Adventure of a Lifetime: How GeoEx Saved Our Pandemic Honeymoon
Earlier this year, newlyweds Emily Barth and Matt Kukta embarked on a dream honeymoon that GeoEx had arranged to the Maldives and Sri Lanka. That dream took an unexpected turn, however, after the couple arrived in the Maldives and learned that Sri Lanka had just closed its border to travelers. As soon as that closure was announced, GeoEx travel specialists Kate Doty and Jesse Knight leapt into action. Working tirelessly over the next 24 hours with colleagues in Morocco, South Africa, and Kenya, Kate and Jesse magically managed to make all the arrangements for three complete trips, one in each country, to offer Emily and Matt as possible replacements for the Sri Lanka portion of their honeymoon! Over the ensuing days, Kate and Jesse communicated continually with Emily and Matt in the Maldives and with our colleagues in Africa to choreograph an alternative adventure that turned out to be spectacular. Now that Emily and Matt have returned from their unexpected odyssey, I asked them to tell me their story. Here is that extraordinary tale.
Emily and Matt, thank you so much for agreeing to share the story of your recent travels. I understand that you had quite the honeymoon adventure!
We are happy to share our experience with you, Don. It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime trip—thanks to GeoEx!
To begin, can you tell me what your original plan was?
Our original plan for our honeymoon was to spend two weeks abroad—the first week in the Maldives and the second week in Sri Lanka.
What happened with that plan?
After 24 hours of travel, we arrived in the Maldives, and, shortly after being shown to our villa, our GEM (Guest Experience Manager) shared with us that Sri Lanka had actually closed their borders due to a rise in Covid cases and our flight to, and subsequent stay in, Sri Lanka would be cancelled. Quite the way to start our honeymoon!
Indeed! That was quite unexpected! How were you feeling at that point?
Our first reaction was pure shock, and then a flood of questions went through our heads. “What do you mean Sri Lanka is closed? Does that mean we can’t continue our honeymoon? Where will we go from here? Will we be able to book another flight?” Despite the flurry of questions crossing our minds, we were determined to stay calm (and keep our panic at bay) until we spoke to our GeoEx contacts, Kate Doty and Jesse Knight.
What happened next? How did GeoEx respond when they heard what had happened?
Fortunately for us, GeoEx had already received news of the Sri Lankan border closure while we were en route to the Maldives, so they were already ten steps ahead of us looking into possible options and alternative arrangements. When we got in touch with Kate and Jesse, they reassured us that we were in good hands, not to worry, and that they already had possible options in mind. Their reassurance definitely put us at ease, and, in that moment, we couldn’t have been more thankful to have booked our honeymoon through GeoEx.
A last-minute change like this must have raised many logistical challenges. What were those?
Yes, there were several logistical challenges that came with trying to plan the second half of our honeymoon on the fly like that. The first challenge was the time difference for our calls. 9 p.m. in the Maldives is 9 a.m. in San Francisco, so we had to adjust a few of our evenings in order to be available for our calls with GeoEx. We knew these calls were absolutely critical, so we were more than willing to sacrifice a portion of our evenings to ensure we could continue our honeymoon (and ultimately find a way home). On the other hand, the late night calls for us and early morning calls for GeoEx allowed them to work on logistics while we were sleeping.
The second challenge was finding a new location that would accept travelers, and had workable flight options and hotel vacancies. We had to narrow our list of possible locations from the start because of our current location (on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean). We knew we couldn’t go north or east because India and Asia were having a second wave of Covid, so we focused mostly on the countries to the west of us.
When we talked to Kate and Jesse, the options on the table were Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, and Dubai. After hearing a little more about each of the locations, Kenya was seeming to be the most viable option, given they were accepting travelers, flights were available, hotels had vacancies, and the clothes we had packed for Sri Lanka would work for Kenya. In addition to it being a viable option, the proposed itinerary sounded incredible! Kate had recently been to Kenya and instilled even more confidence in us that this option was going to be unforgettable.
The third challenge came when it was time to rebook our flights. Because of the tight turnaround, it got down to the wire with booking our flights from Male to Dubai and Dubai to Nairobi, but when we finally saw our flight ticket confirmations come through, we couldn’t have been more relieved.
This new honeymoon was very different from your original honeymoon plan! How were you feeling as you started it?
When we got to our final day in the Maldives, we almost couldn’t believe it had been a week and that we actually had another plan in action!
Kate and Jesse did everything that they could to take the stress and pressure off of us so we could enjoy our Maldives tour. We greatly appreciated that and did our best to soak up as much of our stay as we could. We actually ended up doing way more activities than we thought we would, including a private island day-hopping excursion, a discover scuba dive, and a morning fishing excursion, which made the trip even more memorable.
At this point in our honeymoon, we were just so thankful that we could continue on and were looking forward to going somewhere new together! Even though it wasn’t where we originally thought we would be going, we were excited to be going to Kenya and felt very lucky the opportunity presented itself. If there’s anything we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that flexibility and adaptability are key. After postponing our wedding twice and having to rebook all of our vendors, what’s one little honeymoon swap?
How was the journey that resulted?
The trip to Kenya went very smoothly. Our flights were on time, both of our bags made it to our final destination, and we received a very warm welcome in Nairobi by GeoEx. Given the limited time to plan, we were in awe of how perfectly the trip came together!
Our first stop was at Mugie House in Laikipia. This picture-perfect lodge is situated at the top of a hill in the Mugie Conservancy overlooking the valley. We had a lovely three-night stay at this location, going out on game drives each day and enjoying the serenity and intimacy of the lodge.
We then made our way south to the Masai Mara and had an incredibly unique experience staying at Little Governors’ Camp in a luxury tent at the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve. At this location, we did double game drives each day, went on a hot-air balloon ride, and were amazed by our close proximity to the wild animals coming into our camp during the day and hearing the hippos at night!
It was clear that GeoEx did everything they could to ensure our time in Kenya was as special and seamless as possible. It was better than we could have ever imagined, and we were thrilled that we still got to have the “adventure” half of our honeymoon!
Can you tell me three especially memorable highlights?
1) We had so many memorable highlights from our time in the Maldives, but as far as especially memorable highlights go, we’d have to say a few of our excursions really stood out. Besides the absolutely gorgeous environment and our amazing hut over the water (which is forever seared into our memories), we loved the island day-hopping experience, morning fishing adventure, and sunset dhoni cruise.
During our island day-hopping experience, we got to snorkel in three different locations, seeing multitudes of fish, sea turtles, black tip reef sharks, dolphins, and sting rays. The boat crew then dropped us off on an uninhabited island for lunch for a couple hours, where we got to sunbathe, walk along the beach, and wade in the crystal clear, teal blue water. It was so serene and relaxing!
The morning fishing excursion was really cool because it was a new experience for both of us, and we got to enjoy the quiet of the morning as we trolled for big fish. It was very exciting when we actually caught something and got to reel it in! We ended up with three wahoos, which the hotel staff went above and beyond to prepare for our lunch. We had wahoo three ways: sashimi, pan seared, and curried. We loved getting to taste the traditional ways wahoo would be prepared in the Maldives, and it was absolutely delicious!
Lastly, the sunset dhoni cruise was a breathtaking experience. We got to soak in the golden hour with champagne and the peaceful ocean rocking us as we sailed across the channel. Definitely a picture-perfect moment! It was also really neat seeing how the captain maneuvered the traditional fishing vessel.
2) Our experience at Mugie House in Kenya was equally as special. What stood out to us most about this location was that we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves! There were very few other guests staying there, so we were very well taken care of and catered to. Additionally, the views from the top of the hill were so stunning and picturesque. Each day, we would go out in the early morning for our game drives and again in the afternoons, and we hardly ever saw another vehicle! It felt like we were the only ones out there, which was a pretty cool experience.
3) Lastly, our stay at Little Governors’ Camp was a very unique and extraordinary experience. We were amazed at how close our luxury tent was to the Masai Mara National Reserve and how wild animals would literally walk right into our camp! We had elephants, giraffes, hippos, and warthogs right in front of us.
Every day, we went out on morning and afternoon game drives, seeing so many animals everywhere we went. One particular experience stands out in our minds. While driving around the reserve, we received a call from another guide who told us there was a pride of lions lying down in a certain area of the reserve. As we drove up, we noticed a herd of elephants moving in the direction of the lions not too far from us. Our guide, Oliver, said we should wait because there was a good chance we would see some sort of interaction.
And an interaction we surely got! After waiting for about 10 minutes, the elephants were just 20 feet from the lions who happened to be hidden behind a hill so the elephants couldn’t see them. But boy could they smell them! The alpha female elephant got a whiff of the lions and started trumpeting like mad. The elephants all got very unsettled trying to figure out where the predators were located. Once the alpha female found the location of the lions, she charged them, trying to get them to leave. After the lions backed off a bit, the elephants proceeded in a slightly different direction, continuing with their grazing.
At the same time, a lone hyena was arrogantly strutting by the lions, close enough to pique the interest of the younger lion cubs. Crouching down and honing their focus, the lion cubs waited for the perfect moment to pounce. Finally, they took off chasing the hyena, the hyena yelping as he ran away from the lion cubs. He was too fast for the little fur balls, so they retreated back to their mother and laid back down.
This interaction was better than anything we could have ever hoped for!
Did you have much knowledge of Kenya before your trip? Were there any great surprises for you?
Emily had been on a Kenya safari with her family when she was 14. She remembers some of the trip, but this honeymoon felt like she was seeing it for the first time since it had been 17 years! For Matt, he actually was seeing it for the first time. We were both very impressed with how friendly and hospitable all the Kenyans were. Everyone we came into contact with expressed how thankful they were that we had come to Kenya and that they hoped we would come back (and we hope we will too)!
I understand your adventure took a new turn the second to last night of the trip. What happened then?
The day before we were supposed to head back to Nairobi, we had to take Covid tests in order to have our negative results in hand before our flight to the States. All had been going so smoothly with our trip on that front—we had been vaccinated prior to leaving the States, received negative test results prior to our departure, received negative test results in the Maldives before coming to Kenya, and were expecting to receive negative test results once again.
But when Emily received her email from the lab, the word no one ever wants to see when opening their results from a Covid test was staring her in the face: “positive.” We scoured the email over and over again, knowing there must be a mistake. How could this be possible? We had hardly been around anyone and had almost always been in open-air environments. There’s just no way, we thought. Then Matt’s email arrived: “negative.” Now something really seemed off! Why would Emily be positive and Matt negative?
We slowly tried to process the information, but we couldn’t help thinking about being stuck in Kenya for two weeks quarantining who knows where or in what conditions. This had to be a mistake! Unfortunately, because one of us tested positive, we had to quarantine in our tent for the last afternoon of our stay at Little Governors’ Camp. We had to look on the bright side though. If this was going to happen, at least it happened on the last day and not the first day or midway through. We tried to stay calm as endless “what ifs” flooded our minds.
And what was GeoEx’s response?
Once again, GeoEx was there to help us navigate this quite alarming experience. That night, we got on the phone with Kate and Jesse to figure out our next steps. They reassured us that everything was going to be okay and that they would take care of us if Emily did turn out to have Covid. Their hope, though, was that she didn’t and that this was just a false positive. We tried to stay hopeful that this was the case, even though it was hard not to let the fear creep in.
Kate and Jesse instructed us to get in touch with the on-site doctor to have him do another test in the morning so that we could confirm what we hoped was a false positive. Overnight, Kate and Jesse also coordinated with the local GeoEx contact, Edna, to make an appointment for us to take another Covid test once we reached Nairobi. That way we would have two opportunities to get negative test results.
Because we had to wait another day for our results, we ended up having to move our return flight back by a day. In that 24-hour period, GeoEx had coordinated our Covid tests, booked us a private car transfer to Nairobi, reserved a hotel room, and made sure we were well taken care of.
It was amazing to see the team act so efficiently and effectively in such a short period of time.
We were so grateful to have their support in such a scary and unsettling time. And we are thrilled to report that their efforts were not in vain. Both of our Covid tests came back negative and we were able to make our flight back home! This whole experience reaffirmed our decision to book our honeymoon through GeoEx.
How did this adventure finally end?
After making it to Nairobi and getting our negative test results, we had one more afternoon to unwind and let go of the stress of the false positive. We spent the afternoon shopping in the mall next door to the hotel and ended up purchasing two lovely handwoven carpets to remind us of our incredible time in Kenya.
Once we set foot on our plane, we were so relieved. We knew we would be laughing for years to come about our little hiccup during our pandemic honeymoon!
Looking back now on your unplanned honeymoon adventure, how do you feel?
Despite the curveballs, we feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to still go on a honeymoon. We had so many wonderful and unforgettable experiences along the way and now we have memories that will last a lifetime! If we can get through a Covid honeymoon, we can get through anything life throws at us. 😊
I totally agree! Emily and Matt, thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. I have one last question: Would you do it all over again?
Absolutely! Hiccups and all!
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