Last month, headed home to Florida after several months visiting my girlfriend in Canada, I found myself alone, walking across the invisible border between two towns, one Canadian and one U.S. that think of themselves as one.
Once across the border, I waited for the bus that would take me to the Bangor Airport, nearly a four hour bus ride away and to my flights home, instead of simply heading to a local airport and flying home.
You're probably wondering why I needed to cross the US border on foot during the pandemic. Well, my wonderful girlfriend Vivie lives in New Brunswick, Canada. I live in Florida. We went through all the steps and I got permission to visit her in Canada and I also received permission to enter New Brunswick. Lots of paperwork and the permission took a couple of months. Everyone was professional and it happened.
I flew into Fredericton, NB. Once there, I needed to quarantine for 14 days. I also needed to check in daily with Canada and New Brunswick by phone for 14 days. And there was a policeman who came over during that time to make sure I was doing the quarantine. I followed all the rules, everyone was nice. I got through the quarantine and enjoyed my visit.
So I was intending on flying home through Fredericton, had the return ticket. But while I was in Canada rules changed, as they often had throughout Covid-19. The Fredericton airport closed. They also added a quarantine hotel requirement for all entering by plane into Canada. That requirement cancelled most flights in or out of Canada. I think only one airport in New Brunswick was open. And during that time the U.S. also added a Covid test requirement on all flights back to the U.S.
Even if I could find a flight to the U.S, to get a Covid test in New Brunswick, I would have had to have Covid symptoms. They didn't have the private testing clinics so many places have everywhere. I couldn't think of a way to fly back.
I read that the land border did not require the Covid test to return to the U.S. but I didn't drive in. For some odd reason the laws were different between land and air crossings. The land border was basically closed to all but essential workers and people returning to their home countries. For Canadians returning to Canada by land, no quarantine hotel requirement. For Americans returning home, no Covid test required. At that point I thought, Vivie could drive me to the border, I'd walk across and catch a bus to Bangor, Maine and get a flight home. I checked that everything was possible and legal and it was, so I booked the tickets.
Above: St Andrews before the pandemic.
We had a nice drive to the border and we stayed in St Stephen NB for the night. St Stephen is normally a hopping tourist town at the beginning of summer. Lots of nearby towns like St Andrews normally attract a lot of U.S. tourists, but now they are ghost towns . Sad to see.
The next morning, Vivie drove me to the bridge crossing. As always, hard to say goodbye and I was nervous about crossing the border. Even though I checked everything was legal, I thought 'how many Americans do they get crossing back by foot during Covid here?'
I crossed the small bridge and headed to the U.S. border checkpoint. At this checkpoint, the Canadian side seemed much bigger. The U.S. side had one booth open and was much smaller. The border agent was very nice and professional, asked the usual questions and understood perfectly the situation. So it wasn't as unique a situation as I had thought. After the quick crossing, the bus was stop at the Mardens parking lot in Calais, a half block away.
I had a few hours before the bus. So Vivie went to the edge of the river on the St Stephen side and I on the Calais side. We waved our goodbyes. Interesting to see each other in different counties. So close but so many restrictions away.
The bus ride was great. $27 for a three-and-a-half hour ride to the Bangor airport. Picked me up in parking lot of Mardens near a pizza place. Took a long route for different stops. I was his only passenger, though, the whole way. Driver was a really interesting man. He was a local teacher and shared how Maine was dealing with the pandemic and told me old stories of crossing into Canada.
At Bangor, I caught my flight to Philadelphia and then home to Jacksonville. Wore a K95 mask my whole trip back. Airports and planes were packed'
What I came to learn later is how close Calais and St Stephen are. Really one community. The border closure has hit them hard. During the War of 1812, Calais borrowed gunpowder from St. Stephen so they could have fireworks that year. The cities also have a festival every year to celebrate their bond. The theme in 2002 was 'Two Countries: One Heart.'" which says a lot.
It was a unique moment in time trip, not to be recreated. Because restrictions change, this is not a how-to guide. And hopefully everything will open soon. Most regular people have followed the rules. The pandemic has been hard on so many. Of course the loss of life has been devastating. Many families been separated. and people who own homes in the other country have not been allowed to see their properties.
For many of us, a good reminder why family and friends are so important and how precious being able to travel really is.