It was supposed to be the global ‘van life’ trip of a lifetime.
But a year after starting their travels abroad, venturing to New Zealand and across 30 states in the US, Melbourne couple Mietta Feery, 28, and Chris Beerwere, 29, along with their dog Jackson were forced to make a decision about the remainder of their journey amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay put in Mexico, or follow government advice and fly back to Australia – almost 18 months before they were due to return home.
Having spent a year abroad already, the pair weighed up their options but ultimately decided to stay in Michoacán, west-central Mexico, amid the health crisis sweeping the world.
“We planned for a three-year trip which we did a budget for, so we didn’t feel like we needed to (come home),” the pair told news.com.au.
“Even if we wanted we couldn’t right now. Pet importation laws require six months of preparations … we can’t just all pack our bags and go home. Which means we’d have to leave one of our family members behind, and that’s just something we’d never want to let happen.”
Since making the decision to stay in Mexico, which has more than 36,327 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3573 deaths, Chris and Mietta have gone into isolation in a small ranch in La Palcita where the pair help out with animals and put Chris’ plumbing and landscaping skills to good use.
Since the Government advised Australians abroad to come home amid the global pandemic, more than 300,000 citizens and permanent residents have returned.
The pair say while their family and friends were concerned, they understood why they decided to stay put in Mexico given the current restrictions in place for returning travellers.
“They (parents) understood,” Mietta said.
“(They) worried as parents would. Friends said to stay overseas because Australia wasn’t a pleasant place to be during the pandemic.”
The race for Australians trying to get back to their home country has been a frustrating and expensive one for many around the world.
While some have been urged to use commercial means to get home where possible, or find ways to get to the key hubs where Qantas is still running flights such as London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland, others have been forced to dish out thousands for a seat on charter flights.
Last month, a family stuck in Peru paid $30,000 for a return flight to Sydney, after finding themselves trapped near Lima.
Chris and Mietta said that while in Mexico, they will need to renew their visas given their stay will longer than anticipated. But while other travellers have been able to extend their documentation, there is a chance the pair may not receive the same approval.
Currently, the Mexican government has a lockdown in place meaning beaches are closed and the country’s economy has taken a significant hit – especially in the automotive industry.
Mexico has limited virus testing compared to many other countries, with experts indicating that the reported number of cases could be much higher and that the worst is still to come.
Since the lockdown, there have been reports of travellers getting chased out of towns with machetes by the locals, but Chris and Mietta believe their position and privacy of the ranch means they have found a sanctuary during the crisis.
“We’re in an amazing isolated spot so when we’re at the ranch we really don’t feel like anything is going on outside,” the pair said.
“We don’t leave the ranch without our hosts, when we need to do grocery shops or need to visit an ATM they take us to town. We’re essentially stuck but it doesn’t feel like we are.”
Chris and Mietta intend to stay in the Americas until their planned return in December 2021, and say they’ve limited their travels to reduce the chance of spreading the virus as the local health system wouldn’t handle a significant outbreak.
“We don’t experience any negativity from the locals because we have amazing hosts which welcomed us in and fortunately they know the whole town where we are at,” they said.
“We don’t go anywhere and stopped moving a long time before Mexico began its lockdown laws so we did our bit to prevent any kind of spread.
“Locals are criticising foreigners that are “travelling”. We’re not travelling. We haven’t moved for well over a month.”