Flu Free Guarantee

14 05 2009


When old soldiers gather together they exchange tales of brushes with death while comparing old war wounds. When old travellers gather together they exchange tales of brushes with death while comparing tropical diseases. Because, let’s face it, you really can’t claim to be an adventurer until you’ve lost a digit to frostbite or started a conversation with “When I had malaria…”

Likewise, I would bet that anyone who sidles up to a bar now and casually says “I’ve just got over Swine Flu…” would likely be plied with free drinks until they tell the full story of their bout with H1N1.

Of course, there’s nothing humourous about diseases, especially tropical ones that kill millions of people in the developing world each year. But the occasional well-treated and thoroughly-defeated exotic disease for an intrepid traveller is a badge of honour that can be great fodder for dinner conversation for decades to come. Now however, such an infection can actually provide a free vacation…or three.

The recent outbreak of H1N1 has made headlines throughout the world, claimed the lives of more than 60 people and practically decimated Mexican tourism. But Mexico is fighting back!

So confident is Mexico’s Caribbean coast that the risk of contracting Swine Flu is over, that earlier this week several hotels on the Mayan Riviera offered free vacations to any tourist who catches H1N1 while on holiday there. Forget t-shirts and postcards, it’s a good virus that visitors are queuing up to take home these days!

“The ‘flu-free guarantee’ assures three years of free holidays to travellers who present flu symptoms eight days after returning from their trip,” explained one hotel group.

Another resort explained that the offer applied only to Influenza A-H1N1 and that guests “…must provide positive blood results, taken within five days of departure from the resort in addition to the certification of the doctor who performed the test in order to redeem the three free stays.”

“The guest must also not have been previously diagnosed with Influenza A-H1N1 prior to their stay,” they added.

No word as to whether the offer also applies to people who don’t wash their hands,  get enough sleep, eat properly, sneeze without covering their mouths…or don’t listen to their mothers!

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photo by: Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau


Travel Advisories

5 05 2009



             “I’d like a table by the bushes, please.”    (Cape Point, South Africa)



When early explorers and adventurers headed off to strange and exotic lands, they often had no clue what they’d face. There were no satellite photographs or guidebooks and often not even a map or first-person account. When they started trekking inland from the most accessible landing point, they had no idea whether it would be for weeks, months or years – not unlike today’s experience in many airport baggage halls.


If anything, today we have too much information and some of the wonder of discovery has been lost thanks to GoogleEarth, interactive 360-degree panoramic photos and webcams. Some would say you can never have too much information but when you can plot every step of the route from your beachside cabana to the swim-up bar using satellite photographs before you’ve even left home, modern technology might just be spoiling some of the sense of exploration that comes with a holiday! 


There is one source of information that should always be consulted before any travel, however – government travel reports.


The foreign affairs, external affairs or state departments of most governments have websites at which you can access detailed information about your travel destination. They provide an overview of all countries and their infrastructure, advise you what to avoid and to be wary of and give you contact details should you run into trouble. In addition to all of that, they also supply current travel alerts, advisories and warnings.


These travel advisories are more than just helpful, however. Many travel insurance companies won’t settle until their government’s travel advisory instructs travellers to avoid a particular destination completely and clients who travel to ‘black-listed’ countries may find their coverage suspended. In some countries, tour operators are legally bound not to take travellers to any country against which their government has issued such a warning.


Although the information is generally current and accurate, given that there are hundreds of countries to maintain it can sometimes take a government a frustratingly long time to lift a warning. I recall visiting Suriname and reading of problems with a violent rebel movement in the country’s interior. The description had me second-guessing my trip and fearing that I was venturing to a war zone. Once there I asked someone about the uprising, and, looking surprised, they replied that it had ended several years earlier! Other times warnings can be issued for political reasons that have more to do with embargoes, sanctions or poor relations than health or security issues. For these reasons it can therefore sometimes be useful to compare travel reports issued by several governments.


For more information, try the following:


Canada:   www.travel.gc.ca


U.S:  www.travel.state.gov


U.K: www.fco.gov.uk


Australia:  www.smartraveller.gov.au



Post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009

Of Pandemics, Quarantine and Monica Bellucci

30 04 2009


Getting caught in a pandemic sounds pretty exciting…until it happens.


Our impressions of disasters often tend to be influenced by Hollywood and the idea of being caught in an outbreak of Tropical Galloping Gob Rot usually includes a nurse who looks like Monica Bellucci, a doctor like George Clooney…and a closing scene in First Class with champagne in one hand and Monica or George by our side. Reality is a little more sobering and I’m sure there aren’t many people in Mexico right now who are finding the experience particularly romantic.


Thankfully, I’ve never been caught in a pandemic and I hope I never am, but there was one occasion when it seemed that I might and I wasn’t really thinking of Monica or George at the time!


While in Africa some years ago, news filtered through of an outbreak of plague in India. Plague seems such a dark, ancient and deadly disease but according to the World Health Organisation, there are 1,000-3,000 new cases each year. Despite being treatable with antibiotics, a plague outbreak is still not a thought that warms the cockles of most hearts…especially when on the other side of the planet.


Although on a different continent, we felt strangely vulnerable. If the plague outbreak did become a pandemic as was being suggested, we were in the wilds of a country that could easily be ravaged and which had a poor medical infrastructure and inadequate antibiotics – and we were several days drive from the nearest airport. Admittedly we were leaping miles ahead of what little we knew of the situation, but it was difficult not to have such thoughts when passing through very poor towns inhabited by children with distended stomachs, permeated by the smell of baby vomit and open sewers and just a single flight away from India.


A local newspaper didn’t really help matters either. A small piece on the front page reported that suggestions had been made to restrict air travel from infected areas. If the plague crossed the Indian Ocean, would we even be allowed to travel home or would we at best be subjected to lengthy quarantine?  Another overland truck we passed had heard that the WHO and local authorities were acting quickly, but that the outbreak was not contained and there were concerns of it spreading beyond India. Tanzanian and Kenyan officials were reportedly screening people at the airports already. We had never felt so far from home or out of touch.


As the fragments of information slipped from the news, so the threat receded from our minds. By the time we arrived in Nairobi several weeks later, our worries seemed silly and overblown, but I will certainly never see anything romantic or exciting in pandemics, quarantine or government airlifts again…with or without Monica Bellucci!



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009