As I went through the door of the spa, I saw the sign: Closed at 6 pm today, until further notice. The resort had just announced that the restaurant would have limited seating, and the stools had been removed from the bar.
My first thought, I’m embarrassed to now say, was that I was glad I’d got in early enough for my facial to not be canceled. It seemed like an abundance of caution. There were no COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island, only one death in Canada, and all of the country’s several hundred cases were linked directly to travel, or in one nursing home. It wasn’t like Washington state, where this new Coronavirus was spreading in the community. That was why my American friend and I had canceled a planned meetup in Seattle and opted for Vancouver Island instead.
I began to realize, however, as one after another my planned trips for 2020 were canceled, that travelling might not be as easy in the future, and after Parksville we decided to head to Pacific Rim National Park for a few days so Scott could see it before he returned to Ohio.
We missed a blockade of the only road to Tofino by minutes. Although the small group of locals did not prevent anyone from passing, they strongly suggested that tourists not continue, particularly Americans. They were concerned, knowing how isolated they were, and how limited their medical facilities. They thought they could keep COVID out by keeping out the tourists.
When we checked in, the young woman at the front desk suggested we make dinner reservations at the hotel. I thought we’d eat in town the next night. Some restaurants had switched to takeout only, we heard, if they did not have enough space for social distancing.
Twenty four hours later, all the facilities in the park were closed. We wandered through Tofino, looking for a place for breakfast, and found a cappuccino at a coffee bar. Although the sign on the restaurant next door said it was open for dinner takeaway, the barista told us he didn’t think the restaurant would open again at all, and that he was shutting the coffee bar soon. We went to the grocery store and, although some of the shelves had gaps, we found plenty of food for breakfast and decided to pick up lunch and snacks as well.
We spent most of our time outside, walking on the beaches and hiking in the forest. The serenity stood in contrast to the news we couldn’t stop ourself from checking. The numbers from Italy were horrifying. One leg of Scott’s flight home was canceled, but he couldn’t get through to find out about the other legs, or if there was another flight on the cancelled segment. The US banned flights from Europe. They announced that the Canada—US border would be closing to non-essential travel. We scanned news to see what that meant for a citizen trying to reach home.
Our hotel let us know it would be closing altogether in two days. My daughter told me she was in self-isolation, as her roommate’s sister had been at the dental conference in Vancouver where someone with the virus had attended. Scott gave up on trying to fix his previous reservation and booked a different flight.
We drove through Ucluelet for one last hike, on the Wild Pacific Trail. The motels all had No Vacancy signs, and empty parking lots. We sat at a picnic table by the docks and were glad we had picked up food, as almost all the restaurants were closed.
On the way back to Victoria we stopped for another walk through the trees of Cathedral Grove. There were people there, families mostly, but it was unusually easy to find a parking spot.
Scott was notified that his rebooked flight was now also cancelled, so we stopped at an empty coffee shop in Nanaimo. The middle-aged proprietor alternated between speaking Chinese to her husband and English to us: “Over 1000 now in Canada! Twelve dead.” The travel website showed the flights still valid, then it crashed. They didn’t answer the phone. We ate our over-salted egg sandwich. “19 383 in the US! 256 dead.” On the third try Scott was able to cancel his booking on the invalid flights, but the only other flights he could now find involved 20 or more hours in planes and airports, instead of the 5 1/2 of the first two bookings. Prices had doubled. The woman told us she was closing at 6. I didn’t bother telling her that the sign said she was open till 8, just glad she had been open at all.
So now we stay home and practice social distancing. At the grocery store, tape marks on the sidewalk space the people waiting to go inside. The deli and fish counter are closed, everything pre-wrapped in small packages. Marks on the floor space us at the register, where they only take cards that we tap ourselves, no cash changing hands. It is the closest to social we get, as all gathering places are closed. I scrub the balcony deck, needing something physical to do, thinking I may be spending more time out there than I had expected.
After all the changes of the last 18 months, I now adjust to a new normal. I am glad I have a comfortable place to wait. It doesn’t matter that it is small. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming past performances and on my shelf are many unread books. My family is safe, and I stay connected, at a distance, to friends— no different, really, than when I am travelling.
We are all on this new journey. Stay safe.