Vacation, Part One: Risk-Reward When Every Daily Action Becomes a Calculation of Risk Tolerance

Five years ago, knowing that the exact date of our 20th wedding anniversary would come just as we started our first overseas jobs in Casablanca, we opted to celebrate a few months early by driving the Pacific Coast Highway from its southern start in San Diego (CA) to its northernmost point in Port Angeles (WA), then ferrying across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria (BC) and back again to Washington State to finish three weeks of celebration together in Bellingham and on Whidbey Island, before switching gears to transition into moving abroad.  Now, with Audrey’s Spring Break approaching and the exact date of our 25th wedding anniversary again hitting at the beginning of Audrey’s upcoming school year, it likewise seemed a good time to celebrate early.

But what to do when we have spent the last year living in a fairly tight COVID-19 bubble, and both of us still not knowing when we might get vaccinated?  For the sake of exploring options, we entertained briefly and scuttled quickly (i.e., Audrey entertained and Brian scuttled) the idea to hop on a plane and fly to another country as a start to exploring Latin America.  (This proved quite wise as Panama’s government subsequently barred all non-citizen/non-resident people seeking to enter from any South American countries in order to protect against the highly-contagious Brazilian variant strain of COVID-19 rampaging currently in South American countries.)  We next nixed flying to hop-scotch around Panama in a week of domestic exploration.  “We will have plenty of time to go anywhere we would like in Panama once the pandemic finally passes,” said Brian, “But I really prefer not to expand our bubble much yet.”

This is the great dilemma faced by so many as the pandemic stretches past its one-year mark.  Compared to the daily angst and uncertain darkness of March 2020, March 2021 had approved vaccines shooting into people’s arms and helping people feel optimistic about the future…

…Except for the delays in vaccinating people (at least in Panama) that left us still vulnerable should we unknowingly encounter someone infected, and except for the variant strains that kept people worrying just when they thought they could emerge from their safety cocoons.

We have felt increasing confidence in testing the elasticity of our COVID bubble.  After paying our wonderful newly-hired house helper, Iris, NOT to come to our house for a couple months (not only to keep our house bubble very small, but also to allow her to protect herself by avoiding exposure on the trains and taxis she takes to come to our house), Iris resumed regular work at the end of January.  Brian has gone out for a couple haircuts and Audrey has had someone come to the house a couple times for the same.  Brian has hiked a few times in different locations with friends, always masked.  And, of course, Audrey goes to school each day with faculty and the majority of students back on campus with social distancing since mid-March to supplement the online curricular activity that continues as ISP’s primary pedagogy.  Two weeks ago we even went to lunch at P.F. Chang’s in the big MultiPlaza mall, albeit sitting outside on the terrace as soon as they opened in order to minimize the chance of finding other diners there.  And a week ago we capped both of us hiking with friends in the Panamanian Rainforest Discovery Center by joining them for a lunch of take-out food with two more friends in the open-air City of Knowledge Square (which, we must note, is triangular instead of square).

All of that is to say that we have moved past the cloister that ruled us for so many months; yet, not-yet-vaccinated and not sure whether vaccines will protect against the Brazilian and other variants, we remain a bit nervous about opening up our lives too much too quickly.  As much as we feel our lives lighter than what we felt for so long, we still feel trepidation that tethers us to a default of caution.

Put simply, we have entered a phase in which every daily action becomes a “risk-reward” calculation of risk tolerance.

Deeply philosophical libertarians, rational choice proponents, and game theorists might say that particular circumstance always has described life despite most people operating on default settings that obviate the need for discerning calculations about most daily life activities.  But a year of pandemic has given most people time to think more deeply about things they used to take for granted or used to do de rigueur.

Things like planning a weeklong vacation to celebrate 25 years of marriage a few months ahead of the actual anniversary date.

So after testing and rejecting various options on the risk-reward spectrum (Audrey testing and Brian rejecting), Audrey found the Sansara Surf & Yoga Resort a six-hour drive away from Panama City on the Pacfic Ocean shores of Cambutal.  She shared the website with Brian, who checked it out and ran a bunch of variables through his internal risk tolerance calculator (his being the more strict of our two).  With our hybrid car, we could drive the entire way without having to stop for gas.  Once there we would find a small establishment (it has only 12 rooms) with a small staff pretty much in the middle of nowhere Panama.  Yes, we presumed there would be a few other guests; but far fewer than if we went to a hotel in a town or city.  And other than four walls enclosing us while sleeping in our cabaña, everything we did – from eating meals to doing yoga – would take place outside with ocean breezes providing an ample supply of fresh air.  Besides, Brian thought on the reward side of the equation, rather than spend a week celebrating our anniversary by seeing cultural and historical things, this would give us a week to enjoy just spending time together as we think about how quickly we have run through the last 25 years.

So we decided it was a perfect way to spend the week of Semana Santa, Holy Week leading up to Easter, that comprises ISP’s Spring Break.  (A related topic for posting in this year’s shared seasons of Easter and Ramadan:  Similarities and differences moving from a Muslim country to a Catholic country.)

It’s weird packing a suitcase,” Audrey said as she stuffed things into the large suitcase she asked Brian to get out of our storage room after she decided the less-large one he had already fetched for her did not suffice for all she wanted to bring.  “I haven’t done it in so long that I forgot how to do it.  I was going to just throw all my makeup in a suitcase and then realized I need a bunch of plastic bags to keep it from going all over.”  Packing for a week away, Brian thought, is like riding a bike.

We had yet to see if we could relapse into the comfort of actually taking a vacation in this “emerging from the pandemic” time just as easily.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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