COVID-19–Wanna Get Away? But Where?

A cloud of fear and anxiety envelops our pandemic panicked world. The news is an endless stream of death counts, PPE shortages, and job losses. A person can only take so much. At some point we’re all going to end up like the lady in the commercial who’s in the bathtub saying, “Calgon, take me away!” Wouldn’t it be nice to go some place untouched by coronavirus? Sorry to burst your bath bubble, but that’s simply a pipe dream. There’s nowhere good to go.

The smart folks at Johns Hopkins University (“JHU”) have helpfully compiled a map detailing the virus’ presence and provided a breakdown of the confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries by country. (Check it out at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.)  Confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide are approaching 1.5 million with 87,000+ deaths. Yet, believe it or not, there are countries in the world which have yet (and I stress “yet”) to record a coronavirus case.

Per JHU, 16 countries are coronavirus free as of April 8th. In alphabetical order, they are Comoros; Kirabati; Lesotho; the Marshall Islands; Micronesia; Nauru; Palau; Samoa; the Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu; and Yemen. Detect a pattern in these places untouched, as yet, by the pandemic? Mainly they are small, remote islands which are not tourist hot spots. 

So, assuming international travel was currently a possibility, what virus free country would be your destination of choice to ride out the pandemic? Think any of the possibilities would be THE place to be right now? Let’s check out some of the options and see how viable they are as a place to get away from it all–with “all” mainly meaning the coronavirus.

Honestly, I’ not even heard of some of the countries JHU listed. Take Nauru for example. Confess. You hadn’t heard of it either, right? Well there’s a good reason we haven’t. It is a SMALL island country northeast of Australia with just over 10,000 people. Sure, Nauru may be an exotic location, but the place only has one hospital and a shortage of nurses. Is that really where you want to hide out from the feared coronavirus? If the pandemic did rear its ugly head in Nauru, you would be sunk.

Asia has three countries without confirmed COVID-19 cases–North Korea, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. For political reasons, I’d have to pass hunkering down in any of these countries even to get away from a pandemic. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were both part of the former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan is still described as repressive. If I’m going to be forced to stay home, I’d prefer to do so here in the U.S. where the order was issued by a democratically elected government that recognize I have rights.

Then there’s North Korea. The fact that (so they say) it has no coronavirus cases is the only good thing you can say about that country. North Korea is widely accused of having the worst human rights in the world. A United Nations human rights inquiry in 2014 found concerns about the scale and nature of such violations. North Korea is run by Kim Jung-un, a (possibly crazy) dictator with access to the button to launch nuclear weapons. The military is everywhere with 37% of the country’s population active, reserve, or paramilitary personnel. And the availability of food can be an issue. A famine between 1994-1998 resulted in between 240,000 and 420,000 deaths in North Korea. Not a top getaway choice, huh?

A beach paradise might be a good get away spot. Would Comoros fit that bill? For those of you who are geographically ignorant (like I was), Comoros is an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population approaching one million. While the location sounds intriguing, it becomes less ideal the more you learn. The country has a high level of poverty with a mostly rural agricultural economy. Moreover, the islands comprising it–3 major islands and numerous smaller islands–are volcanic. You might avoid being in a pandemic hot spot in Comoros but be in the path of some hot, hot, hot lava instead. Nope!

Would Kirabati be a more suitable island location.? The island country,  located in the central Pacific Ocean, is made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island; only 21 of these islands are even inhabited. That sounds pretty exotic! But….it is one of the least developed countries in the world. Fifty-four percent of the population are heavy smokers. In addition, Kiribati suffers from a lack of fresh water. Hmm…die of thirst or from inhaling second hand smoke in an attempt to avoid catching the coronavirus? What appealing choices–NOT! Water being essential to my continued existence, I’d pass on hanging out on Kiribati till the pandemic blows over.

Perhaps a more high profile island location, like Vanuatu, is needed for the great coronavirus escape. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Vanuatu was the location for season 9 of the reality TV series “Survivor.” It is also well known to scuba enthusiasts. The country, which is a Y-shaped archipelago of 82 small islands, is considered a premier destination for scuba exploration of coral reefs. Vanuatu additionally boasts access to one of the largest shipwrecks recreational divers may explore–the wreck of the SS President Coolidge which was sunk during World War II.

Sounds good so far. But wait. There are some significant drawbacks to Vanuatu. First, it was just hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold which was packing winds of 250 km/hour and approaching Category 5 status. Yikes!  Second, your social life will be even worse on Vanuatu than if you stayed in the good old USA. The country has banned social gatherings of more than FIVE people for now. As with Comoros, Vanuatu is of volcanic origin. It also has frequent earthquakes. Bottom line? Beautiful scenery doesn’t trump the threat of cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

You know, maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are being on lock down here in the U.S. after all. Considering alternative locations, we have it pretty good even if we do have to frequently wash our hands, stay six feet away from others, and forgo engaging in non-essential activities. We are a developed country with lots of resources and, even better, it’s home. There’s no place like it–even during a pandemic.

Just WONDER-ing:

If it was possible, would you run away to a different country to escape COVID-19? Will any country be able to avoid having a confirmed coronavirus case? In post-pandemic times, where would you like to go to get away?

 

 

 

 

I Want To Pack It In When I Have To Pack

 

It’s a good news, bad news kind of week.The good, well in fact great, news is that I will be engaging in international travel in just a few days on a church mission trip. The bad news is that I have to pack for it. While I love traveling, I hate packing. I’d rather clean my toilet (my least favorite household chore) than pack. On second thought, I don’t want to do either!

Putting stuff in a suitcase isn’t that big a deal. It’s determining WHAT to put in the suitcase. Since I’m a be prepared kind of gal, I want to be armed with the appropriate clothing and items to deal with any situation which might arise. The weather might be hot. The weather might be cold. There might be a dressy event. There might be a time to exercise. I might feel under the weather. I might get a boo boo. The possibilities are endless as to what i might need while I am away from home.

To face this seemingly monumental task of packing for eight days of travel, I decided to put my brain to use. Why not research packing? Surely that will solve my travel preparation dilemma–or not.

One of the first suggestions I read was to lay out all the items you think you should take with you; then put half the items back. Clearly overpacking is a big issue. Sorry, if I follow this sage advice, that still leaves me with half of my closet and half of the items from my bathroom. My suitcase is not that big, and the airline have a 50 pound limit after all. Still stressing.

Oh, here’s a brilliant suggestion as to what to remove from your suitcase–your pet! I kid you not. This suggestion actually appeared in a serious packing article. Apparently other pet owners have the same issue I do. When the suitcase comes out, the cat goes in. I see a monster to be dealt with; the feline sees a new place to nap. Check. Cat removed. Still dealing with what to put in on top of all the cat hair that is now in my suitcase.

Eventually, I’m sure I will determine what to take with me and what to leave home. Then I am faced with the issue of how to put all this stuff in the suitcase. Yes, there’s an art to it. Shoes take up the most room, so they are packed first and are placed around the inside perimeter of the suitcase. Since I have very small feet (size 5) and not that many shoes to begin with, this step isn’t so difficult for me. Packing experts advise you to wear your heaviest pair while traveling, so I have to plan my travel wardrobe around my sneakers.

Now, to place the clothing in my suitcase. Heavens, I have been doing it wrong all these years. Silly me, I thought you just folded the attire and placed it in the suitcase like you would place the item in a dresser drawer. WRONG! Two methods are available–rolling and the burrito. Rolling clothes allows the traveler to conserve space, reduces wrinkling of the packed clothes, and makes it easier to find the clothes in the suitcase. The burrito method calls for similar clothing to be wrapped together like a burrito. I can’t follow the burrito method of wrapping a newborn in a blanket, so I don’t even want to attempt to wrap my clothes.

All this talk of rolls and burritos has me hungry. Unbelievably, none of the articles I read about packing addressed how to place snacks in one’s suitcase. Just guessing that everyone takes all their snacks on the plane in carry on luggage because you should always keep your valuables with you. And my snacks of choice will be quite valuable to me when I am sick of complimentary peanuts and unfulfilled by the lack of meal service in the economy class cabin where I’ll be sitting. OK, no snacks in the suitcase.

Smart packers use every available space in the suitcase. Thus, it is suggested that small items be stuffed inside your shoes. Hmm! Better make sure that the shoes don’t smell before cramming my unmentionables inside them. Moms always advise that clean underwear be worn, and I’m guessing that “clean” is broadly defined to mean not stinky.

Then there’s layering. No, I don’t mean getting a new hairstyle before saying bon voyage. Apparently some clothes do have to be folded. If that’s the case, then layering is the appropriate method to use. Folded garments should be placed on top of rolled garments to avoid wrinkling. Wrinkles must be avoided at all costs because you don’t want to have to pack a heavy iron. Who wants to iron while traveling? Not me. I don’t even want to iron when I’m at home.

Speaking of appliances, let’s not forget that foreign countries pose the challenge of different electrical capacities. An adaptor is essential if you want to use items such as a hairdryer there. Fortunately, the adaptor is very small and could easily fit inside a packed shoe. And who cares if your adaptor stinks afterwards?

I am going to be a happy camper when my plane takes off Sunday evening. Yes, I am thrilled to be going to a beautiful destination for a meaningful reason, but I will be even happier that the dilemma of packing will be behind me. And if I fail in successfully packing, what’s the worst that can happen? No one in Budapest will know me, so who cares if my clothes are wrinkled, inappropriate for the weather, and stinky?

Just WONDER-ing: What do you dislike the most about traveling? Do you have any helpful packing tips?

 

 

Taste Bud Travel

Just because you can’t travel to some exotic destination doesn’t mean that you can’t get a taste of that location–literally.  While my body is not physically experiencing being out of the country this summer, I am making sure that my taste buds are well traveled.  Trying the cuisine of other countries is something that I can do in the comfort of my own home, without breaking my bank account, and without having to worry about travel arrangements.

Past vacations in Mexico and a mission trip to Guatemala left me hungering to return to these places.  While my responsible adult schedule does not permit me to fly away there currently, that inability will not stop me from bringing the taste of these locations to me.

The other night I could close my eyes, take a sip and indulge in the fantasy of being in a Spanish-speaking country.  No alcoholic beverages were needed to bring this dream to mind.  I simply needed some initiative, a recipe, a few inexpensive ingredients and a common kitchen tool–my handy dandy blender.

My culinary itinerary called for me to imbibe a favorite beverage of Mexico and Guatemala called Horchata.  But to drink it, I first had to make it.  A favorite food magazine provided me a recipe that appeared to be quick and easy. Fortunately for me, the version of Horchata made in Mexico and Guatemala is rice-based.  In Africa, the drink is made with chufa–tiger nuts.  Not having any such nut trees in my yard or large cats willing to part with essential body parts, I was content to work with rice.

The first step of the recipe involved mixing up a cup of rice with some water in the blender.  Who doesn’t like pushing buttons, hearing a whirring noise, and watching stuff swirl around in the container before you?  I felt like a bit of a mad scientist making some strange creation.  I mean–uncooked rice in a blender??

The mixed up contents were then transferred to a bowl where more water was added.  Then the stuff had to sit for a few hours.  At the designated time, the white, watery mixture was strained to remove the rice remains.  A second bowl was required in which to whisk sugar and cinnamon together.  Just a whiff of cinnamon takes the imagination to an exotic location in one’s mind.  Splish, splash.  Add the rice water, a bit of milk, and vanilla extract.  Mmm!

Time to chill–literally and figuratively.  The beverage needs to be cool, so I had to cool my heels while that was happening.  Truth be told, I wasn’t very chill and did not wait the suggested amount of time.  I simply couldn’t wait to reach my taste bud’s travel destination.  I packed some ice cubes in a fun stemmed glass and VOILA!  Let the vacation in my mouth begin!

This experience was such fun travel for my taste buds that I am already eager to plan another such trip.  Where to next?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:  To what destination would you like to travel?  If you can’t physically go there, what food or beverage from that location could you experience at home?

 

 

 

 

 

Survivor–The Summer Road Trip

open road

The purpose of taking a summer vacation is to get away from it all–to rest, relax and regroup before returning to the rat race.  The problem is that you are tired and frazzled when you leave on the road trip to get to your vacation destination.  On top of your daily responsibilities, you have had to pack, make arrangements for your pets, figure out the best route to travel, etc.  And then you take on the most stressful part of your vacation–spending hours on the road getting from point A to point B.

If you are the driver, at least you are occupied with maneuvering your vehicle down the highway.  It may be dull, but you have to keep an eye on the posted speed limit, watch out for merging vehicles, pass slow moving trucks, etc.  But what does the poor adult passenger do to survive the interminable hours on the road before your reach point B?

I recently participated in “Survivor–The Summer Road Trip,” so I was forced to determine how to avoid insanity en route.  Since millions of Americans will be hitting this road for a summer vacation, I want to share my findings on how to survive for the benefit of future travelers.

In this electronic age, most drivers rely on a GPS and/or mapquest to get them where they are going.  Don’t be fooled by the travel time which is given to you.  Electronic travel time is not equivalent to real travel time.  Electronic travelers apparently never have to stop to get gas, eat, or use the restroom.  Therefore, don’t be lulled into a false timetable.  Add at least an hour to the time your device tells you.  If you think that it will take 11 hours to get to your destination and it takes 12, you will be frustrated because you were expecting to arrive sooner.  If you think it would take 12 hours to get to your destination and it takes 12, you will be tired and cranky, but at least you were expecting that travel length.

GPS

It’s a funny thing about car travel.  All you have to do is sit inside the vehicle and watch the world whiz by.  You can get very hungry from this inactivity. In actuality, you are just bored, and, well, eating is something to do.  Accordingly, you should pack some snacks to consume to help pass the time.  And be sure that you pack the snacks in an easily accessible place.  It does not contribute to marital harmony to find out that your beloved spouse has packed the object of your gastronomic desire in the trunk as you barrel down the interstate at 75 mph.

Nevertheless, inaccessible food can provide an entertaining activity.  You know you have been in the car for too long when you start reading all the billboards and determining what new menu items you must try at the inevitable fast food restaurants conveniently situated off any exit.  I personally was able to try three new menu items on pits stops during my recent road trip–one which lasted over 12 hours one way.

Mac'n Cheetos

Not only was I able to sample new food items, but I killed some time taking pictures of the items with my cell phone and providing my spouse with a critique of the food quality.  Thumbs up for Mac’n Cheetos at Burger King.  Sounds gross but tastes great.  The  buffalo chicken slider at Arby’s missed the mark with me; it did not have enough blue cheese on it to match the fire of the buffalo sauce.  The loaded curly fries at Arby’s tasted yummy, but got low marks for presentation.  Whole bacon strips on top looked out of place; crumbled bacon bits would have been a more eye-pleasing choice.

Arby's Slider

Maps can also add moments of fun.  Welcome centers located just past the state line usually hand out free state maps.  I like to look these maps over and see what strange/weird locations I can find.  Did you know that there is a town in South Carolina called Switzerland?  I really wanted to stop there so I could brag to my friends that I had been to Switzerland on vacation.  Unfortunately, Switzerland was too far off of I-95 to take a detour; we were already going to be on the road for 12 hours or so, and I was not eager to add to that figure.

SC sign

Music is also a good distraction.  Hubby found some downloaded songs on his phone and played them on the car radio for me.  I was amazed at how many of the lyrics to Bread’s greatest hits I could recall.  And speaking of singing, why not see how many times you can get through “99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall” from your starting point to your destination?  If you assume you can sing the lyrics for one bottle in ten seconds, then you can get through the whole song in about 17 minutes.  Um, no.  I do not want to sing that song 42 times in a 12 hour period. That would contribute to insanity rather than help avoid it.

How about playing a game?  The driver can’t play a board game with you, but there’s always I Spy, a favorite game when I was a child on vacation with my family.  Warning.  Do not play this game while traveling on I-10 through Florida or on I-95 through South Carolina.  The only thing that you really spy outside your car along the interstate there is trees.  BORING.

Why not use the time you are trapped in the car to improve your mind?  Given that it is an election year with Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate and, more importantly, that we had just seen the movie “13 Hours” on Netflix, we decided to look up Benghazi on the cell phone and read all about it.  Oh, my!  I understand the incident much better now, but perhaps ignorance was bliss.

The passenger can always read.  I tried to be considerate of my driving spouse and offered to read interesting articles out loud to him from the newspaper and from a magazine I had brought on the trip.  Unfortunately, you cannot share the amazing pictures that accompany these articles with the driver because you want him to keep his eyes on the road.  Arrive alive and all that.

After awhile you will find that your sanity can only be maintained by periodic stops to escape the torture chamber in which you are trapped.  What?  The Florida Welcome Center is giving away free OJ?  Stop now!  The fact that the beverage comes from the same carton you would buy at the supermarket and is served in a miniscule paper cup is irrelevant to you at that point.  What?  A rest area?  Stop now!  We must walk the dog in case she needs to go potty.  The fact that the dog went potty about an hour ago and did not drink any OJ or any other beverage in the meantime is irrelevant at that point.

FL OJ

Why in the world would any sane adult embark on a 726 mile (one way) road trip in the summer heat putting her safety at risk on the interstate and straining the current good relationship with her spouse?  It is all about motivation.  For me, the motivation was small, very small–grandchildren size small.  It’s amazing what you will endure to be with the ones you love.

I am happy to report that my road trip was successful–I reached my destination and returned home safely with my sanity intact.  I won “Survivor–The Summer Road Trip!”

Map Musings

wisemenandstarloop

In Biblical times, the stars were used to guide travelers such as the three wise men who journeyed from afar to Bethlehem.  We still look to the heavens to guide us, but in a more indirect way via satellite transmission from above to our GPS.  Paper maps were the intermediate guide, but they are used today about as frequently as camels to reach one’s ultimate destination.

While paper maps may not be the handiest guide tool in our modern society, they are still an asset on a long trip.  On our recent trek to Texas I pulled out a paper map–not to find my way but to entertain me during the long hours on the road.  How can a map be amusing, you ask?  Well, have you ever stopped to really look at one?  The names of places and their locations in relation to each other can be pretty interesting.  For example, my Texas map shows both an Old Dime Box and a New Dime Box.  Which was settled first?  Why that name?  Was there a family feud that led to the establishment of a second Dime Box settlement?  What the heck is a dime box anyway?

texas-reference

While sailors and the Magi may have looked upward at twinkling stars to point the way, they already had their destinations in mind, i.e., a specific port and the location of a newborn king respectively.  Paper maps can be used differently.  What if we want to figure out where we want to go?  Wouldn’t it be fun to pull out a map and decide on a place to travel based on the names found on the map?  OK, I was trapped in a moving vehicle for hours on end traveling in Texas, so you have to get creative in how to amuse yourself.

If you take the time to look, there are some pretty interesting place names in the Lone Star State.  Maybe I should move to Alice, Texas temporarily just so I could leave and then say, “Alice doesn’t live here anymore.”  If you are a fan of the Jetsons cartoon, you may want to check out Elroy, Texas.  Or you could kill two birds with one stone and visit a Texas location that connotes another spot such as Nazareth, Moscow, London, Nevada, Sudan, Ireland, Scotland, Trinidad and Buffalo.  I’d suggest going to Nazareth at Christmas, Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day and Trinidad for spring break.  And for an out of this world experience, consider checking out Venus and Mercury–Texas, that is.

Some choose destinations for the local food.  Why the Sterns earned beaucop bucks writing about food on the road.  You could enjoy breakfast in Oatmeal, TX, a healthy snack in Plum, TX and pasta in Noodle, TX.  You might need a plate from Dish, TX to hold your meal.  Come on; you have to admit these thoughts are entertaining (for someone who is road weary and has miles to go before being released from vehicle jail).

Tired of traveling?  Why not pick a place that suits your mood?  You can be difficult in Moody, TX. on cloud nine in Utopia, TX, compassionate in Loving, TX and confused in Uncertain, TX.

While you may scratch your head at why some place names are chosen, it is understandable that a town may be named after a historical figure or beloved character.  I must have been absent, though, on the day in American History class when Elmo, Kermit  and Ben Hur were discussed.  Were those three at the Alamo?  I remember the Alamo, but not them being there.  All three are towns in Texas along with Jonah (you know all those whales they have on the plains) and Ben Franklin (the plains must be  a good place to fly a kite during an electrical storm).

Concern for my safety tempers my desire to visit some Texas towns.  Think I’ll pass on Cut And Shoot, Bang and Bigfoot.  Gun Barrell City might be safe if all citizens are packing to keep the bad guys in line; let’s just hope no one has an itchy trigger finger.  Shootings might necessitate a sidetrip to Spade, TX to dig a grave.

Gun-Barrel-Smoke

Other Texas locations just seem like a good time is inevitable based on the name alone.  Who wouldn’t be happy in Friday, TX where you could say, “Thank God It’s Friday!” every day?  Tuxedo, TX sounds like it is up for a fancy party all the time.  And you’d never be too tired for fun in Energy, TX and Pep, TX.

As entertaining as my map musings were, at the end of the day, there’s no place like home.  I want to be off the road in a place where I don’t need stars, a GPS or a paper map for me to find my way around.  I live in Valparaiso, FL, the vale of paradise.  Paradise, TX will just have to do without my presence for now.