27.04.2009 - 29.04.2009 29 °C
If karma is real then I must have committed a treacherous act of some unfathomable scale to deserve this. My travel plans lay in tatters as the H1N1 influenza virus dubbed ´swine flu´was born in Mexico. If that was not enough an earthquake rocked the nations capital days later. A plague of locusts with some pestulence chucked in for good measure was surely to follow but thankfully was not forthcoming.
As the virus impact mutated from epidemic to pandemic, the media machine kicked into action in a whirlwind of hysteria, I was left with the choice of travelling into Hells Gate and face the beast or stay home and lock the doors. In a week of emotional turmoil, absorbing daily reports from the BBC, CNN, CDC, British Consulate and any other ´reputable´source, I contemplated canelling, redirecting or ploughing on regardless with the trip.
2 days before departure, the big 3 UK travel agents alongside counterparts across Europe cancelled all scheduled flights; France called for a global ban on all travel to Mexico; US & UK governments and media fanned the flames of pandemonia; erroneous scientists proclaining wild statements...
this virus has the potential to kill 1.5 billion people worldwide
it's the dealiest virus of the 21st Century
the end of the world is nigh
Now, if I was not a thinking man, a package holiday traveller or one who accepts an element of risk in ones life, I would currently be sat at home in England or in extreme in a vacuum sealed room with a years supply of canned baked beans and mineral water (a horrific thought in itself). As it is I write this from Tulum in SE Mexico in good health, a smile on my face and the sun on my back - yes, I ploughed on regardless with the following rationalization:
- there have been a minimal number of infections originating from Cancun (my entry point to Mexico)
- I have no inention of staying in Cancun, with or without a virus of any of kind
- to exercise caution in crowded areas by wearing a rather fetching face mask
- paying extra attention to personal hygiene - washing hands regulary, covering mouth when coughing/sneezing, no spitting etc
- not travelling to disease hotspots (e.g. Mexico City)
- keep my stay in Mexico to a minimal and exit south to Belize asap
- no kissing strangers
- absolutely no pig petting
If I follow this regime, I believe I will have reduced my chances of contracting the virus equal to the chanches of catching it on the underground in London where no caution is followed, and further, if I did cancel my trip such the crushing defeat by the authorities on my personal liberties would cause such a blow that my immune system would undoubtedly weaken making me further susceptable to the virus.
Further if I did contract the virus, if it is diagnosed and treated quickly, the risk to your life is minimal and most likely you will experience only flu-like symptoms for a week or so before making a full recovery (although the 'man flu' phenomena could potentially escalate this beyond comprehension). It is a well known fact that the common strains of flu kill tens of thousands worldwide each year so why this strain (albeit a new mutation and amalgamation of 4 existing strains, for which there is no known vaccine) gathers such press baffles me somewhat. That is not to say I would step into a bus lane to prove the theory that it's more likely you'll get run over by a bus, but I hope you can appreciate the point. A pang of guilt does hang over me that perhaps I have compromised my global responsibility to restrict the spread of the virus, however precautions in place I will do upmost to avoid this, and hey if I did catch the dreaded bug, there's worse places in the world to be to recover in isolation (picture a desert island in the middle of the caribean...)
And so travel to Mexico I did.
Granted, Tulum (and the entire Riviera del Maya) is something of a ghost town - temples and museums are closed, the vibrant nightclubs are almost empty, hotels and hostels have few travellers present. Cancun must be worse still as the majority of the populous are package tour punters which as mentioned are all cancelled (perhaps all that are left are the Brits who refused to come home on the additional flights laid on by their tour operators). On the flipside prices are cheap, there's more choice shopping around for accomodation and the ever-friendly Mexicans are making a special effort to embrace those who braved the 'lethal' virus.
Is my trip necessary? perhaps not..... or perhaps it is. As a free individual, I have the right to travel where I wish (visa permitting), am able to make educated decisions on how to run my life, for which I accept full responsibility. The alternative? to live and die in fear of an unseen enemy (which holds an obvious parallel to other restrictions imposed that threaten our wider civil liberties). In my mind at this time the worlds biggest threat and true pandemic is fear.