“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.” ― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Throughout the pandemic, there's nothing more I missed the most than the anticipation of traveling. And being in a new destination. And the newness of my surroundings.
I was lucky to have spent 2 weeks in Maldives recently.
After looking at Costa Rica, Dubai, Morocco, and Maldives, we chose the latter for 2 reasons: no 14-day quarantine and visa-free for Pinoys.
Completing the documents for this trip was exhausting and stressful. I wasn't sure if I can board the plane knowing how strict Immigration Officers were with travelers meeting their partners abroad.
Here's are the documents I prepared for almost 3 weeks:
1. Copy of our return tickets - I used Singapore Airlines. I highly recommend this airline - reliable, no flight cancellations, organized at the airport. Only had 1 issue: 12 hour to 36 hour layovers. Good thing they have a spacious lounge with charging outlets. My partner used Emirates.
2. Hotel bookings in Maldives and quarantine hotel in the Philippines
3. Travel insurance - I used Safetywing.
4. CFO Guidance and Counselling Certificate. To get this, I had to register to the CFO website, submit personal documents, and go through an interview/tele counseling session with an officer over the phone.
5. Copy of my partner's passport
6. Proof of relationship (printed photos)
7. Negative swab test result - I took my RT-PCR Test on May 27 for my flight on May 29.
8. Bank statement to prove my financial capacity
9. Proof of job/work like payslips and contract. As a remote worker, I have no company ID.
10. Affidavit of Support notarized in the US
11. Proof of our pending application for our fiance visa (aka K1 visa)
12. Declaration of Undertaking. This was useful upon arrival at the Clark airport.
13. Travel Declaration and Acceptance of Terms and Risk. This was useful before departure and while checking in at NAIA 3.
14. Certificate of No Marriage for me and notarized Proof of Singleness for my partner
15. Immuga Health Declaration QR Code
At The Airport
In March 2020, I traveled back to Manila from a 3-week trip to Bali. It was weird to see the airport with a few travelers, more ground staff.
The situation now is different. There are more people traveling! In Maldives, we met tourists from all nations. Russians, South Africans, Iraqis, Brazilians, and Filipinos on vacation rom Saudi Arabia.
Face shields are required in Manila airport. Everywhere else, travelers, ground staff, flight attendants, hotel staff, waiters are required to wear face masks only.
While In Maldives
He and I finally met again in Samann Grand Hotel. Unfortunately, Male was on lockdown when we were there. We couldn't go anywhere except to grocery stores and money exchange shops nearby.
Maldives is a 100% Muslim country. Tourists have to be modest in clothing. Women have to cover their shoulders and legs.
Motorbikes are the main transport for locals. Tourists cannot 'rent' them unless they carry an international driving license.
The weather is similar to Manila weather. We had a couple of nights of rain.
From there, we transferred to Maafushi, a local island. The only way to transfer from Male to Maafushi (and other islands) is via speedboat. On the island, locals use motorbikes and bicycles to go around. There are no trains and buses in this country.
“The destination was not really the point. The true desire was to get away—to go, as he concluded, ‘anywhere! anywhere! So long as it is out of the world!”
― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Hotels required face masks in Maafushi but it was way more relaxed there. I could finally rest and set my 'quarantine' worries aside. Finally, I was out of the NCR Plus Bubble and was back to my old self.
They require all tourists leaving Maldives to take the RT-PCR test 48 hours before departure. Our hotel helped arrange this and we, together with other guests, walked to their Health Center 2 days before our flight. Each test costs $70.
Coming Back To The Philippines
This was my itinerary: Manila-SG-Male, Male-SG-Clark.
I decided to avoid arriving in Manila because I've read horror stories from passengers waiting for hours to get their luggage.
Arriving at Clark Airport was a better choice. The arrival process was organized. The ground staff made sure we were all attended to. Face shields are not required.
From there, I filled out a few forms, submitted the Declaration of Undertaking, visited 2 booths, then paid for my upcoming RT-PCR test. That's another P4000 on top of what I had to pay for my hotel and meals.
I stayed at Dalian Peak hotel for 9 nights and 10 days. This cost P21,000.
The Quarantine Experience
It wasn't fun but it wasn't so bad. I was working 8 hours a day, practiced yoga daily, watched good stuff on Netflix like Street Food Asia, Street Food Latin America, Chasing Coral, Breaking Boundaries, and My Octopus Teacher.
I did my laundry. They left meals on a chair outside my room. The food was okay - I can't complain. It was a comfortable 10 days while nursing my broken heart over the end of my vacation.
On the 7th day, two nurses came to my room to conduct the RT-PCR test. It's still as painful as the first time.
I received the results on the 9th day. They let me check out of the hotel on the 10th day after receiving a certificate from the Bureau of Quarantine.
I thought this certificate was unnecessary - what is a certificate for when you already tested negative?! Why was I not allowed to check out when I already tested negative? It made little sense to me.
Should You Travel Now?
I don't recommend it. If it's mainly for leisure, you can wait another 4-6 months. Please stay put and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
It's risky especially if you haven't had your vaccines.
It's expensive. Plane tickets are double or triple the normal price. The quarantine period is too long and, again, expensive. You'll have to take 2 swab tests at minimum.
There are fewer options for places to visit, food to try, and things to do. There are too many things to consider, prepare for, and spend on.
There has to be a good enough reason to go through all this trouble.
If this post can't stop you from taking a trip, be safe and sanitized all the time.