Exactly one year ago, we were stuck in a sparsely furnished Airbnb in Medellin, Colombia. The city was under strict lockdown due to COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic a week earlier. A year later, and things still haven’t gotten “back to normal.” We’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and decided to write some pandemic reflections as we look back on this crazy year.
A Faraway Virus
Since our job is teaching English online to Chinese children, we were very aware of COVID from the start. Our students had to cancel their Chinese New Year plans and most of them ended up stuck at home for three months.
We heard about it on the news and from our students on a daily basis in January, but we went about living our lives as we had planned.
This included a trip to Barranquilla for Carnaval, where we danced and partied in the streets with thousands of strangers. Watching our video about that trip, it’s hard to believe that was just a year ago…
While we were aware of the virus, it seemed like such a faraway problem at first. After all, we remember taking those 12-14 hour flights between the US and China very vividly. It’s a long way to go!
Then Italy got hit and the virus started spreading across Europe. It didn’t take long until it was on American soil. Colombia got its first cases and promptly shut down the borders and grounded flights.
We were officially stuck.
Living Quarantine Life
Originally, the lockdown was supposed to just be four days. I bought some groceries (including a 12-pack and bottle of whiskey, naturally) and picked up a little guitar and a yoga mat.
It would be a piece of cake!
Then on the first night, the lockdown immediately got extended to two weeks. They waited until people were inside their homes to make the announcement, which was a sneaky but smart move. We were officially living that quarantine life.
For the next two weeks, we did nothing but teach, write, and edit, with breaks for yoga and guitar. Lots of our favorite bands were doing “quaran-streams” and we got on Zoom chats with family and friends, so the weekends were actually pretty fun.
Then they extended the lockdown for another two weeks and made it more restrictive. We could each leave the house 1-2 times a week and only for essentials. We couldn’t even go outside for a walk.
Rachel was very busy with launching her online course, but I was getting cabin fever in a bad way. I had a hard time sleeping and was very anxious about everything.
Then one night we heard gunshots right below our window. And we lived in the fancy part of town… And the lockdown got extended, again.
We realized we had nothing to prove by staying in such a miserable situation. After missing the first two, we managed to hop on a humanitarian flight to Ft. Lauderdale.
Making Our Escape
The reason we made the decision to flee was mainly because we had an empty house we could go quarantine in. Rachel’s step-dad kept his house outside of Asheville when he married her mom. They go there on the weekends and share it with friends and family, including their digital nomad kids evacuating during a pandemic.
It was a long, strange trip home to say the least. We rented a car in Florida and drove 12 straight hours to Asheville. That caused me to throw out my back and I was basically bed-ridden for the first two weeks.
I fled Colombia primarily to have freedom of movement again and yet I was trapped in bed. I felt like a lyric in an Alanis Morissette song. Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think?
While that was pretty miserable, I made it through. We got supplies and groceries delivered from family and even had her mom’s old car to use.
Rachel drove to Upcountry – one of the best breweries in Asheville – and picked up a socially-distanced case of beer. It was the only time one of us left the road in that two weeks.
Grateful for Family and Wide Open Spaces
When I got back on my feet, I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the yard as well as up and down the road, saying hi to neighbors who are all in the family as well.
All of a sudden, something so simple as going for a walk along the river in Asheville became a big deal. Funny how we took those little things for granted until a global pandemic hit.
Eventually, we started playing disc golf and driving up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for hikes. We would also visit her hometown of Johnson City most weekends, stopping to hang out with friends and their kids along the way.
If there was one silver lining of this dumpster fire of a year, it was being able to spend so much time with friends and family. Usually, our visits home are rushed and jam-packed, so it was nice to take our time.
We got to spend our 5-year anniversary traveling around the Great Smoky Mountains for a week, which was an incredible experience. It was tough making the call, but heading home was definitely the right one.
My brother and his buddy came to visit us in Asheville and we got to show them around. We also stayed in a yurt on a farm in Kentucky together en route to Michigan, where we spent a few weeks with my family.
While we usually just hang out in Detroit, but on this trip, we got to enjoy time on not one, but two of the Great Lakes. We visited my mom’s cottage on Lake Huron and went camping up north with friends. On the way back we stopped to climb the sand dunes and take a swim in Lake Michigan. Exploring our own backyards a bit more was nice!
Ups and Downs with Work
This whole year has been a pretty wild roller coaster ride for us work-wise. Our usual month of extra hours for Chinese New Year turned into three. It kept us busy during the lockdown and save money while we waited things out.
When our students started going back to school, though, things slowed down considerably. Our schedules were pretty erratic for May and June, so we were very grateful to be living rent-free for a while amidst the uncertainty.
Before the pandemic, I was doing a ton of freelance writing for other websites. I had so much work on my plate, in fact, that I considered seriously cutting back the teaching. Boy am I glad I didn’t, as I got furloughed by pretty much all my writing jobs in April.
While my writing income took a massive hit and our traffic nose-dived, we were able to pivot and adapt. With more people looking for work-from-home opportunities, we focused on helping people get a TEFL certificate.
Rachel also ramped up her course, Teaching for Freedom, and enrolled several students. She has had dozens of success stories over the past two years, helping people get started teaching online and transitioning to location independence.
Despite all the crap that 2020 threw at us, we actually had our best year as a business in the end. It was a nauseating ride at times, but we’re just grateful that we’ve managed to keep our heads above water.
I’m happy to say that the writing work has started to trickle back in, including getting two cover stories for an online magazine so far this year.
Vamos a Mexico
For the first two months, we stayed at our usual place in the 5 de Diciembre neighborhood. My brother visited and we finally crossed the Marietas Islands off our list.
We had to find our own place for the high season, though. We lucked into a brand new luxury condo a block from the beach. I call it the “pandemic special” as the rent is way cheaper than it should be…
My sister came to visit around Christmas and we had a great time showing her around. We finally did the Boca to Las Animas hike again and made an awesome video out of it.
The best part about being back in Puerto Vallarta, though, has been the people. We’ve made so many friends over the years and it’s been so nice to have people around after so much isolation.
For Rachel’s 35th birthday and a friend’s 40th, we actually rented an entire party boat complete with waterslides and a dance floor. It was nothing short of epic.
Trying to Fill a Void
While it’s been a great winter down here in PV, there’s a void in our lives that has been impossible to fill. Ever since we met (and even before that), our lives have revolved around live music.
We usually plan our years out based on Phish tour dates and music festival lineups. Our bank account is happy, but we are not. We miss live music so bad, and can’t wait to hug our friends and share a beer in a random parking lot somewhere.
It’s not just the music, though. It’s also traveling. We’ve been traveling so much for the past decade that it’s been a major shock to the system to remain so sedentary.
For the past six months, we haven’t gone farther than an hour away from home. There have been no trips to Mexico City or Guadalajara for football or Lucha Libre. We haven’t visited any new places in Mexico, either. For the first time ever, we actually have to extend our tourist visas here.
Our lives revolve around travel and live music, and both of those things were abruptly taken away. We realize we are very fortunate to have our health, our jobs, and a roof over our heads, but it’s been a tough year.
We’ve also been dealing with personal issues this past year and it’s led me to feelings of depression, something I’ve never really experienced before. I’m trying to keep my head up and look on the bright side, but damn has this lousy year made that difficult…
Ready to Rock
The good news is that there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve got tickets to see two of our favorite bands in the near future. Umphrey’s McGee is playing in Detroit, just 10 minutes from my childhood home. Then we’re finally seeing Goose in Ohio for a 2-night campout in June.
Even though it’ll just be a parking lot in Detroit and a field in Ohio, we are so thrilled to get back out there and travel for live music. You guys have no idea how uplifting that is for us right now.
We hope that you can find a silver lining and something to look forward to as well. Don’t we all need that right now!
It’s looking unlikely that we’ll be able to see Phish play this summer, but we’re remaining cautiously optimistic! Hopefully, we at least get some of our favorite bands passing through Asheville. Time will tell.
In addition to the shows, we’ve got a 2-week trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons planned with my family. It’ll be our first time visiting Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana – three new states in one trip! We’ve got some awesome Airbnb spots lined up and are very excited for this bucket-list adventure.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking around this stream-of-consciousness post. I don’t usually write blog posts like these anymore, so it was nice to write just because I felt like writing. Here’s to hoping this next year looks a bit better than the last one.
As the Grateful Dead sing – “we will get by, we will survive.”