If you were paying attention to those two satellites that came close to colliding somewhere over Pittsburgh yesterday, you might have thought the sky was going to fall indeed.
Looking back at just the past two weeks since my last post, to quote Henry Jones Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Our situation has not improved.”
The World Health Organization has finally declared the Novel Coronavirus as a global health emergency, something that seemed pretty obvious to me, and probably a lot of other people, at least a few days ago. The rapid spread throughout China despite all the containment measures, the fact that the virus may not manifest symptomatically in some people until they’ve already passed from one country to another…these things seemed fairly indicative of a significant problem.
If anything, this situation clearly shows why all travellers should have insurance and access to some back-up cash in case of emergency or a delayed return to your home country. If you have to take medication, always make sure you take extra with you.
For those of us watching the news and waiting to see what the next days will bring, it’s important to maintain our own health and sanity. The world has survived other pandemics, so your job is to keep safe and sound in your corner of the planet. Here are some suggestions:
Be kind to yourself and other people — everyone’s under stress, so a generous spirit can help ease tensions
Watch happy, fun shows. I guess some people might find grim, dystopian fare cathartic, but in my experience the cumulative effect is depressing
Practice some cozy nesting. Cook comfort food, enjoy relaxing downtime, turn your home into a haven against the craziness outside its walls.
Eat good quality food. One of your best defenses is to be properly nourished, so: avoid processed food, which is full of empty calories and a lot of not-so-benevolent chemicals (I studied organic chemistry in university, and the lecture on food additives was an eye-opener about the crap that companies put into processed foods!), and eat a well-balanced selection of natural foods.
Be proactive in prudent ways. If you have essential medications or supplements, make sure you’re well-stocked. For example, I have chronic acute nerve pain in one thigh, and the only thing that keeps it at bay is regular doses of a Vitamin B complex — I bought an extra bottle this week, because if I were to run out I’d be in deep trouble. Maybe even stock up on some nonperishable food supplies that you’d use anyway should we never end up in a lock down situation ourselves. I keep reading stories of the food shortages for people in locked-down Wuhan. They were caught unawares, but we have the advantage of some advance knowledge. Hopefully, like SARS, the virus is stopped before it gets too much farther, but I always feel that it’s better to be prepared.
In the meantime, like my favourite maxim, keep calm and drink tea with a nice cake to raise your spirits.
It sounded like a heavy truck rolling down the street.
But instead of the truck passing our friends’ house in Santa
Monica and the sound receding, the noise got louder and louder and the house
began to shake.
The first trip that my hubby and I took together, to visit
family friends in California while I was on my university Christmas break,
started off benignly enough with nice sunny weather. The scent of eucalyptus from
the trees lining the streets filled the hazy air, and for breakfast we enjoyed fresh-picked
oranges from the tree in our friends’ back yard. I was so excited to see palm
trees and the ocean.
We had an adventurous New Year’s Eve at a club in Santa
Monica (too crazy to describe in this article), and then got up early to go to
Pasadena for the Rose Parade. After the parade we returned to our friends’ home
and everyone else settled down to watch the Rose Bowl on television while I,
still recovering from a bout of strep throat, lay down for a while in our
bedroom – only to be woken up soon after by the earthquake and everyone running
into the room yelling at me to get up.
It wasn’t a major quake – only 4.6 on the Richter scale –
but enough to shake us up. It’s very unnerving to have the normally
solid earth beneath you start moving around. One of the first things our
friends did was run to hold up their china cabinet in the dining room, while my
hubby and I wanted to find the first available airplane/helicopter and lift
In addition, you don’t know how big the quake will turn out to be. Visions of giant cracks appearing in the streets danced in my head.
Aftershocks can sometimes be worse than the original event. After
our brief quake, rumblings and aftershocks continued throughout the rest of the
day. I remember sitting, trying to relax, but spotting the ornaments on our
friends’ Christmas tree start to swing in my peripheral vision. At one point
the entire house shifted with a loud bang, as if a giant had come and kicked it!
Several months later, on our honeymoon in the US Virgin Islands, things went south again in a much larger way with a Category Five hurricane followed closely by a tornado that ripped right by our resort. No one could call us on the island afterward, but we were able to call out and reassure our frantic families that we were safe and healthy. Normally I love storms, but that one was a doozy, and a history-maker. For months after we got home my shoulders tightened every time there was a high wind.
A year after that, when Mount St. Helen’s erupted, friends
of my in-laws actually called them to see if my hubby and I were in the vicinity!
Over the years, with many more occurrences that seem to
follow us wherever we go, we’ve become accustomed and have learned to go with
the flow. Not everything has been one of Nature’s treats – we had to change a
trip completely at the start of the Arab Spring, changing from Egypt to Kenya,
and on the very first day we took my mother-in-law to England we were exploring
the British Museum when it was suddenly evacuated and we lost my hubby for
about half-an-hour (that was the most unusual, but not the only thing, to
happen on that trip).
We’ve also found ways to stay prepared.
With the advent of the internet, mobile phones and instant
news, there are many ways to cover your bases. I’m not sure my hubby and I are
that unusual anymore in unusual vacations – global warming is causing all kinds
of changes and surprises in weather patterns, and political tensions can erupt
unexpectedly – so it pays everyone to understand their options.
A recent case in point in our lives:
We were on an innocuous trip to Williamsburg, Virginia last fall. The weather was hotter than expected, but manageable. We spent an entire day exploring the superb Colonial Williamsburg, got our creeps on at Busch Gardens’ fantastic Howl-O-Scream event, enjoyed history and the sunset on a schooner cruise on the York River, and bought more sandals at an outlet mall to cope with the intense heat.
We’d finished a round of golf at an area club on Tuesday, and the staff were helping us pack up our clubs when the ranger asked if we’d be coming back for another round. We said we planned to return on Thursday; he replied, “Well, you’ll have to play that by ear. There’s a hurricane coming our way.”
There’s awhat now? Not that hubby and I
aren’t used to hurricanes (this would be our fourth), but Hurricane Michael
popped up with almost no warning.
Here’s how we handled it:
Kept an eye on the evolving situation. Hurricanes are notoriously changeable, so if it looks like you’ll be in the path, you can at least keep on top of developments.
The local weather station recommended downloading the Red Cross Hazards app. You can enter your current location and receive any alerts that may come out, as well as look up preparedness info for a variety of different scenarios.
We rejigged our activity plans for that Thursday; it helps to be flexible in these circumstances. The storm was projected to downgrade to Category 3 and reach our area by about 2pm. We had planned to visit the Yorktown Battlefield that day, which is located along the York River, not far from Virginia’s Atlantic shore – not a place we wanted to be when the storm hit due to repeated warnings about storm surges and flash flooding. We were going to be heading towards home the next day, though, so we hit the road early in order to see the Battlefield in the morning and be back in Williamsburg on drier land by lunch.
We kept an eye on the skies as we
toured the Battlefield. They were darkening and a few drops began to fall as we
drove back to town. We had lunch at a Red Lobster restaurant across the street
from our hotel (very short travel time if the storm came in during the meal). It
started to rain while we ate, intermittently heavy; outside the window, there
was a little pebble garden where we watched water gather into a little stream,
then a larger stream, then a small pond.
From there we picked up a few
emergency supplies – battery-operated candles (in case of power outage), extra bottles
of water, and snacks – and by 3pm we were safely battened down in our room,
watching television and remaining relaxed but alert. I texted my brother about
the hurricane, and, having received numerous similar messages from us over the
years, his reply was typical: “Gee, what a surprise.”
By dinnertime there’d been spotty
rain only, but we made some tea. We had some leftovers in our room fridge from dinner
the night before. and our Vanilla Cheesecake at lunch was so delicious that we’d
brought two pieces back to our room.
The storm hit in full force after
dark, with driving rain and wind rattling the window. The force of the storm
actually pushed some rain in along the top corner of our ‘sealed’ window, and
we put a towel along the sill to absorb the water. The hotel parking lot and
the streets were lightly flooded. We heard reports of tornadoes touching down
in several places around the area, and did receive one tornadoes-in-the-area
alert from the Red Cross app. The lights flickered a few times but never went
That was the worst of it for us,
but our hotel was on a main street, and we’d seen a number of people out
driving around during the worst of the storm – I hope it was something urgent
to make it worth risking their lives. Sadly, five people who ignored the
warnings to stay inside died when they were swept away by flood waters. So
We checked the road reports on Friday morning to
see what was open/closed. There were 1,400 road closures in that county alone,
but none of them along the route that we would be taking to visit the Luray
Caverns that afternoon. The roads that were open were strewn with debris and
Could we have avoided this scenario entirely by not going south during Hurricane Season (June to November)? Certainly, but we had considered Virginia to be a lower-risk area, and there hadn’t been any intimations of an impending storm. Events like earthquakes can’t be reliably predicted – although, in another absolutely true story, a nun in September of the year we first went to California had predicted that there would be an earthquake around New Year’s Day, and I spent the next three months convincing myself that it was hogwash, so what can one make of that?
You can’t entirely predict what Mother Nature will throw at you, so if you do find yourself in the midst of one of her surprises, follow the local advisories and stay safe. Never think that ‘it won’t happen to me’ – based on extensive personal experience I can confirm that s*** does happen.
To learn more about how to be prepared in the event of the
unexpected, our Canadian government has a useful website for Emergency
Preparedness. In particular, check out the sections on Using Technology During a
Disaster. The stats also
make an interesting read.
A new edition of The
Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook was released this April, with some updates about
things like drone attacks and spotting fake news, but you may find the book’s Travel version more useful. Hopefully you’ll never have to
things like Stop a Runaway Passenger Train, but I have personally been on a
Runaway Camel! (It ended up stopping by itself after a wild ride down a hill
when it got back to its corral and before reaching the river, thank goodness.)
And if you ever experience an earthquake, find a spot with the most structural soundness — doorways are good, and bathrooms are excellent. (If in California, don’t go outside — flying clay roof tiles can be deadly.) And be kind to Mother Nature — there may come a day when you want her on your side 🙂