I put together this little video from our photos in El Salvador. It gives a good overview of the trip.
Friday, January 14, 2022
I pride myself on being a very positive person, but right now - Negative is the way to be! We've been home 3 days and just took a home Covid test and both of us tested negative! Yay.
How we got here ...
OAT arranged for a driver to take us to the airport. It's about 45 minutes from where we were in San Salvador to the airport and we had a delightful conversation the whole way. Our driver was El Salvadoran, but he lived for 20 years in Canada - Edmonton, Alberta no less! Aha! that's why his English was so good. He told us about how he messed up with getting Canadian citizenship because he came back to El Salvador for a visit and stayed just a bit too long. He forgot to read the fine print! Weatherwise - he's certainly better off where he is now, on the Pacific coast of El Salvador running a small business. A hostel for tourists in El Sunzal.
The airport was a busy place! Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was wearing a mask. There were extra airline employees greeting passengers at the door, guiding them to the correct line, and checking their vaccination cards and Covid-19 results. I'm so glad I thought to get the hotel to print our results out so it was easier to show them.
They were very friendly and efficient getting us checked in, but then we had a problem. The lady at the ticket counter handed us our boarding passes and said, "Gate 6." We looked around and saw no signs for gates. If we walked to the right, it only led to doors outside, so we went left. No signs. We went upstairs - no signs. We just kept following open corridors and ended up in a kind of food court, but no sign of security or gates. So we went back downstairs. We asked someone for directions and they tried to send us back to the ticketing area - no, we have our boarding passes ... WHERE IS GATE 6?
We ended up going outside and starting over again! In the doors by American airlines, take a left and go upstairs. We then noticed a small sign that said "Passenger pre-check" - well, that sounds like security, but there was no line?!? Yep, that was where we needed to go. Take off your shoes, everything out of your pockets, laptop out of your bag etc. etc. I was called aside and they took me and my belt bag to a separate room - oh sh*t - I forgot to take my swiss army knife out of my personal bag and pack it in the checked bag. So, they confiscated it. Oh well, my fault.
We're on our way to Gate 6. I really want a beer. That's our standard airport routine: we make it thru security, find our gate, then find a beer - or if it's morning we get a bloody mary! But, no .. when we found our gate we had to go thru another security - take off your shoes, everything out of your pockets, laptop out of your bag etc. etc. I was called aside this time because my boarding pass had the secret code that identified me as a winner of the special treatment club. They swabbed my palms with some kind of test paper looking for explosives? or drugs? I don't know, but I passed and we could now find a seat to wait for our flight. We still had nearly 2 hours but could not leave our gate in search of food or drink. Oh the horror!
Really, no big deal. We finally boarded the flight, I got a a window seat again and enjoyed seeing the Pacific ocean, then farmland, giving way to mountains further inland and soon I was seeing the Caribbean and Honduras where I've been diving at Roatan.
Before Jim's movie had even finished, we were landing in Miami.
Speaking of movies ... things are different from the last time we flew just a few years ago. In 2019, when we flew to Australia, the plane had a sophisticated touch-screen on the back of every seat! This time there were no screens at all. Not in the back of seats, not dropping down from the overhead, NO screens. They assume that every one of us has our own screens - phones or tablets. The plane has an entertainment server with a local Wi-Fi. So, what you do is connect your phone to their server via free Wi-Fi (no Internet, just a connection to their entertainment). The airlines must be saving a ton of money this way!
|The space where the fancy touchscreen monitor used to be|
We disembarked in Miami, sailed thru customs with my Global Entry credentials and Jim's Mobile Passport app. We found our bags in short order, made our way to Tri-Rail and got off at the Cypress Creek station where Devon picked us up and took us home.
Yes - we're glad to be home.
Home Covid Test
Oh ... after we got our luggage and were on our way we passed some people from the CDC who were handing out free Home Covid tests. They said we should take them in 3 days. That was today.
How interesting ...
The kit includes a swab, a dropper of testing fluid, and a tester - and lots of instructions. You need to have a smartphone because the whole thing runs over bluetooth with the special app. What blows me away is how nothing on the package makes it clear that you need a smartphone - it just assumes that everyone has one! The instructions simply say, "Download and install this app"
In any case, we both tested negative. Life goes on.
Monday, January 10, 2022
We did it! Jim and I studied hard all night and took the test again and PASSED it!
This time we took an Antigen test instead of the PCR test - and it came back with negative results for Covid. Either PCR or Antigen tests are accepted for entry back into the US. Both of them are "viral tests", meaning they test for the existence of the Covid virus - not to be confused with the Antibody test which is completely different, it tests a blood sample and looks for anitbodies which indicate that you had Covid and some time in the past. Both PCR and Antigen use a swab from your nose or back of throat.
All totaled, we took 4 tests:
- 12/29/21 - PCR test - Jim positive, Chris negative (this was taken at home 3 days before departure, but we didn't get the results until we already in El Salvador)
- 1/3/22 - PCR test - both Jim and Chris positive
- 1/7/22 - PCR test - Jim positive, Chris negative
- 1/10/22 - Antigen test - both Jim and Chris NEGATIVE!
|4 beers, 2 small plate appetizers, one dessert + tip = $11|
CDC requirements for entering the US ...
You must be fully vaccinated at least 2 weeks before travel, and ...
All air passengers 2 years or older with a flight departing to the US from a foreign country at or after are required show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 1 day before travel, or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, before they board their flight.
Sunday, January 09, 2022
After our positive test results on Friday, it was settled that we would be staying at least another 3 days at this hotel. We hope to get a negative test on Monday and find a flight home on Tuesday.
So what to do for the weekend? I'll tell you about Saturday later, but for Sunday - that's when we normally do our "What Does This Button Do?" live YouTube show. Well, we weren't interested in preparing a lesson plan and doing our class ... but, might we want to just do a "Gabbing with the Geeks?" We could talk about our experience with travel in the time of Covid. For us, Covid has been an inconvenience, but it made me think about our friend, Cary Tennis. Cary lives in Italy and when he got Covid he spent 5 weeks in an Italian hospital and nearly died. He's OK now, and I wondered if he would join us on our YouTube channel and talk about it. I had already had my share of wine and was feeling invincible, so I shot off an email asking Cary if he would be available for showtime. I got a response on Sunday morning and we were ON!
Cary is an excellent writer - please check out his story: The psychedelic madness of Covid-19 - the introduction is by David Talbot, the founder of Salon.com where Cary wrote a column for many years. Cary also did a podcast about his experience on his own website CaryTennis.com.
Today, Cary joined us on YouTube and Facebook for a live discussion about Covid, Travel, Italy, and El Salvador. You can watch the replay here.
Saturday, January 08, 2022
As you've probably guessed from the title, we did not get the negative results from the Covid tests that we had hoped. Chris was negative, but Jim was still positive. We've been hearing that the PCR test can stay positive for a long time, but if anything, we thought Chris would be still positive and Jim would have turned negative, because I (Chris) only turned positive on Monday.
Today is Jim's birthday - it was supposed to be such a cool birthday. Now, not cool at all. Our reservoir of good cheer is running low.
We still feel fine. Our OAT liaison, Marvin, gave us a pulse oximeter and asked us to report our blood oxygen levels twice/day all week. He asked us to take a picture with our finger in the device and send it to him via WhatsApp. Our numbers were always good - blood oxygen levels between 94 and 97 every day.
I'm really not sure why they had us do this - maybe for the possibility that our test would be negative, but they wanted to be sure we were actually healthy? Don't know - but it's a very interesting way to report don't ya think? The photo proves the numbers and sending it via WhatsApp gives a date and time stamp.
So what now? We really don't know. Wait a few days, take another test, hope for negative, then catch a flight home? The trip leader, Walter, has been wonderful - staying in touch with us every day via WhatsApp and sending a few photos of what the group has been doing. He kept encouraging us and believing that we would test negative and be able to join the group today. He said he was looking especially looking forward to getting to know us because he is in process of building out an RV and he plans to drive it down to Tierra del Fuego! He wanted to hear all about our RV lifestyle. He is from Guatemala and I was especially looking forward to the tour at Lake Atitlan because I visited there with my parents in 1962.
|10 year old Chris, sitting on the shore of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala when my family traveled there in a truck camper.|
|My Mom buying ponchos? from local artisans at Lake Atitlan|
|We met a family (Hansteins) by the lake who invited us to come stay at their coffee plantation in the nearby hills. See our camper in the driveway?|
|Me by the pool at the Coffee Plantation - Finca La Paz|
Friday, January 07, 2022
"Dee Chocolatay" is how you pronounce what I wrote in the title. I called room service and ordered a salad and a chicken dish and a dessert. The dessert was chocolate cake.
If you're in a spanish speaking country and you call for room service, they expect you to speak spanish, so the first thing I say is "Ingles?" This is to signal that I am english speaking, so if you can speak english that would be great. However, I still try to express myself in spanish as much as possible. The man on the other end of the line was SO nice! The menu has a spanish section and an english section so I could figure out what I wanted to order, but still read from the spanish.
- Salade de Tomate (The english says that is a tomato and mozzarella and basil salad - Caprese?)
- Milanesa de Pollo (the english says that is chicken milanese with cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables.)
OK - chocolatay
He said, Si!
a Teaching moment!
Thursday, January 06, 2022
But, I was determined, so the next day I tried again. Opening the app and going to the restaurant and searching for Pupusas still yielded "No Results." But I hunted piece by piece thru the menu and found it. Once I did some translating to figure out what selections to make, I went to order and was prompted to set up an account. Not surprising, but still a hassle - and should I really give my email and credit card to an El Salvadoran app? Yes - I'm hungry, and I want Pupusas! I did give a secondary email and credit card.
Once I had successfully ordered, a tracking screen appeared letting me know when our food would arrive and be delivered to our room. Once the order was out for delivery, we could watch the delivery vehicle as it got closer - just like Uber.
One more day until we take another Covid test and then we'll know whether we will be released into the wild, or we need to stay put.
Tuesday, January 04, 2022
I remember, many years ago, fantasizing about a lifestyle where I could live in a hotel room. I would order room service any time I wanted, and when I was finished, I could just put the dirty dishes outside the door.
Be careful what you wish for!
We are now isolating in our 4-star hotel in San Salvador because The Covid test we took on Monday produced result the same day, and those results were positive - for both of us. We certainly don't want to be responsible for spreading the virus. That means we are not able to join the group on the pre-trip of El Salvador. We need to stay in our room for 4 more days, when we will get tested again. If we get a negative test then, we can go on with the tour to Guatemala. Our trip insurance will allow us to take the El Salvador tour some other time.
If we still test positive on Friday, we will be calling off the rest of the trip. We'll keep getting tested until we're negative, because we cannot board a plane bound for the US without a negative Covid test. They are very well equipped to administer the tests here. Someone from a company called Analiza will come to the hotel and set up shop in a small room off the lobby. There they will swab your nose as well as the back of your throat to do the PCR test, and get you results same day. All that convenience comes at a price however - $95 per test.
Don't worry about us!
We were watching the news on CNN (the one channel in English) and seeing people stuck in their cars in a snow storm on I-95 in Virginia. We looked at each other and looked around our 4-star hotel room. There's a beautiful mountain scene our our window.
The food and wine via room service is delicious. The WiFi is fast. And, we are really good at sitting around and doing nothing. Jim says that is our superpower! I know some people that refuse to travel to faraway places because they just can't stand sitting for that long. Here's where being lazy is a positive personality trait! I remember traveling to Borneo and really enjoying hour after hour of in-flight movies. I think I watched 5 movies, read 2 books, and still had time to shut my eyes and try to sleep a while! While we've always been pretty good at doing nothing, 2020 taught us how to take that skill to a superpower.
If you watched our last YouTube show: (Episode 226: Technology for Travelers, the gear we’re taking to Central America) You saw that one of the things we packed is an HDMI cable and adapter so that we could plug our phone into the TV to view our photos and videos on a big screen. Well, we haven't had much opportunity for taking photos and videos, but we used that cable to connect my Samsung phone to the TV and watched an HBO movie - in English! We watched Tom Hanks play a person whose Visa was revoked just as he landed in New York and he has to live in the airport. It seemed vaguely familiar!
My friend, Arynne, asked if we now regretted our decision to go ahead with this trip. Actually, no. For me, the thrill of travel, leaving the ground and taking off to a country where I've never been, is a life-affirming act. The exhilaration may end up being short-lived, but it was still valuable. I am glad we got the trip insurance, something I rarely do, so we know we will take this trip sometime, if not now.
San Salvador or El Salvador?
Meanwhile, we're still in El Salvador and taking some time to learn a bit about this country. First up, where are we? San Salvador or El Salvador? San Salvador is the capital city of the country El Salvador. We flew in to El Salvador at the San Salvador Int'l airport (SAL) then to the beach and our first night's accomodation. After discovering Jim's positive Covid test, the tour guide from Overseas Adventure Travel transferred us to the Barcelo San Salvador hotel from where we were at the beach for two reasons:
- If we were actually sick and needed medical care, the best hospital is in San Salvador.
- Our Pre-trip for El Salvador ends here and the main trip "Route of the Maya" starts here and goes to Guatemala
- Since Guatemala does require a negative Covid test before crossing the border, all participants in the group will be required to take the test on Friday before the main tour starts on Saturday.
|The 2 markers on this map represent the location where we spent our first night - at the ocean, and the location in San Salvador where we are isolating for the rest of the week.|
- Chivo - the special Bitcoin wallet for El Salvador
- ₿ - Bitcoin, presumably using other wallets
- Dollars - USA Dollars
- Credit card
We thought we were going to have plenty of time to try paying for things with Bitcoin, so we took the easy way out at the airport and used Dollars. Now that we are isolated - I don't know if we'll get the chance. We asked if we could pay for our beers at the first hotel with Bitcoin and they just shook their heads - credit cards or cash. But we've asked a couple of El Salvadorans - in the elevator - if they used Bitcoin and they smiled and said Si! We asked if they liked their president and they gave 2 thumbs up.
Sunday, January 02, 2022
We did it! We broke free of the inertia keeping us home and actually packed bags and got on a train to the airport. Devon drove us to the Tri-Rail train station in Fort Lauderdale where we bought a $5 ticket to take us to Miami International Airport.
Our Covid test results still had not arrived, but since El Salvador does not require proof of a negative test, we could still get on the plane and go. We're feeling great, so are confident they will be negative. The flight was on time and we got seated and ordered a glass of champagne!
I'm a window seat person - I want the view. Even if all I see is clouds, I'll keep staring out the window for that birds-ey view. I'm pretty sure this was El Salvador:
I'm not sure if it was that rush of joy over the freedom of travel, or the heart-wrenching in-flight movie I was watching (12 Mighty Orphans), but I sobbed while looking out the window at this view.
We landed at the San Salvador airport and were met by a representative of Overseas Adventure Travel who escorted us to a waiting van and a half hour ride to the Playa (beach) where our room at Boca Olas awaited us.
Well, that half hour ride turned out to be 1.5 hours as the weekend traffic turned the road into a carnival. You could buy anything from a bottle of water to a bathing suit from the roadside stands.
We finally turned into the driveway of the Boca Olas resort and the chaos melted away. We took our luggage to the room and found the poolside bar so we could say our one memorized phrase in spanish, "Dos Cervezas, por favor." Then we took our beer and strolled down the walkway to the beach. This is apparently a famous surfing beach and Jim took a photo of a statue of a young woman surfer. From the inscription, it was clear that this was a memorial. I looked her up and found this YouTube video about her. She was in training for the Olympics when she died. It's a beautiful video, but be sure to have tissues handy.
It's been a while since we've seen a Pacific sunset!
We got back to our room, settled in and picked up our phones to catch up with email.
Our Covid tests came back. Chris was negative but Jim was positive. What!? I guess that's what they mean by asymptomatic, he feels fine. We reported the news to the trip leader who made arrangements for us to be transferred in the morning to a hotel in San Salvador where we can isolate, get another test, and hope for negative results so we can continue with the tour.
I think we'll have to come back to this place sometime.