Quarantined Abroad During Coronavirus: Absence of Time in Paradise

The days just seem to be blurring together.

One pastel sunrise and sunset after another, water and sky blending together at the horizon to create a painted blue mirage, lush greenery brimming with life and creatures of all shapes and sizes. This is the overall theme of my every day life, a stark contrast to what my friends and family back home are experiencing.

I am currently in Ko Samui, the second largest island in Thailand, sitting in my cozy garden bungalow, staring out into the bushes of frangipani and hibiscus, biding my time and taking a pause to reflect on what has transpired so far.

A little over a month ago, I arrived bleary eyed in Bangkok, the first stop of my trip. I was sticky, possibly smelly, and definitely excited to touch ground after almost 24 hours on two different airplanes. The airports were emptier than usual and face masks were not a ubiquitous accessory yet. I greatly benefited from empty rows on all my flights and quick processing at customs. Soon after discovering that the density and energy of Thailand’s metropolitan capital resembled New York, I quickly made my way down to the southwestern coast in search of sun, sand and sea. Hot on my trails was the increasing awareness of the effects of what has been affecting the world lately – the coronavirus. The atmosphere here was: don’t worry, just chill.

By the time I got to this current island, it had been about 3 weeks of life-as-normal, hopping from Bangkok to Ao Nang and then a bus and ferry journey to Ko Tao, meeting travelers, snorkeling with exotic fish, having late night beach hangouts, and riding our scooters to off-the-beaten path hikes to chase sunsets. Fruit shakes as a meal, sweat either from the humidity, spiciness of the food, or both.

The implementation of any rules or guidelines were slow and information trickled in from various sources – official news, the kind receptionists at my hostels, fellow travelers. Reactions ranged from panicked (other travelers) to relaxed (locals and long-time visitors/residents in Thailand). Most large hotels and restaurants are closed or cordoned off to be take out/delivery only, and I am greatly benefiting from this. Perhaps it’s my rose-colored perspective or the culture here but even with impositions (like a curfew from 10PM to 4AM), life on the island is seemingly…sane. Traffic has dissipated, locals spend their days fishing, people are lackadaisically lounging on the beaches, supermarkets are busy (no lines, though definitely face masks are worn). I am currently focusing on yoga (more on that later, since I have now discovered there can be too much of a good thing) and spending my days soaking up the sun or hiding from it, depending on my mood.

Otherwise, it’s as if I stumbled back in time before this populous place was discovered and returned to the former shell of its sleepy beach town paradise.

Quarantined in an island in Southeast Asia seems to be the most idyllic and opportune way to be spending my time. If you had told me when I first booked this trip that the world would encounter a situation that would bring it to a standstill, I would probably be as skeptical as anyone else. Maybe slightly optimistic. I still am, at this point. Some of the other travelers I’ve met on the road have taken one of two options: return home or stay here in paradise. If I had taken the first choice, I would be sitting inside my 690 sq ft. apartment in Queens, staring outside at various other brick and mortar buildings. This imagery was enough to persuade me to stick it out. I wonder how long until some semblance of normalcy returns here and everywhere else. I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like. The mandate (aka ban) on travel will be in effect until April 30th, anything after that is pretty much up for grabs. There was also a recent update for tourist visa amnesty until July 31st – unprecedented and a nice surprise.

From then, I have no plans. Well, actually, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some sort of contingency plan. My plan is to ride out the wave. I’ve always wanted to learn surfing, I guess practical application to life counts first. Maybe I’ll rent a nice little condo with a kitchen and try to remember what it’s like to cook your own meal and shop at the market. Maybe I’ll stay at my current yoga retreat hotel. Maybe I’ll end up extending my travels beyond the slated 3 months. Once this yoga teacher training is done, I have some video editing, writing and a few creative projects to catch up on. Who knows…I practice gratitude daily – for the financial ability to afford to ‘slow travel’ or ‘destination quarantine’, for the amazing people that I’ve met along my journey, for the good will and delightful surprises every day, for loving messages from friends and family. I wonder to myself often, almost every day I am confronted with the beauty of my surroundings: How much better could I have planned this? Is this what Divine Timing looks like? A true testimony to following your gut instincts?

The only thing I am reminded of, time and time again, is that the only moment is now. Enjoy and make the best of it.

xo Julia

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