To our readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century type story, ... Click here to continue

Douglas paints her way through quarantine

Rockport artist stranded in Argentina

By Christine Dunkle | Mar 24, 2020
Courtesy of: Jane Chapin Carol L. Douglas of Rockport painting along the Rio Electrico in Argentina.

ROCKPORT/ARGENTINA — When Carol L. Douglas headed off to Argentina with artist friends earlier this month, she had little idea they’d be holed up together waiting out a quarantine about as far south from Maine as you can get.

“We came to Argentina to paint glaciers,” Douglas said. “It's a kind of extreme painting, and at the time we left there were no travel restrictions, although we were aware of coronavirus, certainly.”

Douglas’ group is comprised of ten U.S. citizens, from all around the country — Maine, New Mexico, Arkansas, Virginia, Maryland and Florida. They intended to boot around Santa Cruz province the first week and go to Tierra del Fuego the second. An epic journey to paint en plein air in Patagonia, a region on the southernmost tip of South America shared by Argentina and Chile, and divided by the Andes Mountains.

En route, they were told they were quarantined, Douglas said. But at the time, that seemed to simply mean the government had to know where they were heading. There were no problems in El Calafate, but when they got to El Chaltén, a French tourist back in El Calafate had been diagnosed with coronavirus. “The Argentines don't want it here, and I can see their point,” Douglas said.

The group of artists and spouses couldn't return to El Calafate, and couldn't risk going to the airport. “We were caught in a bind. Because if [the airport] was closed, we were stuck out in a rather forbidding no-man's-land where there are no services,” she said. And it turns out, the airport was and still is closed.

So they are high and dry at a hosteria outside El Chaltén, and there are no flights, and no good way to get back. It has a hydropower generator and the water is clean enough to drink. “So far the Argentines have avoided panic buying, so we have sufficient supplies,” Douglas said.

They expected to be at the inn for three days, not nearly two weeks. “Our Argentinian hosts Guillermo and Cristina have been nothing short of amazing,” Douglas said. “They have been unflappable.” While some people might have taken advantage of the helpless travelers, they've done the exact opposite, being very generous about the room rate. “They sent their staff home to their families to protect them from contagion and are bearing the burden themselves.”

She said the hosteria is owned by the village doctor, so when their 14 days are up, they will be able to leave to try to arrange transport home. But how that’s going to work, they aren’t sure. There are no internal flights right now. The current plan is to drive to Rio Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz, when air traffic resumes on March 28. “It involves jerry cans of gasoline and a seven-hour drive. However, it means we're effectively absconding with three rental cars,” Douglas said. “Our plans have already changed a dozen times.”

One thing that’s for sure, the group is not buying any more airline tickets that get them nowhere. They’ve done that once already. “With ten people involved it starts to add up to real money,” Douglas said.

They are all signed up with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service for U.S. citizens to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy. They’ve contacted their political representatives and connected with said embassy. “None of it has been helpful, but we understand,” Douglas said. “There are certainly tens of thousands of American citizens in the same boat, and we're safe and have food. We want our fellow citizens cared for in order of necessity.”

This creative crew is making the best of a very bad situation by doing what they do best. “Here, we can be what we actually are: harmless painters. I'm still painting; that's why I came here,” she said. “There are spectacular views of several peaks and glaciers. On a clear day, you can see to Chile. I couldn’t help it; I broke out into song. The hills are alive with the Sound of Music.”

Douglas said their peculiar circumstances have become habitual. They eat breakfast together, one friend takes everyone’s temperature, and then they scatter along the Rio Blanco to paint. They eat lunch here and there when they feel like a break, and gather at 7:30 p.m. for supper, which their hosts conjure from supplies. “Most of us, I think, are subsisting on caramels, apples, and the remains of a bag of potato chips. Like the Biblical loaves and fishes, those chips survive day after day,” she said.

Still, things change constantly, and they try to keep a low profile amid army rounds that verify travelers are maintaining quarantine. They were lucky to be allowed a hike in the Andes with time to paint, though cut short by incredible winds. “First, we were limited to the country, then the province, then the town, then our hosteria and its grounds. Will we be limited to indoors next? Whatever happens, we’ll roll with it. It’s best to be flexible,” she said.

Douglas said the irony is that they are at least as connected as people back home. She ordered a new brush roll from Amazon. Her husband can still teleconference and hit his work deadlines. Artist Katie Cundiff from Florida is getting used to teaching her college classes online. “I’m getting photos of my grandkids, family news, and even the occasional phone message,” Douglas said.

You’d think being trapped in an unfamiliar place under quarantine on top of the general stress of travel would put a real strain on the outing. Yes, different decisions could have resulted in a different outcome, but there have been no recriminations. Douglas said nobody talks politics; nobody blames anyone, and certainly not the government. They recognize that, in extreme conditions, they all must pull together.

“My fellow artists remain patient, cheerful and kind,” she said. Not to mention symptom-free. “Yes, we are running out of wine and clean clothes. But we agreed on our course of action, and we continue to support each other as we muddle through.”

Keep updated on Douglas’ journey by reading her blog at watchmepaint.blogspot.com.

"Cliffs" by Carol L. Douglas.
Carol L. Douglas, left, and her husband, Douglas Perot, front, and their fellow travelers enjoy dinner at the hosteria in Argentina.
"Powerhouse, Rio Blanco" by Carol L. Douglas.
Carol L. Douglas, right, painting with Lynn Mehta in front of Cerro Fitz Roy in Argentina. (Courtesy of: Jane Chapin)
"Rain" by Carol L. Douglas.
Laundry in quarantine. (Courtesy of: Carol L. Douglas)
If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (2)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Mar 25, 2020 10:57

Not sure if the headline "stranded" quite fits these adventurous travelers.  It appears from her story they are all coping rather well.  Getting by and enjoying their time together "as long as the wine holds out".  Anyway, so refreshing to see such a positive outlook at this gloom & doom time. You can really make the best of it no matter where you are.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 24, 2020 13:35

Such brave souls and such a good positive attitude! Love the art! God Bless!



If you wish to comment, please login.