Following her latest return from southern Africa, we chatted with Katie Gomer, Journey Past’s Product Supervisor for Africa. From discussing her worldwide flights to the protocols at every camp, she make clear masks sporting, take a look at administration, and the general expertise of touring throughout COVID-19. Whereas everybody’s journey will feel and look totally different, her solutions give a little bit of perception into what one may encounter when setting off on their subsequent journey.
What was it prefer to journey internationally throughout COVID-19? What are the long-haul flights and airports like?
This journey was my first because the pandemic, so I wasn’t fairly positive what to anticipate. After a yr of staying put, it undoubtedly felt “bizarre” to be flying once more. However with that stated, I discovered the expertise to be fairly clean. On the entire, there have been far fewer individuals on every flight than in “regular” occasions. The one exception to this was considered one of our home flights which ended up being utterly full. Flight attendants have been nice about guaranteeing passengers wore their masks and a bonus of fewer planes and passengers was having faster customs and immigration strains upon arrival.
When it got here to logistics, the airports had indicators for social distancing, masks have been required, and there have been plenty of hand sanitizer stations all through. Some people, after all, weren’t sporting their masks completely or appropriately however we had the area to distance ourselves from them. We needed to fill out extra paperwork when coming into and departing South Africa asking typical COVID-related questions. We additionally downloaded a contact tracing app for our time in South Africa. Utilizing GPS, it may notify us if we encountered somebody with a confirmed COVID case, however we have been by no means alerted to an publicity, which was reassuring.
How have camps responded to the pandemic? What well being and security protocols have they got in place?
Every camp had its personal guidelines, and a few have been stricter than others. All properties had hand sanitizer available and did every day temperature checks. Masks have been worn in all most important areas. Most camps additionally provided a personal eating possibility or bought inventive with their seating charts to permit for visitor consolation. One camp, due to its one giant, shared desk, left a spot open between every social gathering to permit for distancing. I assumed it was a pleasant technique to maintain individuals “collectively” whereas feeling secure in doing so. After all, if we had been uncomfortable with that setup, we actually may have requested to dine alone whereas there. On our closing night there, they did shock us with a personal dinner on our tent’s deck, which was an absolute deal with. As is true within the US, some workers and properties have been higher at adhering to security pointers than others. However a significant good thing about staying at safari properties is that you just’re virtually at all times in an open-air atmosphere, which helped my very own consolation stage.
What occurs when/should you cross a border inside Africa? How can vacationers put together for entry/departure?
Every nation has its personal COVID necessities which initially felt overwhelming. However Journey Past and the fantastic native workers organized each obligatory step to permit for clean border crossings. Each South Africa and Botswana, the 2 locations we visited, required a unfavorable PCR take a look at to enter the nation and a well being screening on arrival. After we arrived in Botswana, we have been required to take a speedy COVID antigen take a look at on the airport (which we didn’t need to pre-book or pay for). I felt that we have been well-prepared after studying by our Journey Past paperwork.
How simple was it to journey from place to position throughout the pandemic? How are the safari autos and/or bush planes working in another way?
It was very easy to get round, as deliberate. There have been fewer individuals flying so lots of our shared gentle plane flights ended up being personal. When it got here to highway transfers, like these we had in Cape City and the Winelands, everybody throughout the automobile wore masks, company and guides included.
How typically did it’s a must to put on a masks? Did that affect your enjoyment of the journey?
We wore our masks in all “public” areas – on the airports, arriving at eating places, in the primary areas of accommodations/safari lodges, and so on. Whereas on safari, the guides left it to us to determine if we wished to put on masks. We selected to not because the safari autos have been open and in them, we have been comparatively distanced from each other. Lots of our guides stored their masks on and, had we opted to put on ours, all would have fortunately achieved so. I’m pretty used to sporting a masks at this level, so I didn’t assume sporting one impacted our journey in any respect.
How typically did you want a COVID take a look at? Which varieties? How did you schedule and pay for these? Did it’s a must to miss out on any drives or experiences to be able to get your assessments?
We scheduled our personal assessments within the US, each earlier than and after journey. First, we would have liked a PCR take a look at inside 72 hours of our arrival into Botswana. With too quick a stopover in Johannesburg to check there, I made an appointment with a neighborhood clinic that I actually beloved utilizing. We needed to pay for the take a look at, but it surely assured a similar day turnaround. I didn’t need to depend on group testing websites simply in case it ended up taking longer than anticipated. We additionally selected to get examined 5 days after our return into america. We arrange an appointment at a area people clinic and bought our outcomes the subsequent day. We didn’t pay for this one.
Virtually all our in-country assessments have been pre-paid and arranged by Journey Past prematurely. The primary was required for arrival into South Africa from Botswana and administered whereas we have been on safari. As we have been heading out on our night recreation drive, we made a rapid cease on the property’s helipad. The take a look at administrator had flown in on helicopter and had a chair arrange for our “bush clinic.” He rapidly collected some data from every of us, swabbed us, and despatched us on our means inside about 5 minutes. It was a brilliant slick course of. They then had the outcomes printed for us earlier than we departed Botswana.
The second take a look at occurred at our final lodge in Cape City, South Africa. Whereas our airline and the nation by which we transited didn’t ask for a selected take a look at, america requires both a PCR or an antigen take a look at carried out inside 72 hours of re-entry. We had the date pre-arranged however may schedule the precise time after we bought to the lodge, based mostly on our touring schedule and choice. We had the choice of being examined in our room or the lodge foyer. We selected the foyer and after we left breakfast that morning, the nurse was already ready. Because it was a speedy antigen take a look at, my husband’s outcomes have been prepared as she was doing my swab and my outcomes have been prepared as we completed up paying. It was so fast, and I can’t suggest it extremely sufficient.
The one take a look at that was not pre-scheduled was an antigen take a look at that Botswana not too long ago started requiring. After touchdown, we have been directed to a tented space that they’d set as much as shield us from the solar. One after the other, we walked to a different tented area the place they administered the speedy antigen take a look at. Ready to be the subsequent known as took a little bit of time however as soon as examined, we bought the ends in about 10-Quarter-hour. We then instantly proceeded to the immigrations & customs strains (which had about 2 individuals in entrance of us!). There was no price to this take a look at, but it surely was a superb reminder to at all times be versatile and affected person whereas touring throughout COVID.
All assessments have been unfavorable, and we completely didn’t miss out on any experiences due to their administration.
What suggestions would you supply to individuals contemplating journey proper now?
Do what’s best for you. If you wish to journey, do it! However you’ll want to comply with security pointers and precautions when you’re touring, to guard your self and others. Protocol and necessities change frequently, so be ready to be versatile, as nicely. I might additionally encourage working with a journey skilled so that you may be assured all testing necessities are scheduled with the suitable timing.
Everybody we met alongside the way in which in Southern Africa was so appreciative of us touring over there because it allowed them to regain a little bit of a way of normalcy with their jobs. I felt that all of us benefited from the expertise and I can not converse extremely sufficient of exploring this lovely continent and getting again into the bush once more!