One of my favourite feels is arriving at a new destination in the dark and discovering what it looks like in the morning. I realised asking the receptionist for a room with a view had been a wasted joke. The carpark crowd that had been so tired, anxious and hungry were now waking up to a glorious vista over Bel Jou gardens and west to the familiar blueness of Caribbean sea and sky. Granted the first reaction of a few vocal locals was to stand on their balcony hollering their frustrations at the world in general, but we were all finding a personal strategy for coping.

It was Tuesday, March 24, and now I had an answer to all the wondering and worrying about what ‘Quarantine-with-a-capital-Q’ would look like. Let’s face it, two free weeks gazing at the ocean from a hotel room in Saint Lucia is on many people’s bucket lists, and here we were getting the full treatment courtesy of Covid-19 and the government. I decided to throw the full force of my Positive Pollyanna vibe behind every effort, and knuckled down to making this another life-learning experience, while regularly entertaining the folks on Facebook who had been / were still worried about me. Friends in the real sense, not just the social media type.

For the ninety-ninth time in a week, I praised Jah for internet, although the hotel wifi was already staggering under the weight of a hundred or so smart phones all trying to reach out to family or catch up with the news. Photos of my spacious room with its two double beds and private balcony-with-a-view were sent to the family Whatsapp chat, and their collective sigh of relief could be felt from the Dominican Republic to Belfast to Brighton and back home. Yes, there was a kettle for all that tea and coffee I’d been carrying and a fridge for Horley’s best grapes and cherry tomatoes. Yes, there were toiletries enough to keep me smelling sweet. Yes, there was definitely a TV but it would be rationed because I’d already overdosed on Corona-coverage for 48 hours in the UK and knew that watching the news would be an anxiety trigger to manage carefully. Especially here given that most of the news channels were CNN and couldn’t be relied upon for facts.

New routines would evolve around the room service schedule laid out in the official “welcome-to-quarantine’ letter that slid under the door. Breakfast around 8am, lunch around noon, and dinner around 6pm would become the high points of the day, or at least a time to speak to other humans from a safe distance. The staff were masked and gloved, efficient and friendly, despite having to put up with the odd tirade of expletives from a few ungrateful quarant-inmates who felt their human rights entitled them to the all-inclusive luxury package. Day one with no rum was not going well for some.

Room service arrived with eggs, bacon, sausages and a pile of toast. Outside I heard them yelling “what kinda [insert Patois curse here] breakfast was that?” while I rustled up a spare sausage sandwich to keep in the fridge for later. Hoarding would become an obsession – in a good way, because three massive meals a day was way too much for my travel-shredded digestive system to contemplate. It was another mind game to engage in, and games would be important if the two weeks were to be tolerable. Saving something for later would also mean I wouldn’t end up hungry and miserable at random times of the day or night, and the strategy led to some very creative snack options over the course of the first week.

I spent the first morning relieving my wheelie bag of a small pile of winter clothing, one t-shirt and a pair of old shorts I’d left in Belfast on a previous visit. Obviously ‘Hand-washing with Mindfulness’ would have to be on the regular itinerary, otherwise I’d end up living in jeans and woollies with the AC turned down to glacial. Exploring the amenities, I had to admit that life would be just fine in this space, as long as I continued rationing supplies and accessorised the room with scarves and personal artwork from my 5 year old nephew. I hadn’t seen my tiny-but-surprisingly-loud bluetooth speaker since arriving, but there it was, stuck in the wrong corner of the bag just trying to give me a heart attack. Drowning out the human noise outside would be key for my sanity, that much I knew.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? The Nurses. The Nurses who?

The Nurses who would be taking our temperature twice a day, every day for the next fourteen, that’s who! From here on, in my mind and written content, the term will be capitalized out of deep respect for every medical professional in this world at this time in history. They waved their gadget at my forehead, declared the number to be perfectly normal and exchanged a few kind words of assurance. They even got my sense of humour, and over the next few days felt like family, or at least close friends. By day five I was being called “behbeee” so I knew they liked me too.

The next visitor was bearing lunch, and that started another ritual of taking a photo of every meal, just in case I’d forget. Yeah, irrational, but when I line them all up at the end it’ll probably blow my mind. Five hours later there was dinner, and other than that I can’t remember those first twenty four hours in any detail now that we’re ten days into the vacation, I mean quarantine. But my routines evolved quickly to include morning yoga and meditation with The Art of Living community online, strategically timed cuppas, OCD-style tidying up and an hour of news in the evening to stay informed on the terrifying numbers coming in from around the globe. It wasn’t my favourite part of the day, but it felt like a responsible thing to do. Daily showering and skin care assumed spa session proportions – it’s amazing how long you can take washing your face and slapping on serum if there’s nothing else on the agenda.

So the first day was done and the great unknown was less unknown, which I find is always a better headspace. Of course there were a few things I hankered after, like real milk in my tea and cute nail polish, but those could wait a while longer. After all, every disappointment is a blessing and delayed gratification is good for the soul.

More to come…