There is nothing simple about travelling in times of covid.
First, the situation is compounded because most people – like me – have to travel in terrible circumstances. It isn’t a holiday.
Up until the day she passed away, my mum's team of doctors thought radiation would buy her several months. Unfortunately, Hilary was hit by an infection and she was too weak to fight it off.
My courageous mum died later the same day.
I was already so worried and then overwhelmed with grief. I will always regret not getting there on time, largely because it so incredibly difficult to get back into New Zealand.
Now, I had to go to Vancouver because there is no one else and I'm still faced with the fact that I can’t get back home until mid-June.
So that, and all the planning involved, as well as things like death certificates and funeral home arrangements, were whirling around in my head.
The eerie quiet
It’s a good thing there are systems in place here to deal with the multiple challenges of things like quarantine.
The first step was the covid test. It needs to be less than 72-hours old from when you board your final flight into Canada, but you can’t board in Wellington without it. The timing and the math are complicated given it took four flights to get here.
The lab said it might take 48 hours for the result, so I hedged my bets and did it 48 hours before flight time. It turns out they were faster.
By far the strangest thing was the eerie quiet of the international terminals and shuttered shops. It felt like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. It was so empty; I could hear the echo of my footsteps as I walked to the gate.
I had to overnight in Los Angeles. Yes, people are being vaccinated and yes, they wear masks. Still, about 400 cases were reported that day and 20 people died. Died from covid-19.
Most people do not understand how lucky we are in New Zealand.
I also had to get a covid test in LA because yes, my first test was going to be too old. There are several testing stations but only one that has less than a 24-hour turnaround. It would have to be the absolute farthest away from where I landed.
I brought carry-on luggage only to avoid having to collect bags. Carry-on gets heavy. Masks and plastic face shields get hot.
The actual testing station was in containers in a parking lot and was extremely efficient. The result was back within the 5-hour window and I was glad to see it said negative. I had visions of the Centre for Disease Control people arriving in hazmat suits to escort me away right up until the result came through.
By far the most stressful part of the whole trip was the US domestic terminal, in particular the security checkpoint. Everyone is wearing a mask but there were crowds of people jammed into a small space, all trying to remove their shoes and snag grey plastic bins to load up stuff. There was a lot of yelling and apparently, you can’t put your laptop and its bag in the same bin.
I tried to rectify this as instructed and accidentally got in the way of a woman who body-checked me. She wasn’t remotely polite about it. People weren’t just close, they were in my face.
The Los Angeles to San Francisco plane was beyond full. There was a standby list and I don’t think they all made it on. There is no negative test requirement to fly domestically and there is no social distancing.
I kept my mask on and hoped for the best. I wiped down the area with sanitiser and didn’t drink or eat while the two people in my row were centimetres away at best.
Perhaps the most surreal moment in the whole journey was when we landed in San Francisco and I looked across the aisle only to see a huge dog staring back at me.
I’m pretty sure he had his own seat. He didn’t look like a service dog. I think he was just taking a plane ride with his owner. To be fair, I would have rather sat beside him. He seemed less risky.
Vancouver was extremely civilized and professional, and I went through multiple security checks where they quizzed me about the conditions of my intended place for self-isolation and did another covid test – this time in tents set up with in the terminal.
In Canada, you are required to spend and pay for three days in a hotel while you await the result from your covid entry test.
If you are negative, you can self-isolate at a private residence for the remaining 11 days but the conditions are strict and the consequences dire for those who fail to comply.
I followed a green line to a station where they gave me my "in-home test," which they will collect via courier. I need to do it online with a doctor.
This all seemed reassuring. Then I asked how to get to the hotel. “Oh, just go grab a taxi, there are a bunch outside." So I did – a random taxi.
Unlike NZ, there are no QR codes for contact tracing.
I really wasn’t worried about catching covid from the taxi driver. I was worried about giving it to him. If I ever was going to get covid, it will be from that Los Angeles to San Francisco flight.
Once the covid test comes back negative you can relocate to your approved place for self-isolation. I am lucky my brother and his family live in Vancouver and have a room in the basement with its own bathroom.
So much of this is hard, like not being able to hug my nephews. We waved at each other from across a room with masks on. Then there’s trying to decide on a burial plot remotely.
However, I am grateful I made it here.
Hopefully, I made it through the US unscathed and the day 10 test will come back negative.
Above all though, I hope I can be safely quarantined in New Zealand well before my official return date of June 10. The managed isolation facilities are still booked up until then.
People keep telling me the Aussie trans-Tasman bubble will free up space if and when it happens. I'm somewhat sceptical because if someone told me I could travel back to NZ from Canada quarantine-free, I don’t think I would give up my MIQ voucher until I was on the plane.
It’s all just too uncertain.