When Ray Bernoties and his family left for Guatemala on March 9 life was a lot different.
Sports teams were still playing, Justin Trudeau hadn’t said the famous words, “if you’re abroad, it’s time for you to come home,” and the term social distancing was yet to be the daily reality.
The Oak Bay Police Deputy Chief, his wife Carol and their two boys, landed in Guatemala and got right to the travel itinerary but it didn’t take long to figure out they needed to come back.
They took in the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal the day before it closed. By then they knew it was time to head home.
“[Tikal] was an important part of our trip as my youngest had studied Mayans this year at Willows [elementary] and also attended the exhibit at the Royal B.C. Museum,” said Bernoties, who will assume the role of chief from outgoing Chief Andy Brinton this summer.
Being their first pandemic, it took some time to process the significance of the pending travel bans and subsequent quarantine they would face upon returning to Canada, especially having to wrap their heads around the conundrum that Guatemala hadn’t reported any cases until they were mid-trip.
Seeing that Guatemala was already stringent about who could fly out of the country, Bernoties and the family took the gamble to cross into Belize and fly home from there.
“Hearing that it was time to come home wasn’t a shock as we were already seeing things escalate and trying to make plans,” Bernoties said.
Coming home wasn’t easy. Airlines weren’t responding, wifi access was limited and the news changed dramatically each day.
“We were lucky but it should be noted, the people in Guatemala and Belize were very helpful and caring. We felt bad leaving as, when we checked out of our hotel, they told us they would be closing,” Bernoties said.
The family was among a very small group of tourists who were all departing, certain to impact the local economy.
“It was interesting to be told to essentially flee a COVID-free country to return home to a place with cases and immediately have to be quarantined for two weeks,” Bernoties said.
While in line to enter Belize the border officials took the temperature of each member of their family with an armpit thermometer that was sprayed after each use. Many travelers with European and Asian passports were turned back.
Bernoties asked the Belizean border officer how he was holding up.
“He said words to the effect of, ‘it was the worst day of his career,’” Bernoties said.
The family passed into Belize and flew home March 20, only to learn the border had closed the next day and that Canadians are still stuck in Guatemala.
Having arrived in Vancouver, the family was eager to bunker down and begin the 14-day quarantine but they didn’t make it out of the airport. Bernoties hopped in the family car in the long term parking only to find the gas light was on and it was empty, despite having filled it before they left.
”I immediately went to a gas station and gas poured out from the bottom of my vehicle,” Bernoties said. “It was a perfect hole. The garage said it was their second in a week. ICBC corroborated it as well.”
Ultimately, they got the car fixed and ferried home where they remain under quarantine at home for a few more days.