Alumni Spotlight

Seán Noonan and Judy Walsh - Quarantine in the Caribbean

21 May 2020
Prepping the sails for an Atlantic crossing: Seán Noonan BA (Intl.) 2019 and Judy Walsh BComm (Intl.) 2016, H.Dip 2019.

When UCC alumni, Seán Noonan and Judy Walsh set off on the trip of a lifetime, little did they know that their travel plans would be thrown into disarray by the onslaught of a global pandemic.

In a recent piece for the Irish Examiner, the couple describe how their envy-inducing global adventure took an unexpected turn.

“Suddenly, we were without accommodation on a small Caribbean island while the whole world began shutting down around us. It was over four months since myself and Judy left Cork and we had been thriving, but now at the drop of a hat, we were completely out of our depth".

Having started their journey in Morocco, Seán and Judy flew on to the Canaries and crewed on sailing boats across the Atlantic until reaching the Caribbean. After a stint in Dominica, they planned to sail to Columbia on the boat of an English couple they befriended. However, fate intervened, and when they reached the French island of Martinique, COVID-19 quarantine struck. Seán and Judy had tdecide quickly what to do next and opted to hunker down on the island during the Caribbean lockdown. Fortunately, they were able to turn the situation around and secured an Airbnb and developed a network of local support. We chat to Seán and Judy from their adopted island home. 

  • How did you both meet?

We met back in 2015 on the committee of the UCC Canoe Club. Judy had just returned from her Erasmus year in Spain, and Seán was going into second-year of Arts International. We were blessed in that the Canoe Club really formed the core of both our university experiences. Through this club, we had a large group of mutual friends and so got to know each other very quickly as we were working together in the committee and hanging out with the same group of people regularly.

  • What made you decide to go on this trip around the world?

Together, we had been on a few shorter trips abroad in the past, but had always hoped to get away for a more indefinite period of time. So after a long year of hard work both in university and our jobs, we gathered our savings, packed our bags and headed off, especially keen to get more sailing experience.

  • What was your original plan for the trip?

When we left Ireland in November, there was no plan as such. We started with some friends in Morocco, and once they left the only goal that we had was to try and get ourselves on-board sailing boats as much as possible. So with that in mind, we headed to the Canaries as they are a hotspot for sailing in winter. From there we eventually found a boat that would take us to the Caribbean. If we had made it to Colombia, we would likely have tried to find a boat sailing into the Pacific or else stayed on land to explore South America. But we hadn’t quite decided.

  • How has COVID-19 affected Martinique and the Caribbean region?

Overall the situation in the Caribbean is complicated, as each island is currently subject to varying degrees of quarantine depending on their governance. What is certain, however, is that inter-island travel is not permitted and it is exceptionally difficult to find any way out of the Caribbean. Flights have been grounded and the ferry services have been cancelled. But our only first-hand experience of quarantine restrictions has been in Martinique. Since this island is a French Overseas Territory, all of France’s regulations apply here, and they are fairly strict. For example, we have not been able to venture further than 1km from our Airbnb in almost two months now so as to avoid a €135 fine.

  • How are you coping being away from friends and family at this time? 

Trying to maintain a daily routine that keeps us relatively busy has allowed us to largely enjoy our time in quarantine although being just the two of us does occasionally wear thin. We do miss our friends and familybut Skype calls are definitely helping to alleviate any homesickness. 

  • What do you miss most about home? 

Both of us miss our dogs and would love to be able to take them for long walks. 

  • Do you plan to return home or continue with your travels? 

Although we didn’t see ourselves in Ireland this summer, travelling in the coming months does not seem feasible as the virus could have a resurgence when countries lift their restrictions. So, it’s looking like we will make a break for home when the first safe opportunity arises. 

Read Seán and Judy’s story here 

For more on this story contact:

Patricia Finucane: p.finucane@ucc.ie

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