Thanks to a pair of weekend beach trips, February seemed to pass much faster than January had. As we turned the calendar to March and kicked off our 100-day countdown to departure from the Philippines, we also celebrated Munchkin’s seventh birthday — a terrific reminder that life marches on apace even if it sometimes feels that the pandemic has put it on pause.
In a country as heavily rules-based as the one in which we currently reside, there is bound to be a fair amount of box-checking that is only tangentially connected to actual policy objectives. The ongoing pandemic is a prime case in point. Rules abound, and while some of them are quite sensible, plenty of others appear to miss the mark entirely. Restaurants, for example, have adopted strict protocols that typically include forbidding patrons from sitting directly across from each other, even at outdoor tables. Instead, staff will push two tables together and require members of the same party to sit kitty-corner. What this accomplishes is anyone’s guess, but there seems to be no room for any common sense deviation from this established rule — not even, say, for married couples or families and their children.
Pico de Loro, where we spent the MLK holiday weekend, is great for birding. The cove where our hotel was located was encircled by forested cliffs that resonated with birdsong. The hotel was arranged around a man-made lagoon that drew kingfishers, herons, egrets, and songbirds, along with a bevy of domesticated ducks. Alas, D did not pack his birding gear, so he contented himself with spotting the local avian denizens with his naked eye on our way to and from the beach.
The Philippines opened for internal tourism shortly before we returned to Manila. It has been a cautious, gradual reopening: hotels are operating at reduced capacity, many places — including entire provinces — do not accept children, and traveling anywhere outside Metro Manila requires testing, health declarations, and at times other administrative hurdles, including police certificates. These new normal travel circumstances beg the question of whether traveling is even worth it.
Counting down the last days of 2020 while also keeping a personal countdown of our two-week home quarantine, we experienced a case of itchy fingers, reliving through our photos and daily blog posts our final weeks in the States. Then our home confinement ended, we turned the calendar page, and all of a sudden found that we had run out of things to say. We settled again into a new routine, but most of it did not seem particularly interesting or worth setting down for posterity. Then came the events of January 6, and they and their aftermath were all we could think about. We haven’t been shy about sharing our thoughts on our personal social media accounts, but we generally try to keep politics out of our blog, so we went dark instead. We didn’t feel like writing about the failed insurrection or its implication for the future of our country, but blogging about anything else felt too trite to even consider.
It’s hard to fathom that 2020 is behind us, hard also to wrap our minds around the fact that tomorrow marks one month since our departure from Sedona. For so much of the past year time appeared to drag so slowly that its cumulative passage is difficult to grasp. A new year at times heralds a new beginning. For us, 2021 has brought an unlikely agglomeration of things old and new — a rearrangement of our daily life that is simultaneously a sea change from our recent past and a return to familiar beginnings.
Manila appears to have emptied out for the New Year’s holiday weekend. There are limits on hotel occupancy and various pre-travel testing mandates; also, many places require out-of-province travelers to obtain health certificates issued by the police. Even so, the Philippines is again open for domestic tourism, and many of our friends and colleagues took full advantage. We encountered only two other families at our building’s pool today; neither one had booked a beach getaway because both were still awaiting the arrival of their vehicles. Almost everyone else appears to have skipped town — not just the expats, but many Filipinos too.
There have been many times this year when it appeared to us that time was standing still: at the beginning of the pandemic, when we had committed to remaining in Manila and were counting down the days of the city’s initial quarantine one at a time; while homeschooling through the spring and attempting to balance childcare and work during the summer; and, more recently, during our home quarantine upon returning to the Philippines. We have traveled halfway around the world twice during the pandemic, ending up right where we had started. Thankfully, the year that turned the world on its head has drawn to a close, and being back in the Philippines means we can greet the arrival of 2021 ahead of most of the rest of the world.
The journey from Sedona to Manila took us through Phoenix and Los Angeles and — thanks to the vagaries of U.S. government travel rules, mandatory COVID testing, and time zone changes — lasted the better part of a week. We departed Sedona on a Sunday morning and did not arrive back at our apartment in the Philippines until the following Thursday. In the run-up to our departure, we focused exclusively on tying up loose ends and making the most of our dwindling days among the red rocks. To the extent that our thoughts wandered beyond Sedona, it was to address the logistical challenges that awaited during our two-week home quarantine in Manila. We spared absolutely no mental energy for the days in transit until arriving that Sunday evening in Los Angeles, where we would be spending two days to test and await our COVID results.