Updated: Mar 24
Note: Unlike most of my posts, this one is in diary format and is more personal. There are political views and almost certainly bad language ("Boris Johnson did what? What an utter fuckwit...")
If you're just here for the culture, tourism and 'how to' articles, maybe skip this one 😉
As readers of this blog will know, recently we quit our jobs and set out to travel through Latin America. Our first choice of destination was La Paz, Baja California Sur; our second port of call was Guadalajara, Jalisco.
We'd been in Mexico 5 months and were planning our next move: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Cuba were all candidates. Then suddenly, the shit hit the fan, and the world went crazy.
I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveller. I've been to over 30 countries, 20 US states, most of Europe, Canada, Mexico - even Easter Island.
I've accumulated these miles over many years - sometimes with work, usually on regular holidays; the last few years I've managed to wangle month-long trips.
Now I'm working online and travelling through Latin America.
You can plan for most eventualities. I've had planes abort takeoffs and landings, flights cancelled, accommodation not available on arrival. Missed connections.
All the normal slings and arrows that the Travel Gods deem fit to throw at us. I think I'm pretty good at planning and mitigating them all.
What you don't regularly have to factor in is leaving home to travel to a new continent, and then finding yourself in the middle of a worldwide epidemic.
And it's fair to say - it's pretty fucking taxing.
We've been in Guadalajara for about 7 weeks as of today, and we love it. But we're getting to the end of the 6-month FMM (tourist visa) and need to leave the country. We spent a fair bit of time deciding what to do next, and after the typical domestic bickering about prices, places and so on, we finally agreed how to proceed.
From this point onwards, this blog will act more or less as a diary of events in Guadalajara as they happened.
Tuesday 10th March: We're Off To Guatemala!
In the end we decided to visit Guatemala, fly on to Mérida in Yucatan, before coming back into Guadalajara. Mérida was high on our must-visit list; apart from the cenotes and incredible architecture, it has intense Mayan culture and history, and the village of Chicxulub - which gave its name to the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Guatemala was also a must-see. We decided on a week in Antigua Guatemala, the old capital which was destroyed by earthquakes in the 18th century. It's surrounded by volcanoes, isn't too far from the Pacific coast, and there's an incredible lake a couple of hours drive inland.
After travelling and working so long, we were looking forward to a break!
Wednesday 11th March: No, We're Not
I woke up this morning and discovered that the Guatemalan government has closed its borders to all European citizens - as well as Chinese and Korean - to try to stem the transmission of COVID-19. Looks like we are not going to Guatemala after all.
A quick check with our travel insurance verifies that we're not covered. (In fairness, it is essentially intended for emergency medical treatment and evacuation only).
Flights and accommodation for both of us for 2-3 weeks came to about £1,000. That's a grand we've essentially had to write off.
Mood change from last night: major downer.
Thursday 12 March: Or Are We?
OK, this is getting silly now. Guatemala has today updated its travel position and says it will only ban admission to people travelling from Italy, France, Spain, Korea, Iran and China. So we're back on. Maybe.
We fully expect this position to change further over the next few weeks and are keeping abreast of the news. Now asking the question of whether we actually want to travel, even if we can do. The virus is clearly spreading at a rate of knots; Italy, then France/Spain, then the whole of Europe is shadowing the curve of Hubei province.
It's clear it's heading our way; the question is how fast and how hard.
Saturday 14th March: The World Has Gone Nuts
A whole string of announcements today - or yesterday - it's honestly hard to keep track. The US has closed its borders to Europe - the Schengen countries at any rate. Classy politics but lousy science - unless the UK is also added. I'm sure it will be soon.
[Update: UK and Ireland added effective 16/17th March]
Countries around the world are closing down, shutting borders, and panicking. This is why - from one of the most read and shared articles on the crisis.
On a more positive note - our hostel in Guadalajara and the airline have agreed that we can retain the trip on credit for up to 12 months. So we're trying to think of it as a deferment rather than a cancellation.
On the downside - the local Soriana is out of bog roll, and there is no hand sanitiser to be found anywhere - including online. It's not panic buying, but people are twitchy:
I saw one couple head home with an entire trolley full of paper. Monkey see, monkey do? But again, it's not panic buying - yet.
People are twitchy; they're stocking up; they're not hoarding, certainly not in our part of town.
Tuesday 17th March: Waiting For The Storm
In Guadalajara, coronavirus is being treated with a degree of seriousness. Some parks have been closed down; the Jalisco state authorities have suspended schools (and the Federal Government has done so too). Markets and tianguises are being closed - if the stall holders vote to close.
Honestly, the situation in Mexico is depressingly like the ones we see in the US and UK - lack of testing, poor communication, little overt action to protect the public. Virtually alone, Mexico has imposed no travel bans in or out of the country; because of its current case count, no countries have yet blocked travel into Mexico either.
This will change.
[Update: over the weekend of 20/22 March the USA and Mexico reciprocally agreed to close land borders for all but essential travel. Bizarrely this does NOT cover air traffic.]
On a personal level: it's weird, upsetting and off the map. Only a few weeks ago it was "Relax, it's just another weird Chinese flu"; nobody apart from the idiot to our North is still trying to play it down. We set out for a life of travel and adventure. We find ourselves reminded to be careful what you wish for.
The hardest part is watching the scenes from around the world, talking to friends back home; reading the news reports; then walking through town here watching people go about their business as it nothing is happening.
Sure, there are bottles of hand sanitiser on the market stalls. Yes, schools are closed and there are a few minor interruptions to the routine. But the state government has been forced to remind people that the closure isn't free extra holiday - it's designed to limit movement through the next 4 weeks over the super-busy Easter holidays here.
Walking down Chapultepec yesterday, past the restaurants and market booths, I kept getting flash-forwards like I was in some dystopian movie. I fought the urge to grab people and shout "Don't you know what's fucking coming?"
We both have elderly relatives and friends back home. Even if we wanted to, it's too late now to get back to the UK.
What makes it even worse is we're talking to students, in every part of the world, every day: and all they want to talk about is coronavirus. As they're invariably younger than us, we end up giving free counselling; trying to keep conversations upbeat, even when we don't feel it ourselves.
It's not great for your mental health.
Still: we've got a few spare rolls of arse paper, and the only hoarding I've done is... well, see for yourself:
It can't really be the end of the world as long as can still have a nice cup of decent tea, right? :)
Mrs Wench has taken the Felicity Kendal approach - get shit tons of fresh veg and make it into sauce for storage:
She also bought me a couple of bottles of tequila - just to be on the safe side.
Today's Paddy's Day. I was never a huge celebrant, but for those who are - Slainte. I'm sure we'll all be jist grand. I may have a wee sniff of the local good stuff before bed.
Saturday 21rd March: Shit's Getting Real
Still no major panic here, although the President is getting some serious flak for his lack of action on travel restrictions, business closures, and his general shoulder-shrugginess about the whole COVID pandemic situation.
“Pandemics … won’t do anything to us,” he said on Monday while accusing the media and his political opponents of exaggerating the threat of the virus.
Remarkable that a socialist leader can echo so closely the utterances of the Idiot To The North 😳
In fact, he's not just ignoring the threat; he's actively embracing it. Quite literally.
He insists on holding rallies, wading into crowds of supporters and pressing the flesh.
He refuses to wash his hands when offered bottles of hand sanitiser, because he prefers to place his trust in his collection of good-luck charms. He even showed them off on TV - a 2-dollar US bill and some Catholic scapulars are apparently especially effective at warding off the disease.
Luckily, state and city authorities - as well as businesses themselves - are taking action themselves, prompted by 6-8 weeks watching this shitstorm unfold in other parts of the world. The Jalisco state government has ordered non-essential business to close; bars are closed; restaurants may stay open with enhanced sanitisation protocols and must reduce capacity by 50%, in order to keep people 2m apart.
Yesterday, the State Governor made an appeal for everyone to stay home for the next 5 days. We're apparently at the inflection point of the curve where we can still nip it in the bud; the next 5 days are critical.
Last night we were saying goodbye to a friend who was leaving GDL, so we went for a drink in Chapultepec. We've been here 2 months and the place is usually jumping. Tonight it was dead.
Back home things seem pretty bad. I'm reading way too many reports of people not being able to get food and basic medicine. London, Manchester, also Scotland.
Yes, this is partly idiots panic buying, but you have to wonder what a more coherent and competent government would do different. Like in Mexico, many businesses and local governments seem left to figure it out for themselves.
It is ripping through London right now. I know of at least 3 friends who either have it or are getting over it.
On a positive note: we can't leave GDL for the foreseeable, so we decided to try to relocate our next Airbnb. We had booked to stay in the very centre or town; rightly or wrongly we felt safer being somewhere a couple of miles out. Due to Airbnb's coronavirus extenuating circumstances policy, we upset the host but were able to get our money back. We're now looking forward to hunkering down in a secure but airy place out in Chapalita.
We're not in isolation yet, but we're watching the walls slowly close around us. I hope we've made the right decision to stay here - I believe we have, but only time will tell.
Monday 23rd March: Guadalajara Locked Down (Almost)
Back in Blighty, BoJo today decided to soften his previous position of "We need to protect the economy and let people die!", to "We're all going to die! Stay at home or else!" - which is probably the right thing to do in the circumstances.
We all suffer from a bit of cognitive dissonance from time to time, I think; what's unusual is watching a leading politician do it live on TV. Apart from TITON - The Idiot to our North - who has been doing it for almost 4 years now. (I know. I was quite pleased with that acronym 😜)
AMLO - the Mexican President - is still flying around the country as if nothing is going on.
Meanwhile, back in the real world - his Health Ministry has been continuing to try to get the message out - including with the surprisingly popular figure of "Susana Distancia" - a cartoon superhero who looks suspiciously like a Mexican Wonder Woman, and whose name is a Spanish pun (Su sana distancia = a healthy distance).
Locally, the Jalisco governor is continuing to apply pressure and trying to prepare for the worst. Today he petitioned the Mexican transport authorities to close down incoming flights to the state from COVID-19 affected countries. He's also apparently working hard to secure test kits and additional medical equipment.
I'm no student of Mexican politics so it's hard to tell if any of this is real or just posturing. But at the least he's talking a good game, and he's giving clear and consistent direction to the people of Jalisco.
And most of them seem to be listening. The streets are far from empty, but they're very quiet. Public transport is still running. Almost all businesses other than restaurants, supermarkets and pharmacies are closed. Folks are wearing masks more obviously now, despite the lack of real protection they offer - even the squeegee guys at traffic lights are selling them.
One of the quirky things about Mexico is that when you buy goods at the supermarket, they're packed by "volunteer packers" at the end of the checkout. These people are invariably pensioners. I'm pretty sure they're not paid by the shops - they rely on tips from shoppers.
Soriana - our local supermarket - has decided this is a bad time to have OAPs exposed to the public, and has sent them home. They've put a box for donations for them - even though you're now packing yourself - and they're matching whatever is put in the box.
I think this is wonderful.
But when you do walk into a grocery shop, people are eyeing each other sideways. They keep a distance. I went for a short walk earlier after going to the shop and saw people actively cross the road to avoid me.
It would be comical if it weren't for the circumstances.
Mrs Wench and are trying to keep sane. The teaching helps; I did a whole lesson today about the Ancient Wonders of the World, and talked about positive human achievements. Wenchie is doing daily living room YouTube jiggling; I'm working up the levels on the Nintendo Switch version of the old classic Skyrim.
Here's a video I recorded when I was out walking yesterday. It's a beautiful city; the situation here is very similar to back in Europe, except that we're still several weeks behind the curve.
We don't have the investment or health infrastructure of the first world; the advantage we do have is time to prepare.
I hope the authorities don't squander it.
Come back and check out the page for ongoing updates.