Virus stalls globetrotters' trip in a Florida parking lot

Miami (AFP) –


They have been traveling the world for four years on an ambitious trek that has taken them to 50 countries on five continents.

But the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the couple in their tracks. And now they have been stuck in Florida for two weeks, living in their car in a shopping center parking lot north of Miami, their visas about to expire.

"We had a dream," said Aldo Giaquinto, a 38-year-old Italian, "and our dream was to drive around the world with a car."

For four years they were able to live that dream.

But then came the pandemic. The travel restrictions imposed by country after country were like doors slamming around the world. And now, Giaquinto added, "We're stuck here in Florida."

He and his wife Vera Kozlovskaia, a 35-year-old Moldovan, quit their jobs in 2016 to set off on their far-flung travels in a black Toyota Land Cruiser Prado nicknamed "Toto" -- short for Toyota, but also a tribute to the late Italian comic actor.

She worked in information technology in England, where they lived; he had a fish and chips restaurant.

- Swimming with the manatees -

Their ambitious voyage began with a trip through the Nordic countries. From there they made the long crossing through Russia and China and then down to Southeast Asia before touring through Australia.

From there they sent Toto by ship to Uruguay.

The couple spent 2018 driving slowly up through South America to Panama, before heading north through Central America, and then for the past year driving through Canada and the United States.

All was going well. They went swimming with Florida's huge but gentle manatees. They were among the last tourists to visit the Florida Keys, the colorful island chain that extends down near Cuba.

Then came the coronavirus.

- Stranded but 'lucky' -

And now, said Giaquinto, "we are stranded here in Florida."

Still, he added, "our life has not changed. Somehow we're lucky" and have stayed healthy.

With their tourist visas set to expire on Tuesday, however, the couple is growing increasingly nervous. They have applied for an extension but so far heard nothing back.

So for now, their Toyota remains parked in front of a Walmart store in Hallandale, 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Miami.

The car has become the couple's home. They sleep and wash up in it. The "kitchen" is a stove in the trunk. Internet connection comes free from nearby stores.

- 'Good people' -

The couple normally relies on public facilities, like restrooms on public beaches, but "right now everything is closed," Kozlovskaia said. That, fortunately, does not include the nearby Walmart store.

"It is a little difficult, but we try to keep positive, hoping for the best," she said. "We remember there's people in much worse situations, we are grateful with everything we have."

Despite the setbacks, they have kept up their spirits and especially appreciate the support of locals who drop by to chat or offer food.

"We are overwhelmed by the amount of people trying to help," Kozlovskaia said. "It's amazing how many good people are around."

The couple's Instagram account, @alvetoexpedition, tells of better times: visits to California's spectacular Lake Tahoe; to the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats, in Bolivia; to the breathtaking Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors) in the Argentine Andes; to the mosques of Brunei, Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple and the Red Square in Moscow...

The plan was to send the Toyota by ship to South Africa while they fly to Johannesburg. At the end of the African leg of their trip, the couple looked forward to settling in Italy, where they have an apartment under construction.

And with so many new experiences under their belts, the couple has drawn up a long list of projects they hope to undertake back in Italy to help the environment.

But for now, everything has come to a halt. They hope to get their visas extended and then wait out the virus in Florida until the crisis passes and they're able to travel to Africa.

"We will wait," Aldo said.

"Like everybody is doing."