2020 – Not A Year To Remember

A ‘bad year’ will henceforth be relative to that in which an invisible organism bound the entire world together in misery. I hope the bar will never be reset.

My mood was upbeat – broken jaw and all – when I published my post on setbacks & silver linings last December.

I did get to dance and drink – think I ate well enough too but it’s the drinking I remember more clearly – at the wedding my niece organised so meticulously for her daughter in late Jan.

We left for Chile towards the end of February, the farthest west we have ever travelled, and managed to make it back home mid-March by the skin of our teeth.

We had just landed in San Pedro de Atacama with five days to go on our itinerary, when I happened to read a government advisory shared by a friend on Twitter. It spelt out deadlines for institutional quarantine for returning travellers and the closure of (our) borders in under a week. Chile closed its borders two days after our return.

I imagine there are silver linings there if I care to look for them. The stars that aligned to get us back at practically no extra cost. The gathering of almost every member of our extended families at the wedding which seems unlikely to happen again and not just in the foreseeable future.

I cherish the time I got with both my sisters and their families and especially my (older) brother-in-law who seemed to have only survived sepsis three years ago to be able to witness his grand daughter get married. He gave up his fight in July in the middle of one of our stringent lockdowns. Much as we miss him, we think he’d earned his release.

It’s been hard not being able to be together when we needed to be the most. Hard, coping with the anxiety and the loss. Although I am acutely aware that my privilege, in a country where a huge majority suffered extreme hardship, made it relatively less hard.

Being constantly reminded that we are in the high risk category drove us into a paranoid shell that we were beginning to get comfortable in. It took the passing of a very dear friend (of a massive heart attack) last month to shake us out of our paranoia and on to the road to visit his wife in Bangalore.

Last week, we dined out for the first time in nine months. With an eighty seven year old friend who refuses to let a mere virus curb his style. ⁠

“This virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, we’ll just have to learn to live with it.” ⁠ Heck, those were my lines just a year ago!

It’s going to take a while more to stop wiping down everything that comes through my door with disinfectant, but i’m getting there and certainly looking forward to the one thing I’ve missed even more than travel: my impromptu coffee dates with my closest friends. ⁠

Otherwise, it’s been an endless flow of hours into days into weeks, stuck inside our four walled universe. In a home that we’d treated like a transit point between trips up until now. It’s a good thing we never got down to downsizing to a studio (apartment) or one of us would be locked up for murder by now! I spell out our lockdown routine in a bit more detail in this July DestinAsian Magazine feature. Thanks again for the feature James.

I’ve spent the last couple of months tidying up this blog (read ruthless pruning), organising my photo albums on the cloud and adding travel planning & guide pages in response to requests from friends and readers.

I’m keeping the ‘useful’ content separate in pages (as opposed to posts) in an attempt to appease the SEO gods. Because segmented paragraphs with titles isn’t what I enjoy writing but is, apparently, what the average reader looks for. Let’s see how that, as well as my resolution to post at least once a week, goes.

I’ve completed two travel guides so far: Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and a mega Guide to Egypt. The latter includes updated older posts with loads of added details and a downloadable ten-day itinerary in the form of an e-book. I’ve also updated my Bagan post into a more detailed guide. Would love feedback if/when you find the time to read.

I have plenty more city break and country guides coming up. If you have a destination in mind – for future travel – and see it listed here, let me know in the comments below. I’ll be happy to move that place up the queue.

Delving into my archives and into travel forums to update latest details feels like the next best thing to researching for travel currently. Working on the Egypt guide has ignited a desire to return to that ever fascinating country with a small group when travel eventually opens up.

Not making any serious plans for now, but I’m cautiously optimistic for the future of travel. Who knows? The tempering of excessive enthusiasm might just lead to more meaningful journeys.

Meanwhile, many thanks to all you patient people for sticking with me despite my long absences. I hope you, your families and friends are staying safe and well.

Big hugs and warmest wishes for as beautiful a festive season as possible under the circumstances and a happ(ier) year ahead.

Featured image: A monsoon sunset from our living room balcony.

PS: In my eagerness to ’tidy’ up the blog I turned a few personal posts to private without realising that toggling them back to public isn’t an option. Apologies in advance for any notifications you may receive for re-published old posts. I assure you there aren’t too many.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

41 thoughts on “2020 – Not A Year To Remember

  1. Sorry about your brother-in-law. Loss is loss. No turning back the wheel. (Even the Dharma wheel).
    We had to cancel our yearly trip to Paris last year. Rescheduled it for this coming July. Fingers crossed.
    Stay safe. We will all travel again.

  2. Hi madhu!
    Happy new year!
    Your 87-year old friend sounds awesome in approach
    And also
    Condolences for your brother-in-law who survived sepsis and then parted in July – it does seem like it was better than a sudden loss!
    Oh and I have had this happen where I privatize and then need to republish and ugh- wish they did not so that
    Anyhow – I need to do some deep blog cleaning sometime this year and your post here reminded me to get that going –
    Cheers to a good year ahead

  3. As ALWAYS, a lovely post and like that Gorilla picture..maybe he is thinking too while munching. The year without much travel and sightseeing has made us all look within. Bure finally I did manage a domestic flight last week to see my aged mother in Mumbai.

  4. You couldn’t have said it any better Mahdu. I don’t really want to remember 2020. For us, I think of the virus, combined with the riots here in Minneapolis and around the world, the hatred of our president and the increasing homelessness and violence in our city. It has been pretty awful. I’m glad too that my husband and kids escaped any serious complications when they had the coronavirus in October. yet I fear the coming months of darkness and isolation and missing our extended family deeply. A light is coming at the end of the tunnel yet it will be hard to erase the sadness.

    I too am cautiously optimistic of traveling once again. I sure miss that part of myself! 🙂

  5. Welcome back, Madhu, and thank you for the shoutout! I have missed reading your thoughtful and beautifully written posts, though I can completely understand how these circumstances have sapped your desire to write about travel. Many of us are glad you didn’t end up deleting this blog. 🙂

    I recall seeing a Facebook post some time ago about the passing of your brother-in-law… I do hope time has made the grieving process a bit easier and that you and Ravi are at peace with his departure. Grief and loss in the time of Covid-19 is an awful thing. My dear grandfather recently gave up his own fight after more than a year in hospital following a stroke last July. Not being able to say goodbye to him in person (my mother played him a recorded thank-you message I’d sent via WhatsApp instead) and missing his funeral back in Hong Kong was difficult at the time.

    On a happier note, I am looking forward to a low-key year-end break here in Indonesia. Ordinarily, I’d be spending Christmas with my parents. But the idea of being locked inside a tiny Hong Kong hotel room for two weeks of mandatory quarantine (and having to pay a small fortune for the hassle) was a big deterrent; the family agrees that it is better to wait until the pandemic passes for me to see them again. Instead Bama and I have opted for a socially distanced road trip back to Semarang, his hometown. We left Jakarta just yesterday and will be spending the last few days before the break working from his parents’ house – something that would never have been possible pre-Covid! I suppose we have all learned to adapt and make things work to our advantage.

    May you and Ravi remain in good health and good spirits as this upside-down year comes to a close. I hope 2021 brings you more opportunities to travel within India, and perhaps the very first chance to go abroad since the Chile trip!

    1. So sorry for your loss James. I’m glad you managed to get your recorded message across to your grandad in time. Sorry also that you cannot be with your family for Christmas. Your mother must be so disappointed. I know we were not to have the children around for Diwali. But I guess that’s been the leitmotif of 2020 for everyone. It got me seriously down in the beginning, but I’m now looking at this pause as a time to realign priorities and re-focus.

      Wishing you and Bama a productive couple of weeks in Semarang. I know you will not be short on good food:)

  6. Good to have you back Madhu! We also got home by the skin of our teeth. We’d been in Rishikesh and then travelled to Malaysia on a Delhi-Kuala Lumpur return flight. We found out by accident, kind of like you guys, that Malaysia was shutting down and that India had already shut down so our Delhi-Vancouver flight home was not happening. Like you we were able to change our flight with little charge and arrived back in Canada March 21st and went into a 2 week quarantine. I’ve been hearing how dire things have been in India so am pleased to hear you are safe and well, and how wonderful that you at least got to have some good visits with family before everything went sideways.
    I too am acutely aware of my privilege – despite missing friends, and not being able to have Christmas with family in Montreal as usual, we have been little affected as we’ve watched the world fall apart.
    I’m so impressed with the work you’ve done/are doing on your blog. After 10 years I still don’t understand SEO and every time I start to research it my eyes glaze over. Guess I’m just not meant to have that kind of blog. I’ll be delving into my archives as soon as I’ve caught up on all the travel stories I’ve not yet told. And I too am optimistic about the future of travel.
    Big hugs to you Madhu, and may you and yours also have a wonderful festive season!

    1. Ha we owe gratitude to whoever was watching over us Alison! Digital detoxes are all very well but I realise now how important it is to stay on top of world events especially while travelling so far away from home.

      India had so much lead time that was wasted, first to felicitate Trump and later due to the lack of a cohesive plan.There was no excuse for the havoc they wrought on poor migrants’ lives at the end of March with the unannounced and poorly thought out lockdown. Even we had a few weeks of food anxiety at the time, since I had emptied my larder before departure. Imagine the state of the very poor who live hand to mouth and have no access to online shopping. Things seem well under control now (although I remain sceptical about official numbers), I hope reactions to newer developments will be speedier.

      Much love and hugs to you too Alison. And wishes for brighter days ahead with new travel opportunities for us all. Stay well.

      1. We have a good friend in Rishikesh who is one of those migrant workers. Rishikesh has enormous dependence on tourism and with the lockdown he immediately lost his job as a server in our favourite restaurant. It took him and his wife and child 2 days to finally be able to get a bus back to their village. Knowing how dire the situation is we’ve been supporting them, and are happy to do so. It feels like a very small contribution to a very big problem. I know Rishikesh has started to open up again, but he has not found work yet. And yet he is among the lucky ones in that he has good work experience and speaks English.
        I’m glad to hear things seem more under control there.
        The whole world has been turned upside down!

  7. Great to see your post pop up in my inbox, Madhu! Glad to hear you are safe and well. What a crazy year…let’s hope it gets a little better in 2021…I seem to spend most of my life on Zoom these days. All the very best for you in the year ahead

    1. Zoom has indeed been a saviour, helped keep us all sane in our isolation. Much thanks Sue and best wishes to you too for the holiday season.

  8. Yes this year 2020 looks like going out with a bang and it won’t be because of the customary fireworks. Apart from serious health scares for some the forced isolation in most countries has impacted on families in other ways. Some found ways to get creative on Zoom and some worried about jobs and feeding the family. It has not been a good year at all. However we can be thankful for life and I wish you a stress free and fulling 2021. 🙂

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