June 14, 2020
Traveling the world since 2012 and the surprises never end…
Whether it’s the sighting of a pride of lions walking along the road in Kruger National Park in South Africa or the breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, the experiences of our daily lives as world travelers often leaves our mouths agape with the sheer wonder of it all.
Amid all of the spine-tingling adventures, life can dish out some surprises of its own that set our magical years-long journey into a flurry of fear, apprehension, and uncertainty. After having visited all seven continents over the past almost 12 years, including Antarctica in 2018, our lives have been a continuous stream of jaw-dropping experiences leaving us in awe of the world around us.
Little did we know, after embarking on this exquisite journey on October 31, 2012, that we’d encounter the challenges that befell us in 2019 and 2020. Yes, from time to time, we stumbled upon obstacles. How could we not?
But somehow with our fast-growing experience and determined resiliency, we figured it all out, whether a booking error precipitated by our own doing or a situation over which we had no control, as a solid husband and wife team, we relied upon our resources and one another to find a solution, overall maintaining a high level of confidence, always with a sense of humor, that in the end “everything would work out.”
And, in every case, it did work out. The most devastating of them all was when at the end of January 2019, during a routine visit to the local doctor in Komatipoort, South Africa to refill a few prescriptions before heading to Kenya, it was discovered I had a previously undiagnosed cardiovascular disease resulting in three of my four coronary arteries being 100% blocked.
It was determined that emergency open-heart surgery was my only option when stents were impossible after having an angiogram at the small hospital in Nelspruit, South Africa, an hour drive from our rented holiday home in the bush, in Marloth Park, a wildlife conservancy.
We were terrified. How could this happen? I’d exercised all of my life, was slim and fit, and had always maintained a healthy diet. Our lives, save for an occasional stressful travel day, were relatively stress-free. My dreadful situation was beyond my control. It was hereditary.
A series of convoluted experiences transpired over many months, making recovery after the February 12, 2019 surgery seemingly never-ending. After four times in the operating room, nine days in intensive care, three weeks in the hospital, and the resulting infections in both my legs from where the grafts were taken, requiring two more surgeries and a second hospital stay, it felt like our travel days were over.
Surprisingly, through it all, while my husband Tom, who became the most devoted and patient caregiver one could imagine, we never once discussed quitting our world journey. We carried on, leaving South Africa, after three months of my attempting to recover, to travel to Ireland, which was on our itinerary at that juncture. We rented a car and drove for 3 ½ hours to Connemara to a gorgeous seaside holiday home where recovery was far into the future. As I continued to struggle, we avoided what appeared to be the inevitable conversation, one, ultimately we never had.
After three months in Ireland, we embarked upon a 12-night cruise from Amsterdam which included hours of walking tours in St. Petersburg. I could barely walk. I didn’t complain. We continued on. Tom was always supportive and we held back when necessary.
From there we spent two months in England and Wales staying in four locations. Finally, I began to sense recovery was on the horizon. Still, we never discussed ending our journey. On October 24, 2019, we sailed from Southampton, England to the US for an over two-month visit with family.
On January 29, 2020, we traveled for over 30 hours (with layovers) from Phoenix, Arizona to Mumbai, India. I was feeling great. We made it through, excited for the future, hopeful to be able to continue our years-long journey.
On February 2, 2020, we began an extraordinary one week journey on the world-renowned Maharajas Express Train from Mumbai to Delhi, after which we began a 55-night private tour of the country of India. What a glorious experience!
We were scheduled to sail out of Mumbai on April 3, 2020, on a 29-night cruise on the Viking Sun to Greenwich, England. During the tour, we stayed on top of the worldwide news of Covid-19, continually aware of the rampant infections in China and Italy and other parts of the world, also on cruise ships.
It was March 10, 2020, we were notified the cruise was canceled. It was at that point, we decided to end the 55-night tour with over three weeks remaining. We needed to get back to Mumbai, close to the airport to decide what we’d do from there.
With a flurry of activity, a flight from Madurai, India. to Mumbai, canceled and rescheduled, we finally made it to Mumbai. After considerable discussion, we decided to fly to our favorite place to hunker down until the virus ran its course.
Immediately, after arriving at the hotel in Mumbai where we’d stay the first few days when we’d arrived at the end of January, we booked a flight to South Africa, via Kenya and a house in the bush with the help dear friend Louise. We repacked our bags to comply with baggage restrictions.
On March 20th, we arrived at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at 3:30 am, in preparation to board the first leg of the long journey to South Africa. After hours in the queue at the airport and waiting for almost an hour at the check-in desk, we were turned away.
We could not travel to South Africa. They were and still are rejecting all foreign nationals from entering the country. With our luggage in tow and a dreadful taxi ride back to the hotel (the driver was lost), we checked back in with a plan to figure something out. The Mumbai airport was closing in 36 hours. No international flights.
One may ask, why didn’t we return to the US at that point? For several reasons, one, Covid-19 was rapidly escalating in the US and I’m at high risk: asthma, heart disease, and age. The thought of making our way through multiple airports was terrifying at this point. Secondly, our international health insurance only covers us while “outside the US.” Thirdly, we have no home in the US. We had no choice but to “wait it out” in a safe hotel in Mumbai.
After four nights passed, the hotel informed us they were closing and sent us on a wild goose chase to another hotel which they confirmed had booked us. Once we arrived, we were informed we hadn’t been booked into the hotel and most hotels other than a few were closing by the hour. In essence, we had nowhere to go.
We checked holiday homes online but owners weren’t interested in renting to foreign nationals, especially US citizens where cases are rapidly climbing. Most hotels in the city were closed. Taxis and tuk-tuks weren’t allowed to operate. Need I say, we were very worried.
We were offered a room at a government-arranged hotel but all the patrons were suspected Covid-19 cases on a 14-day quarantine. We passed.
With the kind help from the hotel manager at The Orchid Hotel which was closing and not accepting bookings, he found us the beautiful Mumbai Courtyard by Marriott hotel that would take us but under the condition that they too could close at any time and leave us stranded.
That is where we waited in lockdown for many months in a comfortable air-conditioned hotel room with excellent WiFi, kindly supportive staff, food supplies rapidly dwindling, and the constant concern that they too will close with only 20 rooms occupied by guests such as us, out of 334 rooms.
We lived day by day, hoping the hotel would remain open, hoping eventually the virus will pass, the airports will open and we’ll be on our way to South Africa, which at this juncture won’t allow any foreign nationals to fly into their country until perhaps as late as 2021.
Can we wait it out? Only time will tell. In the interim, we draw upon our emotional reserves, our dedication to one another, and our passion to continue on to see us through yet another challenging time in our journey. We can do this. And yes, we’ll carry on…
For details of our almost 12-year journey, please find us here: