In September, we knew that our days in Maine were numbered. Temperatures began to drop, leaves started their colorful celebration of impending doom, and the angle of the sun cast long shadows across the lake earlier and earlier each afternoon. The pandemic may be throwing the world (and our plans) for a loop, but changing seasons wait for noone. With no insulation, there’s only so long a cabin can remain habitable in northern New England. So we packed up our gear (see “The Things We Carry”), closed up the cabin for the winter, and headed south.
This was quite literally a summer in Maine—we arrived on the solstice in June and left on the equinox in September — and unlike any summer we’ve ever had. What I mean is we didn’t have to work for the first time since we were pre-teens. We had three months stretching out before us that still seemed to disappear faster than we could have imagined.
But where next? Our plans for Australia have been put on hold until at least spring due to Covid-related border closures beyond our control. Our thoughts about Costa Rica have been disrupted by their current surge and being listed as “do not travel” by the CDC and State Department. Then we had two ideas that seem so obvious now in retrospect.
First, we’ve always said that we’d love to visit friends and family in the western U.S. if only we had the time. Well, we finally have the time! While it may not be the best time to fly around the U.S., we’re vaccinated and think the risks are manageable—and our hosts feel the same. So we’ll use the end of September and all of October to visit loved ones in New England, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, hiking at some amazing places and reconnecting with people before we leave the country.
Second, we had the sudden inspiration to research which countries on our Top Ten List have the lowest Covid rates and highest vaccination rates. Um, duh, why didn’t we think of that before? In any case, there are some amazing websites with up to date, global information. The one I liked best was from Reuters, which also shows trends (going up or down?) and lockdown measures for every country, so we can factor in which countries will let us in now.
What we learned is that Spain, Portugal, Chile, and Ecuador are doing incredibly well—better than the U.S., in fact. Portugal currently has the highest vaccination rate in the world at 84%, and Spain is second in Europe at 77%. Vaccinated U.S. travelers are allowed to visit, but visa requirements make it harder to stay for more than 90 days without applying for a special one-year visa. Chile also has a high vaccination rate (74%), but it’s unclear how many of those vaccinations are, say, Sinovac or Sputnik vs. Pfizer or Moderna, and the country has numerous travel restrictions in place. Ecuador has nearly 60% of its population fully vaccinated (predominantly Pfizer and AstraZeneca), after the most rapid vaccination campaign in the world this summer. (There’s a fascinating article by the World Bank about what went right.) Ecuador’s rates are better than U.S. rates and trending in the right direction.
So four of the countries on our list made this particular cut, although Chile’s restrictions make it less appealing. And as much as we want to go to Spain and Portugal, we feel we have too much research to do and may not be able to get an extended visa quickly enough. So Ecuador rose to the top of the list—and we’ve gotten really excited about it in the couple of weeks we’ve been looking into it. Hiking in the Andes, beautiful Pacific coastline, Spanish-colonial architecture and Incan ruins, the Galapagos… it all sounds pretty good to us!
And that’s where we stand as of today—flying west and targeting early December for at least an exploratory visit to the winning country, and perhaps a stay of 6 months or more. Like everything else these days, we’ll try to adapt to whatever new wrinkles pop up between now and then. Because, as surely as the seasons will continue to change, our plans will also.
…But wait, there’s more! My latest article on The Bucket about our travels was just posted — link to all three of the articles here. And if you’re on Instagram, be sure to check out the travels of Olive the Duck, who will be accompanying us everywhere we go: @wheresoliveduck