2020 – Not actually that bad for me

A surprise birthday present: Jumping out of a plane in Tequesquitengo – Mexico.
The White Palace with my girlfriend Karen
Chiang Rai – Thailand
Lempuyang Temple
‘The gateway to heaven’

The strangest year of our lifetime has certainly been a trying time for many. CoVid19 has caused financial instability, distrust and uncertainty to name just a few negative things.

Amid all of the negative, I have managed to find opportunities for some incredible experiences. Whilst remaining safe and healthy 2020 has seen me visit Mexico twice, Thailand, Bali and Switzerland as well as a few Caribbean Islands.

I recently found myself looking through some of the photos from my past travels, pictures that I haven’t put on social media, some incredible photos that haven’t made it off of my hard drive. I realised that I am incredibly fortunate to have seen so much of the world and I don’t find enough time to share my experiences.

In this post I hope to touch on some of my experiences from 2020 (hopefully I will go into more detail in future posts) and include a few of my favourite photos. Over the next few days I would also like to edit some of my previous posts to include some of the amazing things that I have seen over the years.

I began the year on board Harmony of the Seas with my girlfriend Karen, blissfully unaware of the crazy year to come. On Harmony we sailed out of Port Canaveral around the Caribbean to similar ports that I’ve visited on previous ships.

Coco Cay, (in the picture) Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas was one of our frequent ports of call and we also visited Cozumel and Costa Maya – Mexico, San Juan – Puerto Rico, Roatan Island – Honduras and St Martin.

In terms of work, Harmony is a very difficult ship for a Youth Staff. As it is one of the biggest and most famous ships in the world it is constantly full of children. With a capacity of more than 6,000 guests we were constantly working hard and helping out in different departments.

After We signed off Harmony at the end of January I spent a couple of weeks at home before travelling to Mexico to attend the wedding of Karen’s sister.

Karen’s sister’s wedding was an intimate service with just the immediate family and the following day we went to spend a week away on the Pacific coast in a place called Ixtapa. We had a five bedroom villa with a swimming pool and over the week we visited a different beach every day, all within an hours drive, and there were still more that we didn’t visit.

It is a beautiful area of the country, scorching hot with beautiful beaches. On one of the days we took a boat tour where we saw Humpback whales and turtles. With the beauty came danger. On separate evenings I saw 2 tarantulas, and a scorpion. On another night, Karen’s sister’s husband and I had to be creative enough to remove a small snake from the garden with a bucket, a broom and a newspaper.

After an amazing time in Mexico, Karen and I planned a week or so in the UK before flying out to Thailand, Bali and Philippines. The whole trip was planned around more weddings: a friend of Karen’s, in the Philippines and two of my Uni friends back in the UK. The plan was two weeks in Thailand, three in Bali and then I would stay in Philippines for a week and a half before returning to the UK for the two weddings whilst Karen remained in The Philippines for hers. Unfortunately, CoVid19 changed our plans and none of the weddings happened.

We arrived to Thailand and spent a few nights in Bangkok before heading south to Phi Phi Island, Railey Beach and Koh Phangan for the full moon party. At this point the fear around CoVid19 was at the early stages and there were lots of contradictory reports going around. We read news stories that said that the full moon party had been cancelled but when we arrived at our hostel we found out that it was going ahead. There certainly wasn’t the 30,000 tourists that are reported to flock to Haad Rin Beach in peak season but there was definitely thousands.

After the lush dreamy beaches in the south we spent the second week in the north of the country in Chiang Mai. We explored the old town, we went up the mountain, and we visited a number of different temples including the very impressive ‘White Temple’ and ‘Blue Temple’ in Chiang Rai, before flying back to Bangkok and then on to Bali.

Bali is where we really began feeling the effects that CoVid19 was having on tourism. We spent two weeks travelling freely, with the opportunity to take photos that weren’t ruined by hundreds of other people but then businesses began closing and we spent a further two weeks in lockdown.

During our first two weeks in Bali we rented a moped to see as much of the Island as we could. We visited temples, waterfalls, beaches as well as climbing a volcano to view a stunning sunrise. The rice fields all over the island provided incredible views and as well as the variety of birds on view, we saw a forest full of monkeys, that would steal anything that they could get there hands on, from the dwindling number of tourists. We also went on a boat tour to see dolphins.

It really was a strange feeling. We were in areas that we knew should be full of hundreds if not thousands of people but instead there were tens of people around. It was sad to see the desperation of local businesses who could sense the chance to make money and feed their families disappearing. On the 25th March we were in a town, on the opposite side of the Island from Kuta where the airport is, called Lovina. It was the ‘silent day’ a religious day in Bali where nobody is permitted to be outside of their house. The following day we tried to travel back towards Kuta, in the uncertain times we decided we would be better off closer to the airport as flights were being cancelled and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. But, in an attempt to reduce the spread of CoVid19, the local government decided to stop all travel around the Island. We were stuck across the Island, my passport was at the hotel that we rented the bike from and we had no information as to how long the roadblocks would be in place.

Fortunately the following day we were able to travel back to Ubud where we had rented the bike and just an hour or so from the airport. Lots of flights were being cancelled and the ones that were available were extortionately expensive so we ended up staying in Bali for another two weeks. After the inexplicable closing of all of the roads for just one day, with groups of up to 20 locals being deputised to block roads whilst not maintaining social distance, life was fairly relaxed for us. Hotels were even cheaper than the usually cheap prices and restaurants, that couldn’t afford to be closed remained open for us to be able to eat. We didn’t do a whole lot over the two weeks but it was certainly a nice place to spend the beginning of lockdown.

We finally found reasonably priced flights back to the UK. When we set off to the airport we found out that our flight had been cancelled. The agent that we booked with sent us a pretty useless e-mail informing us that we’d get a refund but they didn’t know when that would be. Because of a lack of any other better ideas we decided to go to the airport and see what they would say. It turned out to be a good idea as one of the staff told us to just return in 24 hours and they would check us onto the same flight the following day.

Karen spent a month in the UK with me before heading back to be with her family in Mexico. Like many others, we had no idea back in May what would come next. I was extremely lucky at the end of the first lockdown. I was working for a friend, saving some money to buy a ticket to Mexico when I received an e-mail from EF (Education First) a company that I’d worked for on multiple occasions before. The e-mail was an offer to work at one of the local camps that they were running in either Spain, France, Sweden or, where I decided to go for a month, Switzerland.

In Switzerland I was teaching English to students from around Europe and also accompanying them on their activities. The location that we were using as the temporary summer school was absolutely incredible. We were located in the Swiss Alps in a ski lodge, we slept in the hotel at the bottom of the mountain and would take a cable-car to the school every day.

The activities that we provided were a lot of fun also. There were two lakes that we visited where we could take advantage of the warm Swiss summer by swimming or playing sports. We went white water rafting, we did a high rope course, we visited an indoor skatepark with trampolines and other exciting things.

CoVid19 luckily didn’t affect us over the month. Apart from daily temperature checks, constant reminders about hygiene and wearing masks on our journey to school in the cable car, we were able to forget the virus that had brought the world to a standstill.

After Switzerland I returned to the UK for a couple of months of lockdown before flying out to Mexico where I find myself now. In comparison to the UK, Mexico is very relaxed. There are rules in place but there is not the same addiction to the statistics that there is in the UK. Big public events have been cancelled the same as everywhere else in the world but it almost felt like being treated like a child back in the UK.

For the first couple of weeks I got into a similar routine that I was following back in the UK, trying to keep up with exercise, trying to improve my Spanish and generally just keeping busy. Then we went to visit some of Karen’s family in a place called Tepic, after which Karen and I did a bit of travelling for a little over a week. We visited San Blas, Penita de Jaltemba and Puerto Vallarta on the pacific coast before heading inland to Guadalajara. In San Blas we stopped at a viewing platform by the Mangroves where we saw lots of semi-wild crocodiles (it was a natural spot where the crocodiles are fed so that tourists can see them up close). In Penita de Jaltemba I was close to accidently stepping on a baby turtle before we watched it make it’s agonisingly slow journey to the sea. Other than that we took long walks and appreciated the beauty on offer in Mexico.

A few weeks later we found a town that was still having some form of ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations. Most were either cancelled due to CoVid19 or unsure if they were going to go ahead or not. We stayed in a beautiful town called Zacatlan which was close to the other town of Chignahuapan where Karen and I watched a show celebrating Day of the Dead. As well as exploring both towns, (With the Christmas decorations that Chignahuapan is famous for) we also visited some beautiful waterfalls in the area.

A week later, Karen and I went to visit some friends that we had worked with onboard Harmony of the Seas (Karen had also worked with a couple of them on previous ships). We got to know Cuernavaca and a small town called Tepoztlan, where we climbed a steep hill where usually you can access an Aztec pyramid and views over the town, but due to CoVid19 it wasn’t possible. The steep climb was good exercise and I was surprised by how many other people made the hike through the forest to a point with no view. On our final day, we visited a lake in a town called Tequesquitengo. As we sat having breakfast, Karen revealed that she had made a booking for me to do a skydive from 17,000 feet which was absolutely incredible. It was actually less scary than the bungee jump that I did, years ago, in Costa Rica.

I am so grateful to have remained healthy throughout 2020. During my travels, I have kept my distance from groups as much as possible and implemented the rigorous health and safety precautions that we are taught to use whilst on cruise ships. Overall, though, I feel extremely lucky that 2020 hasn’t been the complete write off that it has been for most. If you have read this far then I would like to thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my work and apologise if it makes you feel the slightest bit jealous!