Time For A Long & Emotional Journey
Sorry that it's been a little while since I last posted, it's been a [insert your favourite expletive here] couple of weeks.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. That's a tough thing to hear when you're 10,000 kms away from him. I guess that's one of the trade offs of geo-arbitrage (moving somewhere where cost of living is cheaper so you can retire early). Needless to say Mrs H and I started searching the internet to see how we could get back to the UK to see him and support him and my mum.
That was a pretty tall order during the third wave of a global pandemic and we quickly learned that South Africa is one of the most blacklisted countries in the world right now due to what is commonly known as the South African variant. Every time I hear the UK Health Minister talk about the "South African Variant" like it was the cause of the entire global pandemic, I want to slap him, really really hard multiple times.
From what I've read on the interweb (so it must be true) the South African variant is responsible for 600 cases of covid in the UK. That's 600 out of their total cases of 4.4m, that's 0.0001%! And, South Africa, which has broadly the same population as the UK, has 1.6m cases, around about a third of what the UK has. Hard to believe that Brits are allowed into South Africa but not the other way around!
I'll get off my soapbox now. So it became pretty clear pretty quickly, we were going to need to make a plan.
The simple option was to take an indirect flight to the UK through another country like The Netherlands, Germany or Qatar and get a connecting flight to London. This is where blocker number 2 comes in. As we're British citizens and subjects of her majesty, we are allowed into the UK but we have to quarantine in a government "hotel" for 12 days where we will be confined to our rooms and any opportunity of fresh air will be subject to being accompanied by a security guard in case we try and make a bid for freedom. Our rooms will not be cleaned during that period and our food will be left outside our door for us to collect (because food on the floor is definitely not a covid risk). Judging by the pictures floating around the internet, the food can only be described as a hybrid of bad takeaway and prison food. In fact, the word prison, is starting to feel a bit more appropriate than hotel.
And the cost of this relaxing getaway? R50,000 / $3,333 / £2,500. Yep, that's R4,500 / £300 / £225 per night for a hotel overlooking Heathrow Airport with zero use of any facilities other than the bed and the wifi. Well, we hope it's near heathrow airport, apparently you can be dropped at any one of 16 hotels in the area and you don't get to choose. Sweet joy!
So clearly we didn't fancy that idea and being resourceful souls we looked hard at the rules and the only way around this situation would be to fly to another country that is not on the UK "Red List" (which is basically, all of Sub-Saharan Africa, All of South America and India) and self isolate for 10 days and then fly on to the UK after that where we would have to self-isolate again but at least could do that with my parents. (We would have had to test for covid 3 times before getting to them so the risk would be actually less than any other visitor).
This sounded like a good plan so we started sifting through every country in Europe to find that the door was closed to most of Europe if you're leaving from South Africa, with the exception of......Greece.
So plans were afoot, we would fly to Athens via Amsterdam or Doha for 11 days. We could rent an apartment with some outside space so at least we could have fresh air and order in groceries and cook for ourselves. As soon as 11 days had passed it would be a short flight to the UK. No government prison and the quickest possible way to be with our family.
I had to be in South Africa to get some blood work done for my ongoing unruly kidneys so we had about 1 week to get our house in order, find a house & dog sitter and get on our way.
We were all set to go when late last week we learned the sad news that my father's cancer was terminal. The doctors told us he had anything from a couple of months to a couple of years left.
Mrs H and I chatted and decided the kidneys could wait and we needed to get moving. My father was in hospital over the weekend getting some treatment to make him more comfortable but was due home on Monday of this week. If we could leave this week, we could be with him and my mother by the second week in May.
We spent hours trying to figure out what tests and timings we needed, all the rules and regulations related to travel in South Africa, Greece and the UK, there was no way we could afford to make a mistake and get refused entry. That in itself is an absolute minefield as the regulations are changing globally on almost a daily basis.
By Sunday morning though, we had a solid plan that was going to be efficient, expensive but no too painful. It was going to be the weirdest 10 day holiday in Greece anyone has ever had but it was better than the UK government quarantine Alcatraz.
My mum called us on Sunday afternoon. Just as I was going to update her on our master plan, she broke the news to us that my dad had died in hospital that morning. I wasn't expecting that.
Fortunately we hadn't actually booked anything as that torpedoed the entire plan.
So, to cut a painfully long story short; we're leaving South Africa on Saturday on a flight to Germany with an immediate connecting flight to London Heathrow. We'll be incarcerated for 12 days in government quarantine and will be released on the 14th May. It's a 350 km journey to my hometown in the north of England where my mum and sister will be waiting for us.
I've written to the British government track and trace team to see if we can be given any dispensation on compassionate grounds (e.g. a reduced stay, pay for more tests or self-isolate at the family home) . That was three days ago. They haven't replied.
I thought about whether to write this post or not but it seemed appropriate as this blog is supposed to be a chronicle of our FIRE journey and I guess it can't all be bungee jumping and cocktails. It is a stark and sad reminder for me that we can't and shouldn't waste any time and that this is not a rehearsal. My father was a great man and was taken from me too soon but I'm a great believer that you choose how you feel about these things and I'm choosing to use his death as an opportunity to motivate myself to squeeze every waking moment out of this life and make it the best it can be. In his honour.
So we're 48 hours away from what could have been the worst journey of my life, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Excuse my language but; Fuck that. Let's make it a memorable journey and make it a trip to enjoy, laugh and love.
I think I'm going to try and document as much of the trip as I can on Tribal Fi, I'm not sure how interesting the first 12 days in a hotel room can be so I suspect they'll be short but it's certainly going to be a unique trip so maybe I'll learn a few things, have a bit of a transformation or just sarcastically mock the entire process. However it turns out it will be a memory to read in a few years when the pain has faded away.
I think I'll call it the "Covid Chronicles". The total trip is 38 days and will cover 4 countries; South Africa, Germany, England & Scotland (we'll visit family in Glasgow whilst we're there). We'll cover a total of 29,000 kms.
It wasn't until this week I realised just how long it's been since I visited the UK. According to Google Photos it's been almost exactly 3 years. I suspect the place hasn't changed much!
The primary objective is obviously to support my mum and sister and help get all my parents affairs in order. My parents were also somewhat inconveniently in the middle of moving house so I can see some heavy lifting in my future. We'll be staying with my mother for most of the trip.
Due to covid, we haven't seen most of our friends and family since we got married in November 2019 in South Africa so depending on the lockdown level in the UK, we will hopefully get to see a lot of people that we otherwise probably wouldn't have until after covid. I'll also be meeting my life-long friends new son who I was proud to discover has my name as his middle name, he's clearly going to achieve great things!
Another byproduct of this trip will be that we can vaccinated for Covid whilst we're there. The UK has just opened up to anyone aged 45+ so given I'm 45 and 2 months, bingo! That is actually a really good opportunity as the way things are going in SA, I could have developed my own vaccine before getting one from the government.
Despite my recent low carb and intermittent fasting lifestyle to try and get the kidneys to behave I am also looking forward to a few British delicacies that I've missed, namely:
A Greggs Cheese & Onion Bake - The King of pastry goods, only rivalled by the Sausage, baked bean and Cheese pasty
A B.E.S.T. sandwich - Bacon, Egg, Sausage & Tinned Plum Tomatoes in a giant bread roll with tomato sauce
A Battered Sausage - A pork banger, battered and fried, preferably in an oversized hot dog roll with tomato ketchup, salt and malt vinegar
Haggis - You don't want to know what it's made of but it is mighty tasty
UK Chinese Takeaway - In South Africa there seems to be some confusion. Sushi is Japanese! Hot Chinese food is more diverse than Sweet & Sour Chicken and Chinese takeaway should come with the option of chips as well as rice and noodles.
Black Pudding - You also don't want to know what it is but it tastes awesome
It might not be healthy, but I'm worth it and my father would have approved (honestly!).
I'll also be trying to maintain my record of not wearing long pants for as long as possible despite the current temperature in the UK being a baltic 8c. I'll be travelling with as near to an empty suitcase as possible and taking full advantage of the strong rand by filling the case with new clothes and a tech gadget or three from Amazon. I also have a growing list of items my UK friends want from SA and that my SA friends want from the UK. Maybe there is a side-hustle opportunity in there somewhere.
So I guess in summary, this is going to be a tough journey in many aspects but in my experience to date, good things can come out of the greatest tragedies and that is how I've decided to face this challenge. I was really worried that I would miss his funeral due to the quarantine but he left instructions that there is to be no funeral which I actually think is pretty cool of him and reaffirms my belief that he wouldn't want us to be unhappy at this time even though we miss him. That's the kind of guy he was, he was madly in love with my mother from when he met her until the day he died so it seems fitting that it was just them when they met and it will be just them when they part.
Finally, it should not pass without note that tomorrow is my 365th day of retirement. I made my first year.
I'll be doing a post dedicated to that whilst I'm in the slammer over the next two weeks, the stats make very interesting reading. It's also fitting that I start my second year of retirement with an epic journey, which there is no doubt this is going to be.
Watch out for that and more over the next few weeks.
In the meatine, keep living