Destination: Spain

From our guest blogger and friend Richard Joseph: Fully vaxxed, boostered, and tested negative, I walked up to the United Airlines counter with confidence. Maybe I felt disappointed or just plain relieved, but I was issued a boarding pass without being asked to provide proof for any of these. My destination, Spain. At this moment in “Covid time” a vaccination was good enough to get me into Germany where I would change planes on the way to Barcelona.

For Spain, there were forms to fill out (no more than 48 hours in advance) in order to get a “QR code” indicating the traveler is sufficiently healthy to enter the country. Sure enough, upon arrival there were checkpoints with “Foreign Health Authority” inspectors armed with scanners to give my “QR” the “OK”.

It didn’t take long to get a sense that the virus is being taken very seriously in this country. The men’s restrooms, had spacing precautions to only use every other urinal. Outdoors a far greater percentage of people were wearing masks than I had seen at home in the U.S.

Those masked men and women filled the streets walking among the brightly illuminated decorations along La Rambla, the famous walkway from the Placa Catalunya to the sea.

Street performers romanced tourists with the harp, breakdanced and rapped in Spanish or in Catalan (the revered regional language) on the plazas that surround Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The narrow winding streets feature one elegantly decorated small shop after another. No problem entering them, but restaurants were a different story.

At Granja La Pallaresa a man requested, “passport” before allowing people to enter. I don’t think he wanted our U.S. passport, but rather was seeking the European Union’s digital proof of vaccination. Well, I didn’t have one of those, but it turned out my now ragged CDC card was the entry document needed to get inside for their delicious chocolate con churros (fried dough dipped into hot chocolate).

Barcelona was beautiful, but what I really needed after two years of Covid anxiety was a beach. My initial thought was to fly down to the Canary Islands where temperatures top off at about 70 degrees this time of year, but there was a warmer alternative. There are very reasonably priced flights from Spain to Cancun Mexico and then onto the states.

What I didn’t count on was a short connection at the poorly laid out Madrid Barajas Airport. I get off my domestic flight onto a bus which took

me from one end of the airport terminal all the way to the other end. Then when I get off I had to walk back to the area where I had just disembarked from my plane. The sign read “Terminal 3, 25 minutes.” They weren’t kidding and that was probably without all the holiday foot traffic.

Nevertheless I made my flight where I never felt better paying for extra for an aisle seat. It seemed everyone in Spain wanted to go to Cancun (well, they do speak a little Spanish there).

Ten hours later arriving in Cancun I realized that I hadn’t completed my online health form for Mexico. It’s required to have another of those “QR” codes to enter the country. I figured I would fill it out when they ask for it. They never did.

That attitude seemed to pretty much sum up the Covid precautions for tourists in Cancun. Wear a mask, if you want. Employees wore masks, but patrons were not advised to put them on. The outrageous scene that struck me was at a place called Coco Bongo. The staff may wear masks, but in front of a stage was a swimming pool with about 100 dancing vacationers face to face without masks. What a great picture I thought, but didn’t dare get close out of fear of the virus.

Cancun fulfilled my dreams of white sand, crystal clear waters, and tequila. If you want thumping party music on the sand you can have it. I chose to flee a short distance to be rid of it.

All the beaches may be public, however getting to them can be tricky. For example, I stayed near Caracol beach, but a wall of luxury hotels separated me from where I wanted to be. Fortunately I had spotted a tip online that access was possible near the offices of the eco theme park Excaret. A narrow driveway led to me to a perfect beach where for $20 I could have a thatched umbrella and lounge chair with a beachfront restaurant and bar nearby.

I was given a purple wrist bracelet to show I had rightfully paid (although laying on the beach is perfectly free). Those bracelets are not just a status symbol, but a key of entry. When I got a bit bored staring at the same patch of sea I decided to go for a walk. Unless you have the right bracelet, hotel security guards will chase you away from their premises.

Some of those premises have made the news for the wrong reasons recently. In December gunmen dressed in military uniforms arrived on jet skis, invaded the hotel zone firing weapons into the air, changed their clothes, then disappeared into the area. Tourists took cover. Previously in November members of a drug cartel came ashore at Puerto Morelos south of Cancun on the Rivera Maya and executed two rival gang members.

Yes there is security. California beaches may have well toned lifeguards, but in Cancun they have camouflage dressed Marines patrolling. They wear balaclavas to cover their faces and carry weapons meant for war.

The most recent U.S. Covid entry rules require a negative test a day before your departure. Along the main drag, Avenida Kukulkan, there are shipping containers turned into Covid testing stations. The rapid antigen test costs $30 within an hour or less. Of course neither at the Cancun airport or upon entering the United States did anyone ask for proof of that negative test.

One more thing. In the previous three months I have traveled on three continents, been on more flights than I care to count and did not get Covid.

Six days after arriving home I took a test got a positive result. After all that safe traveling I think I figured out where I caught it, from a family member right in my own house.

Photos courtesy of writer

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