Covid travel notes

Published August 8, 2021
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

AS Covid-19 mass vaccination hovers around the 60 per cent mark of the fully vaccinated population in most of Europe, its impact on serious illness, hospitalisation, mortality and public confidence is visible compared to the summer of 2020.

Last summer, resort towns and beaches were more or less deserted with regional lockdowns being enforced in many countries and neither EU nationals nor their own citizens had the freedom of movement they have a year down the line.

In the small town by the Mediterranean midway between Valencia and Alicante where we currently are, the July-August population, swollen by a rush of holidaymakers, soars to some five, even six, times of the normal. But last year, that was not the case.

This year, a quick dash to the supermarket leaves you wondering where you are as, in a matter of a few moments, you hear Dutch, German, French, Flemish, Polish, Russian, and, of course, English being spoken around you, in addition to Spanish. I have seen car number plates from the Baltic states too.

The tourists are here like a tidal wave and have swamped everything from beaches to roads to supermarkets to restaurants to local shops.

The tourists are here like a tidal wave and have swamped everything from beaches to roads to supermarkets to restaurants to local shops. The residents of the town understand the significance of the tourist to the local economy.

But the too cavalier, badly behaved tourist is a pain. Inconsiderate behaviour is so annoying with some of them dumping their rubbish on the streets and roads rather than walking/ driving to the communal bins that dot this town every few hundred metres.

Some holiday-makers are found playing loud music till almost sunrise. One assumes they collapse from sheer exhaustion after their all-night karaoke and dance, not to mention an excess of food and drink. On one night alone, the police reported attending to 135 noise complaints in villas in our small town.

Thus, there is always underlying tension between the fulltime residents and these seasonal visitors. This is not to say local business owners have not welcomed the surge in visitors, particularly after a dismal 18 months where many were forced to pull down their shutters, lay off staff and barely survive in a hand-to-mouth situation themselves.

A restaurateur friend is displaying an earlobe-to-earlobe smile this year. Seeing the rush at supermarkets which are now open seven days a week it will be safe to say that they are raking it in and already employing many more people for the summer than even two years ago.

I say this simply because after suffering long periods of lockdowns and/or seeing at least some among friends and family face the full brunt of the pandemic, one notices many people appear to be holidaying with a sense of vengeance this year. Mandatory masks indoors are the only reminders of the pandemic. Those who were able to hold on to their jobs during the pandemic must clearly have greater holiday budgets than usual as most could not take a break in 2020.

After being fully vaccinated, we also decided to take a small holiday in the Dordogne region of France and then the Spanish side of the Pyrenees about three weeks ago. Sadly, our budget was abysmal but I am not complaining.

France today is just ahead of Romania and Bulgaria in the fully vaccinated ranking and behind most of its EU/European neighbours. When we visited our lovely (vaccinated) friends Jose and Mylene in the area most famous for foie gras (love it or hate it), the usually busy touristy region appeared quite deserted. Looked like Covid was casting a long shadow.

Driving through the Pyrenees on our way back, the traffic and the number of people at least on the French side appeared far less than other years when we have been in the area of beautiful green mountains, streams, lakes, meadows, and the tell-tale clanging of the bells around the milch cows’ necks.

Driving down to the other side to Huesca in northeast Spain and then looping back towards the mountains brought us to the small village of Loarre. A few kilometres away is the Loarre Castle which celebrated its 1,000th anniversary last year quietly amidst the Covid lockdown.

Built high up on rocky ridges/projections of a mountainside as a lookout post when the Moors were being pushed back from the north, it has a commanding view which, on a clear day, enables those in the ramparts to see as far as Zaragoza some 100 kilometres to the south.

The flow of tourists on the Spanish side seemed a bit heavier than the French side of the Pyrenees but the locals told us it was nowhere near pre-Covid years. Still, as the Spanish vaccination drive moves apace, having overtaken even the UK’s, confidence and visitors are returning fast.

As we drove back from mountains southeast towards our own little town some 550 km away via Zaragoza and then Teruel we drove past another stark reminder of our Covid-hit world. Teruel airport has been developed as a commercial aircraft storage facility.

In the normal course, what is visible from the motorway as you zoom to your destination is a couple of dozen aircraft, some cannibalised, on a vast tarmac. But currently, there are nearly 100 planes parked there.

Easily identifiable markings and makes tell you that there are a number of commercial airliners parked there belonging to, for example, Lufthansa (two A-380s included) and British Airways Boeing 747s among others.

While global aviation and airlines show signs of recovering from the natural calamity, Covid-19’s ravages will pale into insignificance when viewed against the manmade disaster that visited our national flag carrier PIA in the shape of Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Can PIA ever recover from that?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2021



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