Dumbo’s smoke: top destinations for an unforgettable quarantine

James Farquharson 1 November 2021
Image credit: Rohan Kotecha

I am great believer in journalistic realism. As Travel editor, I would not wish for my readers to be swindled by the romantic lies of those travel writers who dwell on the more marketable aspects of the business – the swirling scents and mercantile chatter of a Moroccan souk, the ivy-scored striations on the façade of a jungle temple, the primordial plenitude of the African savannah. These visions could almost write themselves, with no regard to fact or fiction – as with the hack foreign correspondents of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, firing off telegrams of scant connection to reality back to Fleet Street.

In this spirit, I propose a clear-headed view of travelling during this marvellous ‘new normal’ that we are all getting used to. City breaks are all well and good, but you’d be a fool to miss out on some of the new quarantine facilities offered by governments around the world…

Taiwan

Travelling to Taiwan for my year abroad, I admit to being intimidated by the prospect of quarantining here. With such a stellar record on Coronavirus cases, the island’s quarantine facilities would surely be airtight. A haven of Zero Covid, their cases are once again flat after a blip caused by the unfortunate confluence of some airline pilots and the red-light district (journalistic ethics forbid me from interpreting anything salacious beyond these facts).

Faced with this, I felt better after deciding that if worst comes to worst I could always tuck myself up into bed for two weeks, and drip-feed myself the Red Bull racing videos that YouTube’s algorithm correctly diagnoses to be my heart’s deepest desire. I am only slightly disappointed that it didn’t come to this. After being liberally sprayed with disinfectant and bundled into a sealed bus, we all found our government-supplied hotel rooms, complete with a balcony and a sea view, to be surprisingly… humane. I can imagine having worse times on the Costa del Sol.

Hong Kong

In order to reach Hong Kong, my correspondent had to leap over a number of hurdles. Hong Kong’s government, engaging in government-aided monopolies typical of the capitalist’s paradise, has chosen to limit the number of designated quarantine hotels to the extent that all the available rooms have been booked up months in advance. The only way to get a room is to buy one off a reseller, with obvious price-gouging effects. Furthermore, in order to reduce the three-week fumigation period required for those coming from the United Kingdom, he went to Ukraine for a few weeks beforehand to look after some business (I prefer not to ask him about these things.)

By the way, fumigation is not a hyperbolic term here. Residents of Hong Kong’s handful of high-class quarantine hotels are likely familiar with a shadowy, two-horned beast that roams the corridors, accompanied by its PPE-clad handler. They call it ‘dumbo’, on account of the two large nozzles protruding from either side of its body which the masked Mengele places over the subject’s mouth, withdrawing all the contaminated air from their lungs while a COVID test is conducted. Of questionable practical use, the machine is both terrifying and meme-able. An experience worth travelling across the world to have? Without doubt – just not for the faint-hearted.

Russia

Let us now turn to cooler climes, the pewter skies and concrete foothills of Moscow’s outskirts. Upon landing, my man in Moscow was offered both a Sputnik jab and even, should he be feeling adventurous, a dose of EpiVacCorona – one of the more recherché vaccines and, tantalisingly, still in stage one trials. He had to politely decline, as the amerikanskiy’s blood was already awash with Pfizer’s mRNA offering. Understandably apologetic, he made his way to his hotel.

Located in the city’s bleak northern periphery, my literate friend found it evocative less of ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ than one of Bulgakov’s tales of social decay. In this frame of mind, he settled down with a choice selection of Kremlinology to watch one of carnivalesque political debates on the hotel television.

But like all good interrogation scenes in Cold War films, where the ordeal is halted by external events just as the KGB agent whips out the pliers, my friend gained an early reprieve. A few flicks of an apparatchik’s pen had suddenly removed the quarantine requirement for travellers from the UK. After showing the updated regulations to the bemused hotel staff, he received a nod and a shrug and strode out into freedom.