Three tests, and four days in hotel quarantine – was our trip to Barbados worth the hassle?
Barbados is a breathtaking travel destination - but are the current barriers to entry just too big? - istock
I've been to Barbados many times since I was a kid. My parents, who followed in the footsteps of many Britons, made it our winter vacation destination year after year, and I continued the tradition of trading frenzied kids' clubs for long, sleepy trips with friends.
But this year I made my first trip to the Caribbean island during a pandemic. With my partner Alex in tow for the first time, I would also go through a flood of new Covid rules as part of our weekly vacation. I've had a ton of disasters on the island, from sunburns to unfortunate romances, so I was a game for anything the trip could bring. Nothing in the world is worth doing unless it involves exertion, as old Teddy Roosevelt would say.
Our original plan was to stay two weeks to maximize time on the island. But after a combination of flight cancellations and very few available seats left us with limited options, I flew out December 14-20. A week in Barbados was better than a week in Tier 3 at home, I thought. Others may point out that there are other Caribbean destinations that are less demanding on travelers, but Barbados has long been my first choice. I saw no reason to change that now.
The first step was to secure a Covid test three days before arrival: for us Friday, December 11th. At least it was easy. A late afternoon appointment at the Harley Street Health Center (harleyhealthcentre.com) got us to the London clinic in less than 20 minutes. An efficient paramedic took our swabs with minimal effort - there was no way I trusted a long cotton swab to properly poke my nose with a home test.
The results were back the next day at 8 p.m.: negative, hurray, first hurdle down. The next step was to upload our results to an online immigration form which, in addition to the results, asked for details about our accommodation, the nature of our trip and pictures of our passports. Nothing too strenuous. Once completed, a "Barbados Online ED Form Receipt" was sent to our email. Now only one flight had to be boarded - an airy process at Heathrow with quick check-in and minimal questions.
Portico 1 in Barbados - not a bad place to be quarantined
When I landed in Barbados, I expected far more stringent measures, and this turned out to be true. An obstacle course of queues awaited those who got off the plane. This included a review of your negative test; a questionnaire from the Ministry of Health; Accommodation review (write in a letter that your hotel or villa has been approved by Covid); passport and immigration control; and finally a nurse interview.
Again, I managed to get through this with ease, if not by accident. I had paid $ 60 (GBP 44) for a fast lane through my accommodation for the next week, Portico 1 in St. James (hammertonbarbados.com/villas/portico-1). A friendly representative met me outside the plane and took me to the top of each queue. She even filled out my form for me. Expensive? Could be. Its worth it? Yes. Alex, who had flown the day before, ignored my warnings to get one for himself. After landing, it took him two and a half hours to leave the airport. I was in a cab to our Barbados apartment within 27 minutes of touching down.
If at this point, dear reader, you think that this all sounds too good to be true, you are unfortunately right. We focused on just getting into the country, forgetting that final hurdle: Visitors to Barbados must do a second PCR test four days after their first and quarantine until their results are back. This would be our only major hiccup.
We settled down at the Free Government Polyclinic first thing on Tuesday morning instead of waiting for a private test on Wednesday. We were told that all of the tests went to the same single lab on the island and came back around the same time. The Barbados Tourism website claimed the results came back within 24 hours - an easy choice it seemed.
A nervous last-minute call to the clinic in advance had assured us that we can expect our results on Wednesday noon. We stood in line at the clinic for about 30 minutes and when we left our tester told us to expect results "within 24 to 48 hours". The time frame lengthened with each source, but we remained optimistic - I made dinner reservations for Wednesday night. We booked a catamaran cruise for Thursday. What fools we were.
Quarantined Tuesday was calm enough. Our apartment, which came with an expansive balcony, panoramic ocean views, and a private plunge pool, wasn't a difficult place to immerse yourself in. And I found the WhatsApp number of Mike, a local who runs a rum punch company in Barbados, aptly named Mike's Fresh Bajan Rum Punch (+1 246-252-8884): I ordered almost two liters of punch (Bajan rum, lime, sugar and bitter) for about £ 20 and he had offered to pick us up for groceries with no delivery fee. We are ready.
Silver moon catamaran - silver moon catamarans
But on Wednesday afternoon I was walking up and down the living room. Our test results were still not back and panicked calls to the clinic had confirmed our fears: There was a massive backlog in the island's laboratory. People who were tested on Sunday were still waiting for results; We test subjects on Tuesday had no chance. We spent the rest of the day ignoring the happy squeaks of the tourists as they sped across the blue water in inflatable dinghies.
As we watched my third sunset - and Alex's fourth - from the confines of our beautiful residential prison, I struggled. "Barbados looks amazing," said Alex, trying to stay positive as the catamaran cruise we were hoping for the next morning passed by. "At least what we can see from our balcony." "I think I need another rum," I replied.
“I would be satisfied with just taking a walk on the beach,” I said to Alex as Thursday dawned with no results and no cruise and the negotiation phase of grief began. “You might meet Captain Tom, a friend joked before we left, pointing out that the former British Army officer and hero of Covid would be on the island at the same time as us. The chances of this dwindled from hour to hour.
That is, until our own Covid hero stepped in. Our apartment manager called us Thursday afternoon and said she had talked to Dr. Makeba Brooks, the operations manager of Urgent Care Barbados (urgentcarebarbados.com) - one of the most important private testing companies on the island. Why hadn't we done a test with them yet, was her confused question. We heard that the arrears affected everyone, private or not, we took action.
A call to Dr. Brooks himself cleared things up. The backlog was real, but your company was able to get results quickly in 12 to 15 hours. We were tested that day at 2 p.m. in the comfort of our apartment. Our results were back at 11:30 PM that evening. Oh how we kicked ourselves.
However, there was no cause for regret when we boarded our long-awaited catamaran cruise the next morning. There are plenty of such cruises in Barbados, but Silver Moon (silvermoonbarbados.com) is one of the classiest options, with smaller groups and an extremely peppy boat to relax on in a casual way.
The format for most Bajan catamaran cruises includes snorkeling around a shipwreck, swimming with turtles, lunch, and unlimited drinks. For many, this means pounding rum in plastic cups and banging your elbows with a large number of other snorkelers - some kind of fun, hands down. Instead, we drank freshly mixed pina coladas in cocktail glasses, and an early start meant our group of eight had the turtles to us for a good half an hour. Surrounded by shimmering aquamarine seas, all hurdles became a dim memory.
We decided to spend our last night at a resort on the island and encountered a masked couple in a situation similar to Wednesday. politely, in stressful voices, asking when they might get their tests, and hearing with growing horror about the island's backlog. Behind them, another British woman was waiting to find out if she could extend her family's stay after hearing the Tier 4 news from London and the South East. "Why should we want to go back?" We heard her ask the front desk as we went to the pool. Quite.
The next day, as we were preparing to fly back to Tier 4 London, Alex and I regrouped. Was it all worth it for the two and three quarters of the day we spent outdoors? Call us crazy, but the answer was yes. And this short but wonderful dose of vacation was all the more precious when we learned that it could be our last trip abroad for some time.
If you are going to leave yourself, it is important to learn from our mistakes. Take a two-week trip or bite the bullet and pay the cash for a private test with Urgent Care - our government test finally found its way to us on Friday, well over three days after our first test. I have no idea how many others are waiting for them.
And if you're out there now, don't come back until the new year.
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