Coronavirus Stories: A Brazilian Couple on a Bike Tour Stuck in New Zealand
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Thiago and Flavia are a Brazilian couple who have been on a round-the-world bike tour on their tandem bike for over 2 years. They were bike touring in New Zealand when COVID-19 took the world by storm and have been stuck there ever since.
**Update** New Zealand recently lowered their lockdown level and they have now been able to get a repatriation flight back to Brazil (yay!).
How Brazil is Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic
We are Brazilians, and unfortunately our president, Jair Bolsonaro, is not taking more energetic steps towards containing this pandemic. Brazil is a huge country with about 220 million inhabitants and presents one of the great evils of the actual political, economic and social system, corruption and inequality. This, coupled with weak public policies in relation to COVID-19, could lead to a catastrophic scenario.
The country is currently very divided, mainly between government supporters and opponents. This social and political disunity associated with a disbelief in the government due to its reputation for corruption also makes the scenario even more difficult. Even within the government itself there is often no resonance, and state governments are taking actions different from the federal orientation (the political system in Brazil is different from the United States of America and there is not this autonomy of the states, theoretically).
Without a position to fight the disease, coupled with inefficient financial support for the population and small businesses, there is panic over the economic crisis. With all this dissonance and lack of leadership to unite the population in a common idea and attitude, the country is not currently in any type of lockdown, and isolation and social distancing rules are not being respected or enforced in the majority of the country. The hope is that because it is a respiratory disease that behaves worse in colder climates, Brazil, being a tropical country, will be a little less affected.
At the moment Brazil is not in lockdown, but it and its neighboring countries have closed their land borders with each other and many flights are canceled, both in the country as well as worldwide.
Depending on the state and even the municipality, there is greater isolation and social distance. For example, in the state of São Paulo (the most populous and populated in the country), the government is taking more energetic steps to slow the spread of the disease and prevent a possible future collapse of the health system, with the closing of trade and punishments for those who disrespect the rules of staying at home. Other states have looser policies in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stranded In New Zealand
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We can say that COVID-19 blew up our plans momentarily and left a great feeling of uncertainty in the air. One of the things we learned on this long bicycle trip is that “we are not in control of the situation most of the time” and with this we learned to become more adaptable to changes and more resilient for troubled moments, but anxiety still persists. The scenario left us more lost than trying to cross a bazaar in Marrakesh by bicycle.
We are in New Zealand at the time of writing and the country is totally in lockdown with an extreme policy to contain the disease. Only essential services are open, agglomerations and travels are strictly prohibited. Luckily, we arrived at our final destination in the country 5 days before lockdown was decreed, the city of Auckland on the North Island. We traveled here by bicycle for almost 3 months and we can say that we were very fortunate to have met so many great people and had the possibility of crossing almost all this beautiful country by bicycle.
We had a flight to San Francisco, USA, scheduled for March 20, but the city entered lockdown on March 17 and we decided to change our flight to May 18, about 2 months later with the hope of a more favorable scenario to travel in the near future. Well, this flight was canceled by the airline in April and we are currently without a plan, only uncertainties.
We are at the home of a couple of Brazilian friends who have a New Zealand residence and we will stay here with them for a while longer. We try to help with shopping and housework while they continue to work via home-office.
From Cycle Tourist to Couch Potato
Life is now almost in slow motion from our point of view. We were used to changes in landscapes and people almost daily and a routine of a lot of physical activity on our bicycle. We are currently getting more still than a sloth, watching the same scene every day, like that North American film from 1993: “Groundhog Day”. When we leave the house of our friends it is only for trips to the supermarket or hiking in a nature reserve that is linked to the back of the house.
Fortunately, our friends have a garage full of tools and wood and I, Thiago, spend a good part of my time now doing handicrafts like building small furniture or “toys” (backgammon board and slingshot) and my wife, Flávia, is doing daily pilates classes, reading, writing a lot and watching every imaginable series of NetFlix.
The current routine is totally different from what we were used to doing for more than 2 ½ years of travel. We are relearning how to stay still again, containing the anxiety of going back to the road. We try to occupy our mind and body by studying new things and with manual activities and games with our friends. As they have a big garden in the house, we have made fires, slack-line, cooking and playing many board games with them.
Fearful for Family Back Home
Our biggest concern at the moment is not with us or with the trip, but with our relatives and friends who are in Brazil, so far from us. Our parents are already in their 60s and 70s, being a risk group for COVID-19 disease. We think about them every day. We miss them and fear for their health more than ever.
Our greatest gratitude in these difficult times is for having friends and family members who give us psychological support and help. Without these friends that we have here in New Zealand for example, we could be in a difficult situation. Our friends and family in Brazil always talk to us and give us psychological support.
Making Lifestyle Changes As A Result of COVID-19
This pandemic will be an important factor for behavioral changes from a future social, economic and political point of view. But the first result will be social, due to the large number of deaths that will affect many families, followed by the economic crisis. This period of recession that will come with the pandemic will hinder the continuation of our trip with the devaluation of our country’s currency. Life will continue, just as it happened with other previous pandemics, we just don’t know yet how our future life will be affected. We continue with many uncertainties, everything is still very new for us.
I think one of the things we have learned from these modern pandemics is how the consumption of animal meat is related to the spread of new diseases. The earlier epidemics of Corona Virus and HIV, for example, are directly related to the manipulation and slaughter of animals that are reservoirs of these viruses and which, with this, were transmitted to humans. We will decrease our meat consumption a lot.
Looking Forward to Continuing Their Bike Tour
Traveling by bicycle creates an incredible sense of freedom. The constant movement, the changing landscapes, the connection with nature and people along the paths, and the autonomy of our locomotion by our own force lead to this feeling and well being that traveling in this way provides us. This virus generated a current scenario that broke all this abruptly. We feel trapped, anxious and worried at the moment.
We hope that in the near future, someone will discover an effective treatment or vaccine for this disease, and that everything will return to normal, with the chance to enjoy our much-loved freedom on two wheels again.
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