(July 27, 2020 – written by Dave)
No, we’re not on another trip. We are thinking about it, but we are kind of waiting to see how our little state-wide Covid case uptick plays out. We had 12 new cases in our state yesterday. That’s not a lot, but with new daily cases still totalling in the several hundred in Melbourne, everyone in Oz is a bit on edge. When the dust clears, we’ll think about another trip, perhaps within New South Wales, or maybe even to another Australian state. How exciting!
Back in the day when we could travel more broadly, even internationally, we regularly used the Australian Government Smart Traveller website (https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/) to plan where we could safely travel. Smart Traveller is where the Australian government provides travellers with up-to-date information about pretty much every country. They have super detailed maps that highlight the current travel hazards and how to minimize one’s personal risk
The site used a four level/colour scheme, as follows:
- Green – No worries, have a safe and fun trip
- Yellow – Exercise a high degree of caution in this area
- Orange – Reconsider the need to travel to this area
- Red – Do not travel to this area
On our previous international trips we tried to travel through mostly green and yellow areas. We did this to keep our travel insurance intact but also to keep our mothers from worrying more than mothers generally already worry. On our Americas trip there were a couple countries in Central America that were entirely Orange – we travelled through them with extra caution and didn’t stay any longer than necessary. In South America countries like Ecuador were almost all green except for their border regions, which were mostly red. Where they could not be avoided (like the border areas) we navigated the red areas with extra caution.
In South America, Colombia was particularly problematic. Due to historical drug trafficking and FARC paramilitary activity, Colombia proved a real challenge to navigate while staying within the yellow areas. It also provided a great example of how much effort Smart Traveller puts into the detailed information on their site. Our other source of travel advice, the US Department of State, painted Colombia with a broad dark orange brush without giving much thought about areas with more or less risk. The Smart Traveller map from 2018 is below. We rode Colombia top to bottom, entering at the top in Cartegena, exiting into Ecuador at Ipiales.
A casual glance will tell you that there is ZERO green in Colombia, meaning that wasn’t considered completely safe anywhere. If you look closer, you’ll also notice that Colombia has a lot of orange and a good deal of red, particularly in the southwest, right where we wanted to travel. However, if you look really close, you’ll also notice that there is actually a thin yellow line running from the top to bottom of the country.
We’ve been asked many times how we come up with the routes we take. Well, for Colombia in 2018 at least, it was pretty easy. We took one look at the Smart Traveller web site and planned a route right down the middle of the little narrow yellow strip. We had no issues whatsoever. In fact we enjoyed Colombia – our biggest worry was an early rainy season. As far as we know, we didn’t encounter any paramilitary or drug lord types.
So, how does all this relate to Covid? Well, the other day I was skimming through our Colombia travel notes and I decided to look at the Smart Traveller website to see what they were saying these days about Colombia. To get country specific information in the old days, one used to have to go to the Smart Traveller site, pick the appropriate continent, scroll down to the country then click to get the super detailed Smart Traveller advice for that country. Those were the good old days.
The image below is from the Smart Traveller home page and how they view the Covid world that we are living in today. You’ll quickly notice that Australia is white and everything else is red. There is no middle ground, we are either here in Australia safe, or we are somewhere that is unsafe. It’s pretty easy staying put, since Australian citizens are not allowed to leave Australia anyway. Stay home and stay safe is the clear message from Smart Traveller.
Sure, North Korea, Iraq and Somalia are red but good old formerly safe places like Chile, Costa Rica and even Canada, are all red today as well. Canada? Really? Yup, red! In fact, today if we want to travel anywhere internationally, we have to petition the government, fill out a bunch of forms and probably also check in with the Queen. While we are not Covid free here in Australia, our low case numbers make us particularly attractive as global guests these days. We’d be welcome just about anywhere. I mean, who doesn’t want to invite a couple Covid free, fun loving Aussies over for a dinner party. Whatever, don’t bother, we can’t come anyway! L
One day Covid will pass. More than likely, Colombia will revert go back to a multicoloured map of random dangers. Canada will surely go back to being a giant mass of happy green. North Korea will probably stay red. We’ll restart using Smart Traveller as a guide and find somewhere green to visit, eventually. Until that day comes, we’ll be safely distancing down here in Oz, waiting for a green country, somewhere, anywhere. We like green.
We were supposed to be in Japan right now, riding blissfully through the mountains and along the seashore, enjoying tasty ramen and udon noodles and soaking in hot baths every night. Hopefully this time next year we will be doing just that. We are trying to look at this delay as just more time to plan our route, collect more info on great places to see and things to do. Nancy is hard at studying her Japanese, and has even signed up to a language class (online, of course) to push her along. I try to stay away from the back room where she is studying when I hear too much muttering about kanji.
For now, know that whatever red country you are in, it won’t be a red forever. We’ll be heading your way as soon as we get a green signal, or perhaps even a yellow one… Keep a light on for us.