Today I was due to travel to Mexico but, guess what, COVID-19 had it that it’s time to stay home. In confinement.
It’s been three weeks now. As of late March 2020, my city is perhaps the worldwide epicenter of the pandemia. How not cool is that. So let’s reflect on all this. It’s perhaps the closest you and I will be to a historical event, after all.
One thing that strikes me is how much my perception of distance has shifted. I think about my usual half hour drive to the city and now it feels like a long haul flight to Asia or the Americas – long, but yet an image of freedom and escape from routine.Even my short drive to work. The last Friday before the university closed I made a quick trip to my office, to pick up some materials and props I need for online teaching. I felt my world expanding as I cruised the almost deserted road. I even sported gloves and sanitary mask for additional credibility as a character in this show.
There is a plus side to all this, though. Taking out the garbage becomes a highlight of the day, and walking to the supermarket is quite the outing of the week. I am also enjoying the extra space provided by my parent’s yard – yes, the same space that I have been somehow trying to escape for so many years. I go there every other day and enjoy some domestic sport with my children. (They too need the space and the distraction).
There’s more. Opportunities for contemplation from my south-facing balcony, huge by Spanish standards. I have almost roasted under the sun, gotten wet from heavy rain and even seen snow on the last day of March. Somehow, having a smaller, constricted world makes you pay more attention to the details, knowing better versus knowing more. Discovering the endless nuances of the same view, how no sunrise is quite the same as the one before.
And what to do with the extra time. At the beginning of the confinement I spent quite some time researching travel destinations, clicking and dragging away on Google Maps as I’d sip from can after can of Mahou. I was tipsy, perhaps, but it dawned on me that maybe my assumption that travel in Africa was for another life was wrong. (I don’t count Northern Africa -the Maghreb- which is culturally Mediterranean). Don’t ask me why, but it felt too adventurous, requiring a younger body and, above all, a fresher spirit.
So I have made a point of traveling to Africa as soon as international air travel makes sense and I have the time. I have looked into Ghana and Ethiopia, perhaps even Uganda.
But then confinement wouldn’t go away and I realized that travel to Africa -and indeed, anywhere else that requires using airplanes and airports- is indeed a lifetime away. Maybe better focus on what is closer and make it an object of my desire. Not that hard, really.
My first run after confinement in Parque del Este or, God forbid, as far as Valdeloshielos.
A long walk with my children in rugged and remote Central Park, still in my town.
Even later, making it to the sierra, the mountains of my heart, which I still see from my bedroom window but which now feel as remote as the Karakorum.
And, even, that drive to the city center to see them loved ones.
Trust me, I’ll turn up the volume and sing feeling like like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty on an endless hitchhiking journey bound for the American West.