It has been almost eight months to the day since we were first mandated to shelter-in-place. Since then, I have become a stay-at-home-mom/preschool teacher/daycare provider/personal chef/house manager… you get the point. Throughout lockdown, I could feel myself pushing away my wanderlust and telling myself that I did not miss travel — the idea of missing something that seemed so out of reach felt hopeless. As a parent to two small children, I know that our usual family trips would be on pause for a while because of new, and necessary, travel requirements and restrictions. But recently I had the opportunity to travel to Aruba solo, leaving my many quarantine-era jobs and the stress of being in the United States behind. It didn’t take long to realize that escaping to the Caribbean for a few days was the best decision I could have made.
After arriving in Aruba, it wasn’t just the much-needed sunshine that began to renew and revitalize my spirit. I realized that I was slowly shedding the social anxiety that had taken over the little voice in my head telling me to fear everyone and everything. Unlike the United States, Aruba and most of the Caribbean have implemented strict new guidelines for entry into the country. And for the first time in months, I felt safe.
Like most destinations that are opening back up to American tourists, a negative COVID test is required to enter Aruba. I had to present my negative results before I could check-in for my first flight out of San Jose, California, and again upon arrival in Oranjestad, Aruba. Face masks are required on all aircraft as well as in the airport, with much stricter enforcement than I had experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. Once in Aruba, there are temperature checks before entering any building, and you must use provided hand sanitizer.
Operating at 20 percent capacity, the Divi & Tamarijn Resort where I stayed required all employees to wear masks, though masks were optional for guests while on the resort. Little things such as the gentlemen who brought my luggage to my room wiping the door handle down and housekeeping placing a seal on the door of my room further cemented my belief that I was in the right place. I was comforted to know that my health was taken seriously, allowing me to truly relax for the first time all year.
Aruba has a population of just over 100,000 people and has been able to keep its COVID numbers very low. The country takes real pride in its tight-knit community and is motivated to keep each other safe. And knowing that visitors to the island have to prove their negative status prior to arrival further demonstrates that Aruba is committed to keeping their island safe while still encouraging tourism to resume. It felt especially nice to be a part of a community that works together in the way that Arubans do. I am disappointed that the same cannot be said for the United States.
The back and forth of what is safe and what is not, should we wear masks or shouldn’t we, etc. is enough to drive a sane person completely nuts. We will see the consequences of this time on the psyches of our country, and especially our children, for generations to come. The Mayo Clinic outlines the effects of stress on the body including sleep problems, fatigue, and even chest pain. I admit that the stress associated with the upheaval of my life has affected me off and on since the pandemic began. That is why my time abroad in Aruba was so special. If you are able to spend any amount of time safely outside of the United States at this time, I implore you to do so. We may never explore the world like we used to, for better or worse, but for the brief time that I was away, it felt good to exhale, relax, and breathe. I also appreciated how much I missed the small things that I took for granted before lockdown.
I never realized how much I smiled as a way to say hello or acknowledge seeing someone. To me, it seems like everyone is a little angry and tense with a mask on because I can only interpret their emotions from their eyes or any gestures they may choose to make. While in Aruba, it was refreshing to be able to say hello to strangers in passing again. I almost exclusively wore my mask unless I was eating or drinking, but when I was not wearing my mask, I found myself smiling and saying hello to just about everyone I made eye contact with. Not only did I feel safer for my physical health while in Aruba, but my mental health was finally getting the attention it deserved as well. This trip turned out to be a reboot of sorts and now I feel optimistic again that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It is still a very faint, very far off light, but I can see it again. And traveling outside of the United States is what allowed me to see it.
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