One week before we were scheduled to leave for a long anticipated, sun-filled escape to a beachfront resort in Los Cabos, our travel partners suddenly canceled because of the virus risk. It was the first day of March, still early in the outbreak when reliable information was scarce and uncertainty was rampant. They were from Seattle, the epicenter in the US so it was understandable. Businesses in that city were discouraging travel and the thought of leaving kids and parents behind was unsettling.
Canceling was the right choice for them and as a result, my wife and I were conflicted. The virus was starting to infect the national news cycles and the impact was projected to be severe. We are from Dallas, though, and at that time no cases had been reported in our state. Ultimately, we chose to proceed, and our friends urged us to stay safe and report back on what it was like down there.
Getting to Cabo
When we left on March 6th, the number of reported cases in the US could be counted in the dozens. Detractors were ablaze with hoax claims, conspiracies, and denials while others prophesied impending apocalyptic doom. The starting pistol for the inexplicable run on toilet paper had yet to fire.
Our plan was simple, we just wanted a sunny place to sip margaritas and, well, uh, Coronas.
We arrived at the Dallas Love Field airport an hour early just to be safe. It was busy as usual with the typical line at Starbucks almost as long as the TSA queue. Other than a few people wearing masks, there was little evidence to indicate there was an emerging health crisis.
The airport in Los Cabos was much the same. There were no hand sanitizer kiosks that are now so ubiquitous here in the US. Very little mask usage, and scads of people from all around the world jam packed like sardines in the long snaking customs line. It was a petri dish poised to blossom.
Our first morning we awoke to a great monstrosity of steel and windows floating in the harbor blocking our view of the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas. It was a German Phoenix Reisen cruise ship with tenders shuttling passengers to the docks, injecting their tipsy and virulent cargo into the marina.
Cruise ships certainly aren’t foreign to the area, but at that time there were several ships with reported infections around the world, one of which was still looking for a port of call that would accept them. Luckily it wasn’t this ship, but we elected to relax by the pool that day anyway.
In fact, five of the seven days we were there we saw cruise ships — one day there were two. Out of an abundance of caution, we chose to avoid the downtown restaurants and bars during those days.
My wife is an educator, so we had planned this vacation to coincide with spring break. We chose a resort about a mile east of the marina so we could avoid the vortex of collegiate antics yet still be within walking distance of downtown. We had visited Cabo before, almost exactly four years ago and we knew what to expect.
One morning, our cruise-ship-avoidance plan involved sitting by the pool enjoying a late morning snack and a cocktail (drinking before noon is encouraged there). Soon after noon, we spotted a pack of feral studs on the hunt. They didn’t notice us watching as they passed, packing sets of pectorals and washboards that would impress Arnold. It wasn’t long before the fairer sex arrived in full plumage and parked their thongs and strings on the chaise lounges. Watching the mating rituals was far more entertaining than any trip around town could ever be.
There were plenty of kids at our resort, but there were fewer than usual (even up the beach in the pheromone vortex) and in fact there were fewer tourists overall. Beach chairs, chaise lounges, restaurant tables, and servers were widely available all day long.
We spent a lot of time walking up and down the beach and we noticed that many of the resorts were far from full — some almost ghost towns.
This was the first clear evidence we saw of an impact from the virus.
More evidence appeared when we were thankfully granted a ship-free day. We ventured downtown late that afternoon and walked the marina for an hour before dinner.
Four years ago the marina area was like a rock concert, with people of all shapes and sizes fighting for tables, taking selfies, enjoying the entertainment, and partying with all kinds of revelry.
This time though, bars and restaurants were practically barren, their barkers pleading but resigned. Tourists were sparse and the few scantily clad breakers parading around got all the attention. Tables in the fine restaurants at the peak dining time of the evening were easy to get. We chose a popular sushi restaurant with an open table up front, away from the desolate dining room of despair in the back.
I felt badly for the hard-working Mexicans who make their living as roaming entertainers, cooks, and servers. They aren’t paid much and make most of their income from tips. The ones that we spoke to had positive attitudes, but there was a distinct undercurrent of concern.
Now, just a week later, I fear that many are entirely without work.
Mexican men are proud. They aren’t socially emotional, and they don’t wear their concerns and fears on their sleeves. But this week felt different. We only had to tug gently to pull out the truth.
We joined an all-day tour up La Paz with 7 tourists and an amazing driver with encyclopedic knowledge of the area. We took him aside and learned that he was a single father raising a son. He made less than twenty dollars a day with no overtime — actually pretty good money when you consider tips and commissions. Work was steady but he was paid by the day and it could stop with no warning. Other driving jobs paid far less.
We hired an Uber driver one day who expressed concern about a noticeable drop in tourists. He just bought a new Kia and was making payments.
Others blew it off completely. In particular, we met a resident who had retired from New Mexico. He moved to a small town just south of La Paz and had no concerns. His house was paid for and living there was inexpensive. He said the virus would never find him there. I hope he’s still okay.
With our fellow tourists, the virus was the talk of the resort. Corona jokes were tossed around like waves on the beach. We talked to dozens of individuals and couples and not a single one expressed much concern. Their focus was on fun and sun.
We did a sailboat cruise with 13 people. We took a small boat on purpose so we could moderate any exposure. We enjoyed rum punches, snacks, beautiful whales, and an amazing sunset. Only a few virus jokes had any hint of concern.
They closed the US border to entry from Europeans while we were there. Scared the crap out of us. Yet, nobody else seemed to care. They were insulated from truth by a thick layer of warm sand.
We made it home safely. Airports were overcrowded with hung over kids slouched on the chairs or sitting on the floor. Some wore bandanas over their mouths, but most were al fresco.
We shuddered at the lines and proximity of so many people but a week later we remain virus free and thankful that we were able to get away before everything shut down. It will be many long months before any of us can vacation again.
Our shared future of uncertainty
As I write this, 250 people in the US have died and 18,000 are infected. As we struggle to accelerate testing capabilities, I’m sure we’ll discover the true number of infected victims is much greater. There are no treatments and no vaccinations. The only remedy is through behavioral change.
The economy will recover, but too many of our sick neighbors will not. Unless we help.
So please — let’s stay home, stay clean, and stay safe. Vacation in your home. Play games. Pretend. Tell stories. Enjoy meal deliveries and margaritas on your deck.
I worry about friends and family and talk to them every day. Our original travel mates and their family are safe and virus free for now. We’re lucky to live in a country with a comparative abundance of skilled caregivers and medical resources. As a society, the US will weather this storm.
Mexico and their wonderful hard-working people may not fare so well. My heart goes out to all who are affected.
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