We interviewed traveller and wildlife photographer specializing in predators Markéta Schusterová a little over three years ago. A lot has changed during that time, especially for people who are on the move all year round and always have their suitcase packed, just in case. But even coronavirus couldn’t stop those who are truly passionate about discovering new amazing places. Quite the contrary. In an interview with LP-Life.com, the Kladno native who lives permanently in Toronto, Canada told us about how she was coping with the pandemic, what she discovered thanks to the lockdown, and what she would recommend to other zealous adventurers.
We’ve been stuck in the coronavirus pandemic for two years now. You are a big traveller. How have you been coping with the whole pandemic situation?
The pandemic definitely affected all travellers in a terrible way. It began with the countries going into lockdown, one couldn’t go anywhere. I was coping with it by travelling around my general area. I live in Toronto, so I travelled around Canada, mainly Ontario. With a group of friends, we took the car or rented a caravan and we drove around the province. When other provinces opened up, we could start using regional flights in Canada. This lasted for about the first seven months when one couldn’t leave the country.
It's a very interesting question, because I've travelled the entire world throughout my life, but even though I live in Canada, I've kind of neglected it. So thanks to the pandemic, I finally had the opportunity to go west and discover beautiful provinces like British Columbia or Alberta, hike in the mountains, see beautiful lakes and all kinds of places. I had a huge amount of time for that during the pandemic, those first six months. I got to see the entire west coast and I really enjoyed it.
Definitely the mountains. Those in Alberta and British Columbia. That’s where you can find the Vancouver Island Glacier, which is a place where you can watch wild animals, such as bears. And nature is beautiful there.
Of course. There is one place near Vancouver where you can spot killer whales and humpback whales year-round. They organize a lot of whale watching trips there. I went to see it like three times during the pandemic.
Yeah, I can’t say I don’t miss them. But unfortunately, when the borders are closed and you wouldn’t have the opportunity to return to the country where you live, or to get to the country where you come from, then there’s nothing you can do about that. All you can do is sit and wait. And fill the time by travelling around the place where you live or around the country you’re currently stuck in, making use of the options that are available to you.
Let’s move on to the coronavirus. How bad was it in Canada? Did you have a lot of deaths, a lot of cases, how long did you wait for the vaccine? And what’s the general opinion on vaccination in Canada, anyway?
I feel like Canada was more or less three or four weeks behind Europe. That everything happened a little later there. Like when Europe closed, Canada remained open and closed three or four weeks later. Then the number of infected people skyrocketed and we went into complete lockdown. We weren’t allowed to leave the house, everything was closed. Then it gradually began to open. It went from province to province, depending on how many cases there were. And it keeps changing from day to day even now, one has to keep an eye on the measures and rules.
Vaccination was a problem. Same as over there, it depends on a person's age when they can register here. But at first, we didn’t have any vaccines at all. After the whole of Europe had been vaccinated, it took another month and a half for everyone to get to that point in Canada. That happened with both the first and the second dose, and it’s the same now with the booster.
When the state of emergency ended in Canada, it was still not recommended to travel and the government kept repeating we shouldn’t go anywhere. But since I have a family here and my parents are getting older, I decided to spend Christmas in the Czech Republic, which was also under lockdown at that time. So it took multiple measures, tests and quarantines for me to even get to see my family. That was during Christmas in the first year of the pandemic. Then we went into another lockdown. Travelling as we know it did not resume until the summer.
Which countries have you visited during the pandemic we still live in? It's not easy even now, we can't go wherever we want without dealing with restrictions.
I visited France, made a few trips to England, then I went to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, I visited the Czech Republic about three times, and I travelled a lot around Canada. And, as I’ve mentioned, Italy.
We went there to film whales. It’s the one place where you can see them in the wild and actually swim with them. It was our second time there, we’d been waiting for the island to open again. It was closed for a whole year due to the pandemic and they didn’t start letting tourists in until September. Once it opened, we arrived within a week.
Seeing as the island had been closed for a very long time, there weren’t that many cases, but the measures that needed to be observed if you wanted to get to the island were, of course, very strict. Two doses of vaccination, PCR tests and testing at the airport immediately upon arrival. And another test three days later. They are adamant to make sure nobody brings coronavirus there. Otherwise, as far as life on the island is concerned, everything was completely normal. I didn't notice any restrictions or face masks during my stay.
I actually understand that. But my opinion is that if you’re meant to catch it, you can just as easily catch it in a mall where there are far more people than, for example, at the airport. I think that the rules that are in place nowadays, all the testing and various trials you have to go through at the airport before they let you board a plane, are quite strict. It feels pretty safe to me. But the most important thing is to have health insurance, in case you luck out and catch covid somewhere in a country where healthcare is more financially demanding, especially for Czech people. It's definitely a good idea to have it, and regularly check all the rules for entering various countries that often change overnight. Including tests and regulations, because as I said, it can change within two hours. You hop on the plane and, after a seventeen-hour flight, you find out they won’t let you enter the country because you don’t have the appropriate certificate or documentation that is required there.
Not to me personally, but several times I witnessed at the airport that someone was not allowed to board a plane because, for example, they presented a test that was two hours older than allowed. Not 72, but 74 hours old. Or it was an antigen test instead of a PCR. Each country has different ordinances and regulations, so it’s really a must to find out what exactly you’ll need.
You mentioned drones, which are becoming a big trend these days. Where have you already flown a drone? What kind of photos would you like to present?
Drones can definitely give you a completely different perspective of the place you’re travelling around. Because seeing it from a bird's eye view is absolutely amazing, especially when it comes to places that aren't really accessible to humans. I flew a drone on a glacier, inside of glacier caves and in various places in the desert. It all boils down to what the law allows in which particular country. In some countries, you need to obtain a special permit because it’s not allowed there to fly a drone in urban areas and in close proximity to people. I usually study local ordinances in advance and procure the necessary permits so that I can fly my drone. So I take drones with me everywhere I go.
During the pandemic, did you find some countries had gotten extremely expensive? Because tourism has been closed for a long time. Or, on the contrary, have some of them gotten extremely cheap?
In the beginning, one could definitely feel it, for example when buying plane tickets. Airlines were left destitute and they were trying hard to promote themselves. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were no flights whatsoever, then they became available again, but a lot of people were afraid, so there was a huge drop in prices. But then, the moment borders opened worldwide, the prices skyrocketed. It was no exception that a flight was twice as expensive as what one would usually pay.
Even flights to Europe. You can fly from Toronto to Prague for $ 800 or 900, and suddenly the tickets went up to $ 1,700. Another thing to watch out for are the prices of PCR tests. In other countries, they’re not covered by the government, like in the Czech Republic, or you don’t have one test per month included in your insurance and you have to pay for everything yourself. And these are no small amounts we’re talking about. One test costs around $ 170 or 200.
Travelling during a pandemic is definitely more expensive, more time consuming and you have to count with a lot of additional costs.
You mentioned that you participated in the Iron-Man race in Arizona. What are the rules for such sports events, moreover in the US? Did you encounter any restrictions?
This race was definitely stricter than usual. Because it wasn't my first race, I know how things used to be in the past. Now, many of these races had been cancelled, and the one in Arizona was one of the first Iron-Man races to return after the pandemic. Again, one had to get tested, present proof of two vaccine doses, face masks had to be worn on the premises. Not during the race itself, but at registration and when attending various award ceremonies.
You're a lover of nature and a conservationist, you're a member of the Sea Shepherd organization, and you've recently had a huge success related to whales in Toronto. Can you tell us about it?
One of our main activities is that we try to make people aware of the fact that the lives of animals in closed aquariums, zoos or any kind of captivity are not good at all. There is one last killer whale kept in Toronto, the only Canadian killer whale, and it lives there in an aquarium, in a tiny pool. It has lived there for 42 years, swimming in a circle, and it suffers quite badly. We’ve managed to make people aware of it thanks to drone footage and photos of the animal. And now a big campaign is underway, the purpose of which is to save the whale and find a way to move it from this environment to the wild. Or, to be more specific, to a sea rescue station, where it will be able to swim around in more natural conditions with other whales.
Since the pandemic isn’t over yet, it doesn’t really matter what I’m planning, because everything can change at any point - the countries are opening and closing their borders according to the number of cases. But if it goes well, I would definitely like to return to Iceland. In the summer, we’re going to film the second biggest shark in the world, the giant shark, in Scotland. We've got it all planned out already, so I hope it will really work out because we had to postpone it from last year. And I’d also like to go back to Africa and Mexico.
There's another whale I'd like to shoot in Mexico. All my travels actually revolve around animals. I go where there are some to see.