Senior couple stranded in Antigua during COVID-19

On Love and Life after 50 eNewsletter – June 12, 2020

by Columnist Thomas P Blake

There are three parts to today’s eNewsletter

    Part 1  –  Senior couple stranded in Antigua 2+ months during COVID-19

I wondered over the last several weeks if any of our Champs had been stuck somewhere, unable to get home. My answer came from Francesca, who emailed to thank me for providing the free download a few weeks ago of the ebook, Italy, 23 Days by Train.

In the email, she added, “We happen to be ‘stranded’ in Antigua (a Caribbean island), with the only airport having been closed for some time.”

I wrote back to Francesca, “If you don’t mind, and have time, can you tell our Champs about your ‘being stranded’ experience, and tell us a bit about you as a couple.” Francesca and I exchanged several emails. Today’s eNewsletter is lengthy, but informative and well stated by Francesca.

She wrote, “I’m not a writer, just a retired educator, so here goes. Antigua is undoubtedly the best place to be stranded, but home calls. (Burbank, California-me; Lake Arrowhead, California area-Dan).

“With the Antigua airport finally reopened, we flew back to Los Angeles yesterday.

“Dan, 75, and I, 73, met on Match. We’ve been together two years and hope to make it last for many more.

“When we realized we weren’t going home in April as planned, we didn’t have to change our accommodations. We were able to pay rent on a month-to-month basis. We’ve had to stay two extra months plus a few days.

“Dan has a small medical billing business; he can take his work with him as long as there’s wi-fi and Internet, which I can also use. It’s been an adventure here. 

“For the last three years, Dan has rented a one-bedroom apartment in Antigua during the winter months. He lives in the San Bernardino Mountains and likes to get away to a warm climate, away from the snow and ice.

“Dan arrived in Antigua mid-January, with a return ticket to LA on April 8. For the past two years, I’ve joined him for the last month of his stay. I arrived March 4, planning a month of enjoying the island and relaxing on the beach. But then COVID-19 came along, and things changed.

“In late March, to contain the virus, the Antiguan government closed all entry points to the island, including the one and only airport. They then put into place numerous severe restrictions, the most difficult of which was a 24-hour curfew where we couldn’t leave our hotel except for trips to the grocery store. We couldn’t go to the beach. Antiguans boast that they have 365 beaches; every one of them was closed.

“It was rough going for a while. Especially hard was that we have a beautiful little beach within a 15-minute walk from our place, but we couldn’t even ‘visit’ it, let alone enjoy swimming and snorkeling. Eventually, they lifted the curfew hours; but it was in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. We were able to visit our beach, and swim and snorkel as much as we wanted.

“We still had inconveniences with groceries and such. We’re in a ‘hotel,’ but it’s really an apartment complex, with 10 one-bedroom apartments, each with a full kitchen. We didn’t have too much trouble with groceries when I first arrived. The closest grocery store is about a mile away. We don’t have a car, so I used to walk there every few days to pick up a couple of things that we needed. It was a nice walk and good exercise. 

“The route took me through the back gate of Jolly Harbour, a nearby community that serves foreign travelers, but they always let us through. That is, until COVID-19 came along.  

 “At that point, they closed the back gate to everyone. Then, it got tough. Getting groceries became a major planning event. We couldn’t walk there anymore; the only way to get to the store on foot was a 3.5-mile trek one-way. Without a car, we paid Mr. Hunt, the maintenance man at our hotel, to drive us to the store. We could no longer decide on the spur-of-the-moment to go pick up a few things.”  

In an earlier email, Francesca wrote, “Our Mr. Hunt has been a godsend. He’s a native Antiguan and seems to know everyone in town. Just ask him about anything concerning the local community, and he’ll catch you up on the latest news. Theoretically, he speaks English, but we think he actually speaks a combination of English and the Antiguan patois. 

“When he speaks to you, you can catch one or two English words, but you have to do a lot of guessing to find out what he’s really saying. He knows he’s not always understandable, so he peppers his conversations with ‘You understand what I mean?’  He’s just a sweetheart of a guy. If you ask him to do anything for you, he immediately answers, ‘No problem, no problem, no problem.’  We couldn’t get along without him.

“At one point during our stay, the grocery stores were only open from 7 a.m. to noon, so we had to make sure we got there early. The first time I went to the grocery store when those hours were in effect, there was a huge line of people waiting to get into the store. They were letting in only a few at a time, and they were giving out numbers.

“Some people waited three hours to get in. I had been told there was a ‘senior line,’ so I played the senior age card and had to wait only about 10 min.  

“However, and I didn’t know this at the time, they had placed a limit on how long you could be in the store. About 10 minutes into my shopping trip, a burly security woman walked around the store yelling that we had only five minutes left of our 15-minute allotment.  At that point, I ran around the store trying to pick up as many items as I could from our long list.

“Another security guard saw my cart piled high with groceries, assumed I had been there a long time, and told me I had to go to the cashier. I played the senior age card again and said I needed just one more item from the produce department. He let me go, but as soon as his back was turned, I got the produce item and scurried off to get as many items as I could before he’d come after me again. What an experience!

“We tried a delivery service for our groceries, but it took days to get the groceries we had ordered. Every day for three days someone showed up with a shopping bag with a few items from the list we had sent them. Some items didn’t match what we had ordered, and some items never got delivered. We decided to forget that idea…

“Last year when I was here, we went out to restaurants and enjoyed the island reggae, but, of course, this year’s been a different story: no restaurants or bars are open. The good news is that takeout became available, and they’re planning on reopening restaurants and bars next week. Masks and social distancing are required, of course. 

“The nearby restaurants don’t deliver food, so if we want takeout, we have to ask Mr. Hunt to drive us to a restaurant, get takeout, and just turn around, and take the food back home. We’ve been doing a lot of cooking at home. I don’t cook much, so it’s been kind of fun researching new recipes. That’s a bright spot in the whole food thing.

“We initially thought that running out of prescription medication was going to be a problem, but it has turned out to be easier than we expected, and it’s been a real eye-opener. There’s a little pharmacy in town where luckily we’ve been able to get most of our medications, even the prescription meds. For the most part, you don’t need prescriptions here, and the meds cost a fraction of the cost back in the States. 

“For example, Dan’s statins cost $.40/box here, while that same box costs a bundle back home. Many of our prescription drugs are over-the-counter drugs here. It is so true that Big Pharma charges outrageous prices for meds that other countries simply dispense over the counter. So sad…

“Antigua seems to have the virus under control now because the restrictions have been so effective. There were only 25 confirmed cases in all and only three deaths. They confirmed recently that there is only one active case on the island. That person is currently hospitalized but will soon be released. The threat of exposure is low, but, of course, when we’re in public, we still need to wear masks and maintain social distancing.”

In an earlier email, Francesca said, “The government is reopening the airport this coming week; no tourists have been allowed entry for a couple of months. The major industry here is tourism, so the country’s GDP has plummeted, as you can imagine, and there are a lot of people out of work. 

“Reopening the airport allowing tourists onto the island is an important step in reviving the economy. But the number of COVID cases may rise again when international travelers arrive. If that happens, the government may need to re-establish some restrictions.

“To counter a possible rise in COVID cases, they’re planning on giving every new arrival at the airport a ‘rapid test.’  It’s an antigen test that has an 85% accuracy rate in detecting the virus. The arrivals will get the results within 15 minutes. 

“If someone tests positive, they’ll be isolated. If they test negative, they will be able to go to their hotel, but they will have their temperature taken every day to ensure they aren’t symptomatic. The government is also planning on randomly re-testing those who tested negative.

“Dan and I are looking forward to getting home, but we’ll miss this island. I will particularly miss that beautiful little beach near us. I’ve attached a photo of Dan and me on one of the Antiguan beaches, all masked up.

Champs Francesca and Dan – stranded in Paradise

I asked Francesca how the extended, confined stay affected their relationship, adding she didn’t have to answer such a personal inquiry from a nosey columnist.

She replied, “As with any couple living in close quarters for any length of time, we had our moments. Thankfully, this apartment is one-bedroom, so we could be apart sometimes. However, the relationship is stronger. The quarantine allowed us to have more adventures together in a very different place. We’ll always have those memories: swimming out to our special beach, savoring Caribbean dishes we’d never heard of, and much more. And we’ll smile.

“Antigua has beautiful beaches and equally beautiful people. I sincerely believe Antiguans are the friendliest people on earth.

“We hope to come back next year, but (said with a wink), maybe not for such a long time!”

Part 2 – Spike in Scams during pandemic

Yesterday, I received an email with this subject line: Dating Expert to Singles: Beware of post-COVID dating scam spike

“PLENTY OF PHISH IN THE SEA” – CRIMINALS PREYING ON INNOCENT SINGLES LOOKING FOR LOVE & STEALING PERSONAL INFORMATION

June 11, 2020: During quarantine, criminals have been posing as potential lovers on dating apps and online dating profiles, to steal personal information from vulnerable singles seeking love.  A dating expert has warned singles on Tinder, Match.com, and Bumble, among other dating apps, to be wary of a person who is asking personal questions very early on. 

“Quarantine has led people to become overly-comfortable and personally attached to dating profiles quicker than normal, as in-person meetups are out of the question. Now, criminals are robbing photos, age, location, and other personal information shared in conversation in an attempt to open accounts, hack email, and steal from those looking for that special someone.  Report suspicious behavior to law enforcement authorities who can enforce the growing risk of identity theft.”

Part 3 – Responses to “84 Days Through Europe in a VW Bus. Summer 1960” ebook

Some of you downloaded my ebook that was offered for $0.99 last week, and then you shared similar travel experiences that you had when younger. I’m extending the offer for two more weeks.

The book is on www.Smashwords.com, which happens to be the largest ebook bookstore in the world. When you click on that link, you will be prompted to create a personal account—simply enter your email address and a password.

Then type in Tom Blake in the search box, my book covers will appear.

Click on “84 Days Through Europe in a VW Bus Summer of 1960.” Then click on “Buy.” Then, you will get a prompt for a Coupon, which will entitle you to your $.99 copy. Enter this coupon code WR49Q

You can either download the book to your computer (download epub or original document) or Kindle (Kindle use the Mobi download). Feel free to save it to your device. Or, simply read it with Smashwords’ online reader. 

Thanks Champs for sharing your stories.

Author: tpblake

Tom Blake is a newspaper columnist in south Orange County, California. He has published four books. His primary topic is finding love after 50 and beyond, sometimes far beyond, for people 80 and older as well. He also blogs about travel at TravelAfter55.com.

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