowns, but after calling Vantage and the airline multiple times (including on the morning I left home), I was repeatedly told that there were no problems in South America. So I travelled most of the day Thursday, and after arriving on Friday morning we met our Vantage leader, Nadia, and our local guide, Chris. We all enjoyed a sunny, warm and pleasant day being introduced to Santiago and Chile. I was very glad I had come! Until Friday evening.
Before our welcome dinner we met (as is usual on these group trips) to go over what all we'd be doing and seeing for the next two and a half weeks here in South America. But eight hours after arriving, and happily toasting each other with Pisco sours, Nadia then told us that Argentina was on lockdown, that our tour would be shortened, truncated to only exploring Chile. We would not be going to Argentina, Uruguay, or Brazil. Our flights back to the US were already booked for next Tuesday; she felt that was the best thing to do.
Most in the group accepted this easily, but at least two of us were very angry. I had called and called about what Vantage was going to do, constantly being reassured that all would be well for our trip. So on the evening of the very day we arrived we were told we'd be going home again in less than four days' time was infuriating to me. Oh, we'll have a wonderful time, Nadia said. "You can come back!" she said. Yes, we had been having an excellent day, but Vantage should not have put us in this mess, and maybe, in their thinking, erred instead of the side of foresight, expecting other countries to also panic and close their borders. But we were the ones caught in the net.
I think quarantining everybody is a most ineffective way of handling what is now being thought of as a global crisis. Washing hands, covering sneezes and coughs, staying home when ill, all the things we were taught for good hygiene as young children could all - and certainly still can! - limit the spread of any disease. Plus building and maintaining a healthy immune system is paramount.
Now our group is left with so many unanswered questions, so much extreme stress that simply could have been avoided with a careful and thoughtful decision beforehand. The ten of us who came trusted our travel company to consider everything that was happening, to make a good decision for their travellers. Who knows what will happen once we arrive in Miami, if we'll even be able to fly into the US? Will I be quarantined alone, as I am travelling solo? Will I be able to get home next week? Will travel between the states be limited? This is an untenable situation, and even though Nadia keeps telling me it is not their fault, I do blame Vantage for putting all of us in it. They were not thinking responsibly nor putting their (admittedly elderly) customers' safety first. It would have been so much easier to be ensconced safely at home, riding out the storm in at least familiar and comfortable surroundings, not feeling so much incredible stress in trying to deal with all these new conditions while travelling in a foreign country. But here we are in Chile while countries around the world are shutting down and closing their borders. What will happen with all of us who suddenly find ourselves unmoored in these unsettled times?
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