In the Fall of last year, I agreed to join two friends from Rome on a group art tour of Vietnam and Cambodia organized by the curator of a gallery here in Rome. It seemed like an interesting trip at the time and though I rarely travel with groups, preferring to organize my own travel schedule, I decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of trip.
You can imagine my mounting unease over the last couple of weeks with the spread of Coronavirus. Everyday, the newspapers have been reporting increasing numbers of cases and we were hoping that the trip would be cancelled or postponed. However, no such news was forthcoming so the next best thing was to prepare ourselves as best as possible and to arm ourselves with masks, hand sanitizer and so on.
Meanwhile, the Romans have fallen into a state of panic and have cleared out supplies. Few supermarkets stock hand sanitizer and I went to six pharmacies before I found some. Even though masks are of little protection unless someone is coughing and spreading large droplets close to you, I wanted to have a few for use in airports and crowded places. None of any type were to be found. I eventually found some in my local Chinese dollar type store in the handyman section as the N95 mask, which is recommended, is also used by woodworkers and other workers exposed to dust and inhalable particles. I guess few thought to look in this section for masks. So my stash above consists of N95 masks, a few surgical masks (in case I’m the one who is coughing!), hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and foot covers. The latter unrelated to Coronavirus but I hate walking on temple floors with bare feet as one has to remove ones shoes to enter. Foot covers are also useful for when you have to take off your shoes at airports.
Next was the medicines which I would be taking in any case regardless of Corona virus. My doctor did not recommend malaria prophylaxis as we aren’t going to be camping or staying in the countryside. However, dengue and zika virus are of potential concern and there is no prophylaxis for this except to prevent being bitten by mosquitos. Both dengue fever and zika virus are transmitted by the Aedes mosquito which bites during the day. I bought Muskol in Toronto which contains 30% Deet and prevents mosquitos from biting. I found out that Neem oil is also very effective so I tracked down an Indian store here in Rome which had it. Of course there’s the usual array of possible medicines one might need, a course of antibiotics, anti- diarrhoea medications, disinfectant, band aids and so forth. There’s hardly much room in my small case for clothes, with all this precautionary stuff.
We leave on Sunday and will be flying to Hanoi via Bangkok. Then we go on an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay. Following this, we fly to Da Nang from where we visit Hoi An and Hue in central Vietnam. Then a flight to Ho Chi Minh City followed by a trip on a boat up the Mekong river to Phnom Phen. As it turns out an old friend of mine lives in Phnom Phen so it will be nice to see him and his family. Finally, we go to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. All this in only two weeks so there won’t be any time for lazing about which is a shame as we’re staying in very nice hotels. It’s comforting to think though, that should there be more restriction of movement due to Coronavirus spread, it will be no hardship being confined to the hotel.
The unfortunate news is that the friend that I was travelling with has fallen ill and can’t go. Naturally, neither is her husband going. So, now we are 10, none of who I know and the majority of whom only speak Italian. It’s going to be more of an adventure than I had anticipated! I will keep you posted but don’t panic if you don’t hear from me for two weeks as I’m not taking my computer.