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By David Haldane

Jan. 7, 2021


The official notice came on New Year’s Day.

“Ban on Entry of Travelers from the United States,” screamed the headline of a press release issued by the US Embassy in Manila. “Starting Sunday…the Philippines will temporarily ban the entry of travelers from, or who have transited through, the United States.”

God knows it wasn’t the first travel restriction issued by the island nation in this damnable pandemic. Early on, in fact, the country had banned all foreign nationals—including Americans—except those married to Philippine citizens; a condition to which I, fortunately, conform.

Now, however, authorities had widened the ban. A new strain of coronavirus had emerged in the UK, and the Philippines was having none of it. Considered no more lethal but far more contagious than its progenitor, the newcomer had infected a handful of unfortunates in the United States. And so, the Philippines had added its former colonizer to the list of over 20 nations prohibited from crossing its borders.

Which means that I’m stuck in the California desert. At least “temporarily” which, measured by the yardstick of recent events, could be an awfully long time. The upshot: I am deeply depressed. The silver lining: my predicament has inspired some reflection.

Specifically, that It’s been 500 years since the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, first circumnavigated the globe. In the process, he accomplished several historic feats, not the least of which was “discovering” the Philippines for future European and American colonialists, as well as introducing Christianity to its well-watered shores.

As a new immigrant, I have become keenly aware of this history, primarily because the house my wife and I built in northern Mindanao overlooks Surigao Strait, the narrow passage by which they say Magellan entered the country. And, truth be told, I have spent more than a few lazy afternoons drinking wine on the veranda imagining tall ships.

That first trip didn’t end well for the master navigator from Portugal; reaching the area where Cebu now stands, he met his death at the hands of native chieftain Lapu-Lapu in 1521. During a recent visit to that remarkable city, my family and I gazed up in wonder at the 20-meter bronze statue honoring the legendary indigenous leader in Mactan Shrine Park.

History is written by the victors, even of only one battle. And so, in 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte designated April 27 as a national holiday honoring Lapu-Lapu; highly regarded these days, not only for resisting foreign intervention, but as the namesake of a widely eaten fish.

So, what does all this have to do with the recent coronavirus ban? Here’s where the reflection comes in; Magellan’s journey wasn’t just about providing a target for Lapu-Lapu’s spears. In fact, it was “the first action humans took on a literally planetary scale,” Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard professor and author of “Round About the Earth: Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit,” recently told the Associated Press.

That ushered in an era characterized by such literary works as Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days,” followed by the current age allowing humans to crisscross the globe almost effortlessly at will. Until, that is, the much-maligned COVID-19 pandemic trapped me in the desert.

It’s ironic that, on the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s passage, a Spanish navy tall ship circumnavigating the globe in commemoration of that event could not, during stops, allow its crew to disembark—nor visitors to board—for fear of a viral outbreak. Currently docked in Mexico’s Manzanillo port, the four-mast Juan Sebastian de Elcano departs back to Europe tomorrow.

Assuming, of course, that the gods of Covid allow it.


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David Haldane’s upcoming book of short stories, “Jenny on the Street,” is due out this month. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning author, journalist and radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. His 2015 memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” explains how that happened.



Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily

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