COVID-19 continues to complicate overseas travel | Lifestyles

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Before Sunny Reynolds drove her final 2021 tourist coterie to Sicily last week, she briefly sat down to talk about the past year and a half. Reynolds operates BioTrek Adventure Travels, with an office at 81 Main Street in Warrenton. She organizes and drives small groups of travelers to different countries for 10 days to three weeks at a time, depending on the destination.

“It’s been a horrible year for me,” she said, but added that the understanding and support of her clients has brought it to fruition.






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Sunny Reynolds, owner of BioTrek Adventures of Warrenton, with two of her guides




A trip to Argentina in January 2020 went well, Reynolds said, but while trying to get home with her group from a trip in March, she encountered her first COVID issue. “We were in India when they announced that [because of the COVID-19 pandemic] US citizens could not enter the country [from abroad]. Two days later, they admitted that it was a mistake and that Europeans could not come to the United States, but citizens could return home. “

In 2020, six trips – to Morocco, Tanzania, Portugal, Chile, Guatemala and the Galapagos Islands – all had to be postponed. Reynolds said his clients, who had already paid for the tours, had said, “Don’t worry. Keep the money and we’ll do it next year. We trust you. They were all ready to have new dates.






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BioTrek customers travel to the Sahara Desert in Morocco.




While grounded, Reynolds applied for and got two PPP loans. “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she said. BioTrek only has one other full-time employee, but uses contractors for marketing and other tasks.

Finally, in June of this year, Reynolds was able to take a fully vaccinated group to Morocco. It was not easy. She said: “The logistics were worse than they would have been last year. Very little has improved.

She said: “We planned it for March, but it was postponed again. In June, Morocco opened up to visitors. I have scheduled a non-stop flight via Royal Air Morac. The BioTrek itinerary included a trip to the second largest mosque in the world, “but when we got there it was closed.”

Reynolds said when she spoke to the guards they were so happy to see the tourists again that they let them jump over the barriers. “It was a place that could accommodate 25,000 visitors, but there were no tourists anywhere. Everywhere we went we were the only visitors.






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A BioTrek customer makes a friend in Peru.




She took a group to Tanzania in July. “There were Europeans, but no Americans. She said she had been going to Tanzania for 11 or 12 years and had never seen so few people.

Travel preparations, always complicated, have become much more so. Reynolds said it was his responsibility to get his group to their destination, follow their route and get everyone home safely. Customers don’t see any of the behind-the-scenes machinations, but there are hundreds of details to deal with.

Each country has its own COVID protocols, including mandatory PCR testing. Reynolds has found a lab in Centerville that guarantees a 24-hour turnaround time for COVID results, a must since airlines require testing within 72 hours of take-off, and the time to results can vary.

And tests must also be taken before going home. She said: “I had to find a laboratory at CasaBlanca [in Morocco] and one near the Serengeti [in Tanzania]. “






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A Bengal tiger in India




Reynolds makes sure that the staff at the hotels they stay in have been vaccinated, as well as the guides and drivers. In situations where his clients are surrounded by other people, the masks continue and the distances between people are increased as much as possible.

The BioTrek contract includes a place for customers to verify that they have been vaccinated. “I will not leave anyone unvaccinated on the trip. It is not safe. We all travel in the same vehicles. The trip to the Galapagos is done by boat. It’s a big boat, but it’s up close. … No one has tested positive yet.

With the wave of COVID cases caused by the Delta variant, arrangements could become even more difficult. Reynolds said before finalizing plans for the trip to Sicily, she should write that if Italy closed its doors and her group couldn’t get in, they would be refunded. Italy is currently classified as level 3 (“high”) by the Centers for Disease Control.

Reynolds canceled a trip to Portugal in October; the country was classified as a level 4 country by the CDC due to a “very high” incidence of the virus. The CDC says: “Due to the current situation in Portugal, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk of contracting and spreading variants of COVID-19. “






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A frigate with her chicks in the Galapagos Islands




Reynolds recommends that all of its customers purchase travel insurance. She said she had only had one couple canceled – due to a health issue unrelated to COVID – but having travel insurance provides peace of mind, just in case.

Reynolds admitted she was relieved when she had to postpone the trip to Portugal. “I’m exhausted,” she said. “Everything is 100% more difficult than before. It’s a good thing that I love what I do!

Namibia is the first of eight trips scheduled for 2022 and is already full. Reynolds and his group are leaving on January 2, if all goes well.

Reynolds said: “There was a great moment of optimism. But now, because of what is happening in the United States, the numbers are going up. … Some countries might ban US citizens.

Other destinations planned for 2022: Morocco (March), Argentina (April), Galapagos Islands (June), Tanzania (July), Guatemala (August), Portugal (September) and Chile (November / December).

Longer term, Reynolds is planning trips to India and the Arctic in 2023. She said: “I want to see a polar bear.”






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Contact Robin Earl at [email protected]


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