How did it happen that coronavirus stranded us to the Philippines? When we left Europe corona had barely touched countries outside China and statistically speaking the numbers did not sound threatening. We closely followed the virus situation during the weeks leading up to our trip and had several go-or-no-go family meetings. Bigger worry than the virus was the ability of local medical infrastructure and the risk of overloading of hospitals to the point that they can or will not take care of foreigners if something was to happen.
Chinese and Koreans are the biggest groups of visitors for most of the Philippines. That is definitely true for the island of Panglao where we made a home for the next months. The absence of foreign Asian tourists was visible: the streets were empty and most of the restaurants, beaches, and massage spas idling. The local business owners were hopeful that normal life was to return in the next weeks and closed down Korean shops would open again. For us, this was rather a bonus to enjoy empty stretches of clean sandy beaches and dine with default social distancing caused by a lack of visitors everywhere.
The first coronavirus death outside of Mainland China happened in the Philippines at the beginning of February. The confirmed cases of local transmission started taking over the news during the first week of March when we had already set ourselves up into a small but modern apartment with garden and pool in the middle of Panglao. We found it with the help of a Russian-born real estate broker we connected on Facebook.
The seriousness of the situation started escalating on March 13th when President Duterte announced a partial lockdown of the capital area. From March 16th onwards our region Bohol has gotten new rules and regulations almost daily: no more schools, no back-riding (strictly one person only on scooters and motorbikes), no public alcohol consumption, no outside movement before 5 or after 21 or for anyone aged below 18 or over 65, no public gatherings, no inbound air or sea traffic – coronavirus stranded us to the Philippines. Good we only had a one-way ticket to the Philippines.
By the end of March almost everything had shut down and military checkpoints were established on the island to control the movement. With the situation escalating we had to move away from our small land-locked apartment and get access to the sea which would at least give us a chance to snorkel when freediving schools had all been shut down and nobody wanted to risk getting caught by the coast guard with a buoy.
I contacted all high-class resorts and nicer looking Airbnb rentals. Many of them said they are closing and others got too scared to accept European guests. Luck tends to find persistent people however and we booked a grandiose Spanish style 3 story villa with infinity pool, balcony, and private access to the ocean. We hired a chef to help us with cooking local plant-based delicacies and got locked down. We would not splash money for this lifestyle in normal circumstances. Thank you corona and your discounts.
We are obliged to wear face masks whenever we leave the house and as our 1.5-year-old Meribel is not allowed to go anywhere we tend to stay in as well spending our days working on our projects and businesses, meditation, yoga, reading books, training static breath-hold and writing a blog. When we do go out we are required to attend temperature tests at checkpoints and show the quarantine pass which allows movement for essential shopping. This pass defines which day of the week are we allowed to go to the supermarket.
Groceries and essentials shopping has been a special activity. You can get out with a legitimate reason, measure the overall panic levels and count the other stranded travelers still on the island. Everything is still available at the stores and the only crazy queue is to the meat market which we don’t need to attend. The amount of available toilet paper has never been an issue like it was for many of our friends back home. This is not a good indicator for the calmness of the people however as Asians do not use tissue in the lavatory.
We have probably already had the virus in March. We felt weak, nauseous, and dry-throated and stayed indoors for a week. At the same time, many other Europeans around us had different symptoms. There were no cases in the region and it was not yet revealed that this was due to lack of testing so we took it less seriously than we could have but we did not live our normal active life either.
Even coronavirus stranded us to the Philippines, we have decided to stay until the whole world stops being locked down and not indulge in panic traveling. We are here, we will stay, we are okay!