As governments around the globe impose lockdowns and people self-isolate, coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit the travel industry hard. The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes and, in their place, offering a round-up of the major coronavirus-related travel headlines, including the future of travel.
00:48 The Caribbean prepares to reopen
01:17 Japan’s plan to attract travelers
02:05 Erin Green has lived in Nepal for six years
06:12 Pollution lifts in Kathmandu
08:50 Jigar was “living his best life”
12:52 Avoiding the ordinary
16:17 Losing sense of time
20:14 Vale Mr. Kim
“I've just seen pictures of Kathmandu itself and it looks like somebody put a filter on there, a technicolor filter. It's crazy all the colors that you can see because usually, it's a dust-colored city.” -Erin
“I don't have a job that requires me to go outside and live day-to-day like most people in this country, so I'm quite privileged. It makes you really realize the disparity of opportunity and possibility is in this time economically and otherwise.” - Jigar
Originally from Tanzania, Jigar Ganatra won the World Nomads 2017 Travel Film Scholarship and making films in various parts of the world, he founded Halisia Travel, a travel company for aspiring photographers and filmmakers to have meaningful experiences while learning about creating impactful travel stories. Follow Jigar on Instagram @jiganatra
We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.
Kim: In this episode, the filmmaker forced home while on the trip of a lifetime and the country hot by COVID-19 while trying to rebuild after a deadly earthquake
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Kim: Hi it’s Kim and Phil with you and a reminder to get in touch with your story by emailing [email protected]. First what’s happening in the world of travel Phil?
Phil: Caribbean countries relying heavily on tourism like St. Lucia, Antigua, and Aruba are planning to open in June, (at the time of recording). We will have a link in show notes on what to expect but the governments of those countries are working on safety measures like social distancing and hotel hygiene.
After their long coronavirus lockdown in Italy, people are on warning from the government as they ignore social distancing rules and party. Cabinet has said it could mean plans to travel within regions would be revised.
And in a similar announcement to Sicily recently, the Japanese government is also creating a plan to boost tourism by offering to subsidize a portion of travelers’ expenses.
Kim: The Himalayan country of Nepal hasn’t escaped coronavirus with hundreds of cases recorded, a real blow given they are still recovering economically and socially from the 2015 earthquake that killed 9 thousand people. Erin Green has been based in Nepal for six years working with Himalayan Trails, a trekking company based in Kathmandu, she has views on how the country will be affected and tells us how she just made it out.
Erin: Well, I've been in Thailand. Well, actually I've been in Australia until the end of January, and that's when things started. We started hearing a little bit about it. And then, I live in Katmandu. And so, I was on my way back to Kathmandu but stopped off in Bangkok in Thailand for a couple of weeks before the tourist season. I work in tourism. And so, the season is March, April, May. And, people are starting to cancel. People are starting to have to be worried. And so I was thinking, I don't even know if I should go back to Nepal. Nepal's not really great for disease control, any kind of control, but I went back to Nepal. And then, I ended up doing a trek in March to write about it and to do some research for the travel company that I work for.
And, I was a little on the fence about doing that. It started on March 11th. A few countries were really closed down or close down to Nepal anyway, but I went on the trek anyway, but then on the 18th, that's when I got back to Nepal and everything was crazy. That's pretty much when it was. And, I realized that Nepal was going to stop letting flights come in and out. And then I was planning on going to Australia to be with my boyfriend in April, but then I realized Australia was closing down its borders to foreigners on the 20th at 9:00 PM. So, that's where I was, freaking out that I was going to get stuck in Nepal.
Kim: But you made it to Australia and to your boyfriend?
Erin: I did. Yeah, it was fricking miraculous, and yeah. And so, I arrived in Melbourne at 8:45 PM.
Kim: 15 minutes to go.
Kim: That's insane. That is insane,
Erin: I know.
Kim: It's meant to be. Oh, God. So, what do you think then is the impact, not what you think, I'm guessing that you know the impact of no travel on ordinary Nepalese?
Erin: For the average Nepali person, similar to any human following that, I mean, people needed one to go home. So if they were working as migrant workers in the villages, they didn't have any food or anything, so they needed to go home. So, that's just what the average Nepali person, but the country itself is dependent on tourism. And so, that's a big hit. There was this big push for Visit Nepal 2020, this year. And, they had all these banners put up and trying to make this and then, maybe sort of mid-Feb, they decided to cancel it. Some people kind of heard that some people didn't, but yeah, they're losing a ton of money from tourism. The Nepalese government doesn't provide for itself.
They're reliant on foreign aid and they have been since the sixties. And so, therefore, Nepal just doesn't do things for themselves. More aid is going to come in when it's allowed to and it's just going to be a spiral. I don't see Nepal, the government stepping up and changing anything. It's going to be pretty sad. And with healthcare as well, I support a clinic there and one woman was due to have heart surgery and she had a heart attack and died because her surgery was canceled.
Kim: Is anyone doing anything?
Erin: I have friends that have GoFundMe sites. And I mean, there's plenty of Nepalis as well, that are trying to do what they can, but as an overarching statement, the rich people are going to fend better than the poor people.
Kim: So, how long do you think it will take for Nepal to recover?
Erin: I'm not sure. I think they're going to follow India and probably adapt some of their programs, but recover I mean, it's a pretty poor country anyway. We'll have to see. And I guess, when the doors open for tourism, that's going to be a big help.
Kim: The great thing that happened with India's lockdown is a couple of things. On the West coast of India, the turtles came back and laid millions of eggs that normally they'd be too frightened to do because the beaches are packed with people or the poachers take the eggs. And then in another area of India, people have seen the Himalayas for the very first time. What positives do you think will come out of the travel ban for Nepal in terms of pollution and over-tourism?
Erin: I think a lot. I mean, I've just seen pictures of Katmandu itself and it looks like somebody put a filter on there, a technicolor filter. It's crazy all the colors that you can see because usually, it's a dust-colored city. So, that's beautiful. My friends were also telling me that people are still burning their trash. That's what people do, plastics, and everything else. That mentality isn't really changing. But as for over-tourism, I hope people can think. I think after the earthquake as well, people started looking at different routes to travel, different ways, different places to trek. Some communities started thinking a little bit positively about how they can get people to come to their trekking lodge, to their community to generate some income. So hopefully, people will start doing that again. We'll see.
Kim: And that’s what the company Erin works for does, looks for those lesser-known spots to take the heat off the well-trodden treks which Nepal is infamous for.
Phil: We heard Erin say that people from other countries could leave at the time the virus was declared a pandemic, but Nepal has apparently refused to allow its own citizens to enter.
Kim: Sad! Now you went to Nepal last year. And came back all fired up with a new pronunciation…
Kim: You’ve reverted to your old ways with that pronunciation which is a vague segue into our next guest Jigar – he’s from Tanzania and I am from Tasmania – so I get the pronunciation of Tanzania mixed up with Tasmania. Not the only one though Phil. What have you learned?
Phil: A Pakistani cricketer finally made it to Tasmania on November 18th in 1988 after a mix-up in travel plans sent him to Tanzania. Mati Khan said his travel agent confused the Australian state of Tasmania with the African nation of Tanzania!
Kim: See how easy it is! World Nomads Film Scholarship winner Jigar Ganatra has been forced back to his home country because of COVID
Jigar: Yeah, it is because of COVID. Before I came back to my home country of Tanzania, I was actually in South Africa, I was in Cape Town. I was on a trip called YourBestLife. Maybe you've heard of it before, but it's a Portuguese startup, and I was one of the lucky few who were selected to be part of this six-month journey through 10 countries around the world all expenses paid, and South Africa was country number three, after Costa Rica and Peru, and each of the countries they have a theme. So Costa Rica was setting your own personal goals for the six months, defining what success means to you, stuff like that. And then Peru was about culture, we were in Cusco and the Sacred Valley working with local communities, and then South Africa was meant to be the bucket list adventure travel.
It was like day four of ours in South Africa, we were doing this 10-day road trip where we were meant to do shark cage diving with great white sharks, scuba diving, all sorts of stuff, the skydiving, bungee jumping from the highest bridge in the world, and it was meant to be this whole like getting out of your comfort zone situation, travel for 10 days, and I was super excited about it. We were just about to do bungee jumping the next day, and I received a call from the organizers saying that the World Health Organization has issued a pandemic and we all have to return home. So every participant seven of us had to go back to our home countries and my parents are in India right now, so I had two options either to go and stay with them in India, or to come back to my home country of Tanzania. And Tanzania just felt like the right thing to do inside. So this is where I am now.
Kim: Were you secretly happy that you didn't get to bungee jump, given the fact that you're scared of heights?
Jigar: I wasn't sure if I was going to do it, but inside I was so ready I was so like, "Okay, you know what? This is." I finally got the meaning of the bucket list. I was never one of those travelers who had a bucket list, but it finally made sense. I was going to do something that I wouldn't have otherwise done, and I would have come out a different person after that. In a way I would have explored my boundaries sort of, and I was really looking forward to it. And it didn't happen, I came back quite disappointed, and I was pretty sad coming back alone after having spent all these months with six other people from all around the world, from Nigeria, Italy, Albania, South Africa, U.S., and it was something that really meant a lot. And coming back to a situation, right now I'm not talking to anyone, sort of isolated and on my own, it was pretty tough for 10 days. And then got back into the groove and got some time to work on my films.
Kim: Well you post some amazing stuff on Instagram. We'll share a link to your Insta handle in ShareNotes and I follow it, and you put some stuff up there where I've gone, "Is that now?" Because Tanzania is not in a strict lockdown, is it?
Jigar: No, Tanzania is not on lockdown at all. In fact, it's quite business as usual. And the president just yesterday announced that he wants tourism to continue, he's opened up the airspace as of today. Even the safety measures have been quite minimum, masks and taps and everything. I still go outside of my house and I see like public transport people being crammed into Dala dala's, which is like the public van over here and it's a whole different world compared to what I'm seeing on TV about other countries, that I'm privileged enough to be able to stay indoors, and I don't have a job that requires me to go outside and live day-to-day like most people in this country, so I'm quite privileged. It makes you really realize the disparity of opportunity and possibility is in this time economically and otherwise.
Kim: Well, you said when you went back to Tanzania that you didn't want to just fit back into a comfort zone. So you didn't want to sink back into the ordinary, I think is the way you put it. So you decided to do something different and it co-relates to your fear of heights and climbing active volcanoes. You're still making content, you're one of these lucky people.
Jigar: That's from last year when I actually came back to Tanzania. So I didn't actually climb the volcano when I came back recently, I've just had a lot of time now to finally catch up on the stories that I've made before and actually post them out. So all of my followers and viewers are pretty confused as to, just like you, is this right now, or is this the time before? But I'm not traveling at the moment, but I am waiting for the dry season. It's raining a lot here, I'm just waiting to go to the Serengeti when it's drier, because when you imagine the Serengeti, which is just two hours from where I am right now, from my hometown, you imagine it most of the time as gold and then yellow, but right now it's quite the opposite, it's very green and wet. So I'm just waiting for it to be its iconic color, and I go there to film the wildebeest, crossing the Grumeti River and being eaten by crocodiles.
Kim: That migration is famous, isn't it?
Jigar: Oh, yeah. And I think it's synonymous to Serengeti when you think of Serengeti, you think of the Great Migration and it's incredible, it's seeing two points. Like I think it's 2.4 million or more of these wildebeest, just they're endless. And I was quite lucky to be on a balloon safari, actually, two of them last year when I first came back and seeing them from the balloon, high up, I just couldn't see the end of them. Even if I'm high up in a balloon and the horizon is far out, I still couldn't see where they ended, and it's just a magnificent sight.
Kim: Well, even though that video that you've posted was from last year, we'll share it in ShareNotes because it's incredible, and it's quite funny too because you lost GoPro and the guys, the Maasai that you were climbing with, they weren't particularly supportive. I loved it. I'm like, "Yeah." You got some great footage Jigar, once in a lifetime stuff, but it's gone, get on with it.
Jigar: That's kind of their attitude is pretty blunt about it, "Man there's nothing you can do about it, it's gone." We actually searched for it for an hour in that volcano and the tricky part was that the GoPro is black and square and all the rocks on the volcano on the 45-degree incline of it, were also the same color. So we literally searched for over an hour, and it started getting really hot, the volcano's surface. We even slid a few times looking for it, but it had just disappeared and the guys were just like, "Man, there is no point in fantasizing if we're going to find it or not. We've done everything we can, let's move on with it." And it's not a typical response you get, but then it's something that really it's true. You can't sugarcoat it, you got to move on sometimes, and it teaches you to detach from these kinds of things, and that's a very important lesson.
Kim: How gorgeous, well that actually answers my next question, because I did want to lay you down on a virtual couch and sit next to you and ask you, "How are You feeling Jigar?" You are always on the go. And in fact, you go to bed, like I'm speaking to you at one o'clock in the morning because you say you can't sleep because you've just got so much that's buzzing through your imagination. So you're obviously coping with it okay.
Jigar: Exactly, exactly. And I don't know, there's just something about this time of the night where things are just so peaceful and you don't have a sense of time with the sun moving and with the noises here, especially in Tanzania with no lockdown, it's really noisy outside. And at this time it's very peaceful, I can really remember all the amazing experiences that I've had in my life and write them and I've really found myself in a very interesting creative situation, since coming back I've finished one diary. I've been writing three pages every day. I've been reading this book called The Artist's Way, and it's a really, really interesting book.
It's a 12-week course, and each week gives you different exercises to do, to get in touch with your artists. And that book says that each of us has an art, whatever it is, and we've neglected it many of us throughout our lives throughout using doubts, using fears. And so this book is sort of a recovery getting all of those doubts and fears away and connecting us. So this is the perfect time of the night to get into that.
Kim: Now you have also your own company that we've spoken to you about before, Halisia Travel, obviously that's been affected by the pandemic?
Jigar: Yeah, definitely. With Halisia, the model of it is running workshops, photography, and filmmaking workshops kind of like the World Nomads scholarship, but now obviously because there are travel restrictions and the whole travel industry has been affected. I've also been affected, I'm not going to be having many clients for the foreseeable future, maybe even for a whole year. But I would argue, there's always a minimum viable product. Maybe I'm not running my trips, but I still have my online community where I can continue producing content, producing marketing material, designing the workshops, designing the itineraries because eventually, maybe not next month, but maybe in a few months, it's going to resume. And so right now is a good time to continue on the nonmonetary aspects of it, which I think every business can work on that minimum viable product and you don't have to shut down completely.
Kim: Very true. So as we wrap up, give us a mental image of where. you are in Tanzania, and what your day looks like when you finally wake up.
Jigar: I do wake up at random times, sometimes early, sometimes late, but I'm in a really awesome place right now. It's the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, it's called Lake Victoria, and it is overflowing right now because there's been a lot of rain. So the shore has been receding and there's been a lot of water coming on, which is kind of disastrous, but it's a beautiful place that I'm in because there's a lot of huge volcanic rocks all around me. They're called kopjes and they're the kind of rocks that you may have seen on Lion King in the Serengeti. It's all around me, it's really beautiful, there's a lot of hills. So I often take the time and maybe once or twice a weekly hike a few of those rocks, a few of those kopjes, and see the beautiful view.
That's the most interesting part of my week and the highlight one. The rest of the days is just filled with note writing and reflecting and eating really good food. I'm with my aunt and uncle, and my aunt is an amazing cook. She cooks the best Indian food. So I'm kind of gaining weight right now, which was very much of my physical goal. So seeing the positives here.
Kim: Well, you're always seeing the positives, except for when you lose your GoPro down a volcano. It's always such a pleasure to chat to you, and some pearls of wisdom in there for people who might be feeling a little down at this time, and as you said, there are silver linings everywhere we just need to look for them.
Jigar: That's right. Thanks, Kim, it's always a pleasure being on this podcast. It's one of my favorites.
Kim: Thank you.
Kim: Thank you Jigar and it’s with a heavy heart we leave you with some sad news - Mr. Kim who featured in fellow scholarship winner Marissa Heilbron’s World Nomads Tanzania scholarship film has passed away from coronavirus
Phil: Mr. Kim found a way to made affordable ceramic water filters and facilitated an easy way for travelers to donate them to those most in need. We will share Marissa’s film in show notes.
Kim: Next episode continuing the theme of the film, filmmaker Ernest White creator of Fly Brother.