While the world fights a pandemic, the Bahamas works to keep the populace safe, and the economy healthy...
Having weathered 2020 without illness or mental distress, I was still a little reluctant when offered a free trip to Andros Island, Bahamas, by a fellow AFFTA board member. Perhaps it was the cold water swirling around my waders when the call came in that softened the apprehension or the encouragement from Jennifer and Josh that I NEEDED to go bonefishing. Either way, I soon resolved to overcome my fears of pandemic travel and started packing. Jennifer was very supportive until the reality of her missing out on a week in paradise sunk in and changed her mood somewhat. Thankfully, this was about the same time I received a second call from my host, inviting her to join the adventure. All was now right in the world; we just needed to go bonefishing.
We may have been ready to go, but traveling internationally requires adhering to foreign and domestic rules put in place to protect visitors and residents from the current health concerns. As this was a last-minute trip, getting up to speed on the requirements of the Bahamian Health Ministry required a quick perusal of the government website and starting the registration process for the required Health Visa.
Currently, the Bahamas require a negative RT-PCR test, which in Oregon seems to be harder to get than in other parts of the country. While travelers from Utah, Montana, and Colorado simply walked into their local hospital and requested a travel test, we had to wade through a collection of providers charging anywhere from $170 to $975 per person for the rapid test. Finally, a friend turned us on to Carbon Health; an app downloaded to your iPhone allows you to book appointments at their tent clinic at PDX. The test itself was not as invasive as described by others, and results popped up in our email inbox the next day. While this service is designed for Hawaii-bound travelers, the test documentation fulfills the requirement for the Bahamas but must be administered within the limited time frame outlined.
Now the fun part begins; getting the test results uploaded to the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism, Health Visa site, then getting your Visa back in time to make your flight. If your window is tight, I would suggest calling the Ministry of Tourism and requesting a fast track of your Visa. It would be best if you remembered that "island time" is a real thing, and nothing moves very fast in the Bahamas, except Bonefish and cold beer. Using auto-redial until you get through, then staying on the line even if you are caller number 49 is the only way to make sure you have your Visa before starting your trip. To underline this, we received our Visa with 25-minutes to spare before locking the door and heading to the airport. While some may think the addition of a Health Visa is nothing but a governmental tax, please note that the $60 fee includes health insurance on the islands to cover the costs of quarantine, hospitalization, or medical evacuation if you test positive during your stay.
Domestic travel has its challenges as well, and while flying at the front of the bus, thanks to our generous host negates some of them; there is still the mask mandate and reduction in services while airborne. Fortunately, Covid has kept us out of the theaters, so the inflight movie selection was pretty fresh, and we always travel with a few snacks. We sequestered ourselves in our First Class seats and looked forward to our arrival in warmer climes.
Jennifer and I found that the attitude of many travelers and local governments regarding masks and social distancing varies from state to state. Travelers need to take ownership of their safety and that of those around them. In addition to the Health Visa, the Bahamas requires a daily health evaluation for all visitors and a negative Covid test before departure. While there are no guarantees, if taking the proper precautions, I believe one can survive international travel, as long as the destination isn't ground zero for the next Covid surge. Andros Island has had only 22 cases, with Mangrove Cay, our home for the week, recording zero cases since the pandemic began. Hopefully, with the protocols put in place, this little piece of paradise will remain safe for both residents and visitors.