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Milledgeville native experiences COVID-19 pandemic from Central America

Guatemala becomes Wiersema’s temporary home in middle of trip

Jamison Wiersema has to be careful with the word “stuck.”

After spending January, February and half of March exploring Mexico and Belize, the Milledgeville native has been in Antigua, Guatemala for 3 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he says he isn’t “stuck.”

“I’m totally happy here,” Wiersema said. “It’s a relaxed environment. It’s a nice spot to be in. It’s great to be able to experience it here.”

2020 was slated to be Wiersema’s travel year after saving up for it. He has gotten some hiking, diving and volcano-watching in. He was on his way to the Panama Canal before the pandemic hit, where he would’ve decided on coming home or continuing down to South America. 

Wiersema said it doesn’t seem like the borders will open up for “a few more months.” He’s thinking there’s about a 60 percent chance he’ll come home in September. 

“There aren’t people from different countries here with tourism being dead,” Wiersema said. “You question why you’re here with nothing being open.”

Antigua was devastated by nearby volcano eruptions in late 2018. Last week, it had a large eruption that resulted in no damage. Wiersema heard thunder and felt two minutes of rumble. Papaya and Fuego are the names of the two volcanoes. 

Wiersema often watches them from his balcony and can see smoke going up every 7-8 minutes and sometimes the light from the lava. He spent time hiking up Fuego and slept next to it. 

“The ground was warm,” Wiersema said. “It’s so loud that it wakes you up every 10 minutes. To see it erupt in front of you, that was the most enjoyable experience of my life.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in Guatemala resulted in a three-month quarantine and a curfew from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. There is a stay-at-home order similar to the United States’ and restaurants do delivery and to-go orders. 

Grocery stores have limited hours and the country’s president talks every Sunday about the situation. Certain license plate numbers aren’t allowed to go out on certain days. If someone there is hungry, they’re encouraged to wave a white flag on a corner and people will help. 

“You can’t save up a lot with it not being a rich country,” Wiersema said. “People take what they make for the day and go home and buy dinner with it. It’s detrimental for the town. It’s different to be here for the fun and this happens. It makes me sad.”

Wiersema and his family have weekly Zoom calls. His parents, Mark and Lisa, have asked him why he hasn’t taken one of the two flights a week that go to the U.S. on United Airlines. He doesn’t want to. They do enjoy his stories and photos. 

It’s been strange to see the news of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests back home from all the way in Guatemala, Wiersema said. 

“Being here and seeing that, I feel for everyone there,” Wiersema said. “It gives me comfort to be here. I’m happy to be here and knowing my family is safe.”

Before his Central America trip this year, Wiersema spent 2015 to 2020 living in hotels managing mobile marketing and sponsorship programs at large music festivals and sporting events. He’s used to being away. But he’s never “stuck.”

“There’s a huge world out there but I think you should experience some of it,” Wiersema said. “Travel is important and it’s been great for me.”

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