Air Travel in the Age of COVID-19: Puerto Rico, Diving and Puppies

I recommend you avoid United Airlines.

I mean our flight to Florida was so packed it might’ve just been a “normal” flight if everyone wasn’t wearing masks.  And I’m not talking about the “normal” of COVID-19 flying… no I’m talking about what was normal six months ago. 

I was hoping nobody would sit in the middle seat.  That way, I could stick my bag under the middle seat and stretch my legs a little bit. Because my legs are much longer than everyone else in my family… so they can’t relate.

And most definitely the worst problem with having middle seats, there’s no social distancing. Luckily for us, we were a family taking up a group of five seats, which creates a slightly safer environment for us… but for everyone traveling solo, especially for those sitting in the middle seat, you’re surrounded by eight random people within three feet of you, all of whom could give you COVID-19. And it’s also important to mention that the mask wearing rule is difficult to enforce since people are eating/drinking all the time.

So the takeaway? If you’ve got a trip to plan… don’t fly United.

I was never really worried about contracting coronavirus during the flight, despite the full flight.  Why?  Well, we had bigger COVID problems:  we just happened to be flying into the coronavirus capital of the world.

At this point… I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.  We all tested negative for COVID-19 a few days later.  But be patient.  There’s an amusing story behind that too: Will we make it to Puerto Rico?

Anyways, after landing safely in Tampa, we grabbed our rental car and drove to Clearwater Beach… stopping for a 4pm lunch at Chick-Fil-A on the way.  We checked into our hotel, then walked to the pool to meet up with our Florida family… my aunt Nancy, her fiancé Jeff, and my cousins Ella and Serena.  We grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant… then went to bed.

We’d been planning to attend Serena’s volleyball tournament on Clearwater Beach.  But it got moved to Tampa late that night, because of coronavirus concerns.  No matter… we grabbed a late breakfast, then hung around the pool for a few hours before driving back to Nancy’s house in the afternoon, where we’d meet up with the rest of the Florida squad.

Call of Duty?

Now I’m gonna go off on a little bit of a tangent.  Remember in my last post that I said I really enjoyed spending my late nights playing Call of Duty?

Well… Nancy has an Xbox… and it happens to be in the room where I sleep.

Unfortunately, my parents made me “earn the Xbox” at Aunt Nancy’s.  I’ve been taking a college CS50 course since we left for London back in March– and I had to finish a week-long coding project BEFORE I was allowed to play COD.

Well that’s a load of bs.

But I’m also smart enough to know that I’m not getting around this rule.  So rather than talk to my Florida family, who I hadn’t seen in over six months… I spent the first night being very antisocial (and I’m not that talkative normally, so you might not even have known I was there).  And so after writing hundreds of SQL queries and probably a thousand lines of code just to debug (the vast majority of which would eventually get deleted)… I finished in two days.  Pretty good, especially for a project supposed to take seven days.

And hey… not only have I made progress on CS; I can also play COD.  Well played, Dad.

Now going back to where I left off…

Diving in the Blue Grotto

We woke up early the following morning to go on a dive in Florida’s Blue Grotto and in Devil’s Den, which are both cenotes– underwater springs– about two hours North of Nancy’s house. I was pretty excited, since I hadn’t been diving in a little over a year.

Once we arrived at the Blue Grotto, we rented tanks and walked over to a nearby picnic table to start getting ready. And that’s when a storm came rolling in. Thank God we were under cover, or else we would’ve been soaked before our dive even had begun. We were also a little worried about lightning, so that storm delay put us a little behind schedule.

Once we began our dive, Sydney and Piper immediately lost it while we were still at the surface. Why? Because they “were getting attacked” by the school of fish right below them. We left them at the surface, so the dive was just my mom, my dad, and me. It was a fun dive. The water was crystal clear, and you could see quite a ways in every direction There was one part where they had created a pressurized air bubble around 40 ft beneath the surface, where you could pop your head in and talk to your dive-mates. But the water was cold, so we didn’t spend too much time underwater.

Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it to our second dive, since they had already closed down for the day. Which was too bad. We actually got to “spot the dive”, and it looked beautiful… maybe better than the first, so if we go back, I’d be excited to give this one a shot.

Puerto Rico? Looks like we aren’t gonna make it…

Travel to Puerto Rico? During COVID? Is our family insane?

Nope. Puerto Rico makes a lot of sense if you’re trying to see more of the world, especially because we missed out on our original big trip plan — plus we had three big birthdays to celebrate — and my 18-year old cousin already missed out on prom and a real graduation. Think about it… Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island, but it’s still part of the US! It’s possible to get in, and for sure it’d be easy to get back out if someone got sick. Additionally, the island was just beginning to open back up to visitors from the mainland, but with one requirement: Puerto Rico doesn’t allow anybody onto the island without a negative COVID-19 test within 72-hours of arriving… so priority number one was getting that negative test

The morning after we’d arrived to Nancy’s house, we took our COVID test.  This was not a nasal swab… where they shove a glorified q-tip so far up your nose it feels like it’s touching your brain.  Yeah thank god we didn’t have that… because with the temperament of my nose… I don’t think it would’ve ever stopped bleeding.  Lucky for me, we got a saliva test.  So we sucked on a lump of cotton for a few minutes and spit it out into a plastic bag.

The rest of that day we spent hanging around the house… nothing all that exciting. And conveniently for me (because I don’t have to write anything), we also did nothing the next day.  But, we received some bad news.

Remember those coronavirus tests?  Yeah… well the lab called.  We weren’t going to receive the tests until evening the next day — after our flight.  So our trip to Puerto Rico got delayed.

Yessir that’s clutch because I got another night of COD.

Haha no that’s a joke.  I was excited to get down there!  Luckily, we were able to extend the trip by a night… so all-in-all, we lost a day, and gained a day.

Serena’s Birthday

So the next day (aka the day we were supposed to leave) was spent at Nancy’s.  And that day happened to also be Serena’s 18th.  We spent the morning in the pool, but the action/drama that took place on this day didn’t occur until late at night.

We got dinner at a nice steak restaurant called Meat Market, since it was such a special occasion.  The food was excellent… I just wish I hadn’t eaten so many sliders when the brought out the appetizers.  I barely ate half of my entrée.

When we got back to Nancy’s after dinner, Serena opened her gifts.  And the entire time I was just thinking to myself…

Yeah… the two king size Reese’s and the bag of watermelon Sour Patch Kids are a pretty solid gift, especially considering the price at which I bought them… but I don’t think they’re gonna stand up to the Jordans.

I’m not gonna elaborate any further… because the biggest drama that night, was whether or not the lab would come through and give us our test results, not to mention whether or not we’d all be negative.  We had contingency plans if one of us tested positive (i.e. my mom stays back with them), but we were all cautiously optimistic.

Yeah that’s a lie.  We were most certainly not cautiously optimistic.

The whole night, everyone was throwing around their guesses at the percent odds we all go to Puerto Rico.

Here’s a list of the numbers I heard thrown around that night.

26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 35

And remember I said I was disappointed we weren’t gonna make it to Puerto Rico on time, even though I could play Call of Duty?  Well, when the announcement that we had received the tests– which were all negative– was made, ironically, as I was playing COD.

We made it to Puerto Rico!

Never has it taken so long for us to get through baggage claim. And for all of the veteran Belfiore.land readers, you will know that on our first big trip, the very first location was Atlanta, and we lost a piece of luggage. So we were sitting in that baggage claim for a while. And yet, I think we spent more time in the Puerto Rico baggage claim, just because they have to make sure everyone entering has a negative COVID-19 test.

Anyways, we spent the rest of the day hanging around at the beach. The five of us had come, plus Nancy, Jeff, Ella, and Serena, along with our cousin Dustin, and Jeff’s daughters Molly and Mallory. But we were still unable to avoid the critical COVID-19 news that the governor had just announced: everything inside of Puerto Rico was being shut down. This included the beaches and our hotel pool.

Wow… our timing was just about as perfect as can be.

Day two, we spent the day walking around the city of San Juan. I particularly enjoyed the walk up to the fort guarding the island, which sits on a grass-covered peninsula sticking out from the rest of the island. We were able to find lunch at a local restaurant, then we went to a small plaza, where we found people feeding pigeons. And lucky for us, they gave us their remaining food when they left. So we spent the next 20 minutes feeding the pigeons as they crawled all over us pecking the bread crumbs out of our hands.

It was also on this day that we decided we were going to leave Puerto Rico two days early, because of the shutdown which had occurred a day earlier.

So the next day, that’s exactly what we did. This meant that we’d be spending Sydney and Piper’s birthday in Florida.

Sydney and Piper’s B-Day

In typical Sydney and Piper fashion, we spent the day lying around the house. And hey, you won’t hear a word of complaint from me. But we leave the house for one thing: dinner.

And we got dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant… something I wouldn’t have expected to find in Florida. But it was good… actually, it was really good. I hadn’t had good Asian food in a month, and this certainly qualified.

But the biggest news wouldn’t come until we got back to Nancy’s house where Sydney and Piper opened their gifts. I got them both lightsabers they can build during our upcoming trip to Disney World (unfortunately, they were closed, so we’ll wait for another trip)… but then for the big family announcement…

We’re getting a dog.

Yes, you read that right. We are actually getting a dog. I thought this would never happen and that all the “talk” about us getting a dog was hypothetical.

And to be honest, I don’t really know what to think about it. On one hand, I’m actually pretty excited! But on the other, I’m nervous because this is super meaningful change in our entire family’s lives. I’m sure I’ll come around as we actually get the dog, but like I said. I’m still on the fence about the entire thing.

Anyways, that’s my summary of our Florida/Puerto Rico trip, and my thoughts on the dog. Hopefully, I don’t have to spend another four-and-a-half hours editing this behemoth of a blog post.

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