Tracy Phillips travelled to Mexico in December for one month, did three Covid-19 tests while she was there, and experienced Mexico City’s first-ever lockdown. To say that it's a trip out of the ordinary would be an understatement.
If you’re among @tracyjoyphillips’ 16.2k Instagram followers, you’d know that the Singaporean marketing and programming agency director is currently serving her Stay-Home Notice (SHN) at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach since returning to our shores on Jan 7. It is also from her hotel room desk that the tastemaker's filling us in on her Mexico jaunt.
The month-long Mexico trip was to celebrate “a very dear friend’s 40th birthday”, she tells 8Days.sg. The idea of a birthday vacay was first brought up pre-Covid-19; back then, it was meant to be a trip to Patagonia. But when Covid-19 happened and the plan was changed to a four-day trip in Mexico,Tracy initially thought there was no way she’d go.
“But [my friend] changed the itinerary to extend the trip longer and with lots of safety provisions, so I agreed to go,” says Tracy. “It was just shy of a month before the trip that I booked flights. It was a YOLO moment (laughs)."
Did she have any hesitations going overseas at a time when most people were staying put? “Yes, I did have concerns of course, like the potential of getting Covid-19 while overseas and about having to do quarantine in a hotel when getting home.
“I definitely had hesitations about travelling but [my friend] and his partner made a lot of effort to put together an itinerary that would be safe, [where we'd be] mainly outdoors in nature and minimise outside interactions, and we'd be sticking with our travel pod. Whenever we were to meet with a new group who were joining for a different part of the trip, we would all get Covid-19 tests first before meeting to ensure the new travel pod would be safe,” she explains (she got three nose swab tests done while in Mexico, but more on that later).
Preparing for a trip during the pandemic requires a whole lot of logistical planning, as you can imagine. Tracy not only bought travel insurance that covered Covid-19 treatment, she also packed a mask for every day she was away, and brought along bottles of hand sanitiser as well.
She also had to check entry requirements for countries that they were travelling to, and before every flight, check once more if arrival cities had changed any restrictions. It's also paramount to look up on where Covid-19 tests were needed, and when they’d need to receive test results.
“Because we were joining different groups of people at different times and Panama required a negative Covid test within 48 hours of travelling there, I ended up doing three tests in the month I was away,” Tracy tells us.
“In Mexico City, a nurse came to my friend’s apartment to test the both of us. Another was a drive-through at a clinic about an hour from Tepotzlan, and I did another test just outside Mexico City at a hospital.”
Tracy flew to Mexico from Singapore with a stopover in Tokyo, and of course, readied herself with safety precautions during her long haul flight.
“I got some protective sprays to spray on my belongings that allegedly keep them anti-bacterial, one for 24 hours and another for up to 30 days. I also had disposable masks, and of course, hand sanitiser. I considered getting this cool looking anti-bacterial all black jumpsuit for flights ordered in from Brooklyn but decided against it in the end since most reports say that contaminated surfaces is not the main way the virus spreads," she says.
“The long haul flights were actually really comfortable because everyone got their own row of three seats and no one in the row in front or behind us so I slept lying down, feeling quite safe as there was minimal interaction with other travellers. Airports were quite empty except for the domestic travel sectors, but even then people were wearing masks and practiced social distancing."
Visitors to Mexico are not required to quarantine upon arrival, which is “the main reason that destination was chosen”, though Tracy admits that “a lot changed while I was there”. In the second week week of her trip, Mexico City went into lockdown. “[It was] something that was unexpected since throughout last year they never actually had one. This meant all restaurants were only open for takeaway and all the shops were closed. I'd been to Mexico City the previous year [before Covid-19], and on that trip, the city was very vibrant. That was a big reason why I wanted to go back, but after the lockdown, it was completely quiet on the streets.”
Safety precautions she took while in Mexico
Were you worried about Covid-19 at any point during the trip, we ask. “Not really, because we were rarely indoors or in crowds. Whenever we were, we wore masks, as did all the people around us. In more crowded places like the airports, the markets in Tepoztlan or the supermarkets we visited to get our food, temperatures were usually checked at the door and hand sanitiser made compulsory," she says.
Why a month-long trip? “Knowing I would have to do quarantine when getting back is what made me decide to stay away for at least a month to make the journey worth it,” Tracy reveals. “They made sure there was good wifi wherever we were staying too so we could work remotely. I haven't travelled for a full month in a decade so just having the luxury of time to not rush and be present to my environment and people felt like such a gift."
Tracy left Singapore on Dec 4 and headed to Mérida in the Yucatan region via Mexico City first. Here, she stayed in a former plantation. “Hacienda Sac Chich has been refurbished and is often used for events and weddings,” quips Tracy. “The different types of homes we stayed in [throughout the trip] and their immediate landscapes all embedded in nature were so inspiring, waking up to waves, birds, trees, mountains, so soothing for the soul.”
The highlight of this leg of the trip were cenotes, naturally occurring sinkholes that the Yucatan region is known for.
“The cenotes of the Yucatan region [are definitely a must-go in Mexico]. There are over 2,000 spread all around [Mexico] and such amazing natural wonders. I can't stop going on about the cenotes but I've never experienced anything like them in any of my travels and felt so connected to the land and past generations in these ancient sinkholes created by the meteorite that hit earth thousands of years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. Mexico is one of the rare places you'll find them because of the land’s limestone makeup.”
Next up they headed to a small town two hours away called Valladolid, which also has several cenotes to swim in. This was where she met fellow Singaporean, Malika Avani. “She moved there to focus on her healing, drumming and singing work learnt from her time living with various indigenous tribes,” Tracy says.
Then she headed to Puerto Escondido along the Oaxacan Coast for some time on the beach.
“Being by the beach it was about chilling, swimming, some surfing and most of us were still working remotely,” she recalls.
They were headed back to Mexico City for a few days after this, but the city was going into a lockdown, its first since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. “I still managed to do a private tour of a home, Casa Pedegral, by one of my favourite architects Luis Barragan… For a deeper understanding and appreciation of emotional mid-century architecture, visiting the former home of Luis Barragan or any of his projects. He never built outside of Mexico so you have to go there to see his work and it's so worth it if you're as inspired by spaces as I am,” Tracy muses.
“We also [visited] the showroom of jewellery designer Avec Joyeria, went to some parks and got takeaway from some restaurants I had hoped to dine at like Lardo, Meroma, and Rosetta Bakery.”
They then moved on to the mountainous region of Amatlan, two hours from Mexico City near the town of Tepoztlan, where hiking, shopping in local markets and chilling out in the Airbnb made up the main order of business.
"After that we flew to Panama to spend New Year's on the beach in Venao,” Tracy recalls.
While travelling during Covid-19 is admittedly not for the most folks, there are steps that you must take, should you need or want to travel. Tracy's advice? “Assess the risks, have a good understanding with the people you're travelling with about minimising exposure, and buy insurance. Monitor the country you’re going to see if they’re constantly changing rules on Covid management as this could impact flights and other arrangemtents."
Photos: Tracy Phillips (@tracyjoyphillips)