One of Quebec’s most cherished bicycling routes takes cyclists through vistas like this one, looking out on the islands and wide waters of the St. Lawrence River near the village of Kamouraska, Sept. 8, 2021. This maritime region of Quebec normally draws plenty of visitors from Europe, the U.S. and other parts of Canada, attracted by the bicycling, hiking, whale-watching and natural beauty. But it is only starting to open up to outsiders again, thanks to relaxed rules for entering Canada. (AP Photo/Calvin Woodward)

Travel in Canada is a prize for the vaccinated and vigilant

Travel in Canada is a prize for the vaccinated and vigilant

KAMOURASKA, Quebec (AP) — When the pandemic descended, the boundless vistas and insane sunsets of Kamouraska became a distant, unattainable dream for this bicyclist from Virginia. This is one of Quebec’s most beautiful places and, for me, a yearly touchstone I could no longer touch.

It finally came within reach. On Aug. 9, the day Canada conditionally reopened the border to U.S. tourists, my car with the bicycle was packed and ready to go. But I wasn’t. I had put off the required coronavirus test too late to be sure I would have the results in time.

On Labor Day, my documents now complete, I drove north, breezed across the border and was soon cycling in a tapestry of storybook villages, canola fields and hedgerows of wild roses along the broad expanse of the St. Lawrence River.

Americans wanting to experience Canada’s vibrant autumn or its winter landscapes can do so again. But getting here means jumping through hoops before you go. And being here means adapting to hypervigilance against the virus. Canada doesn’t mess around with COVID-19 — and isn’t suffering from it like people in many parts of the U.S. are now.

Those hoops? To get into Canada as a tourist you must be fully vaccinated. You must have a PCR-variety COVID test taken no more than 72 hours in advance, with results ready to present at the border if driving or at the airport of departure before you can board.

You have to pre-register with the Canadian government and get a code. You must present the basics of a backup quarantine plan in advance, in case you are randomly tested again upon arrival and found to be positive.

You can’t be like the man from Atlanta whom border guards were talking about when I crossed. He’d pulled up a few nights earlier, unvaccinated, no test, no pre-registration and no hope of getting into Canada, more than 16 hours from home.

I crossed at the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ontario, where there was no wait. Two officials checked my vaccine and test documentation before I could proceed to the border station, where I had the information checked again along with my U.S. passport. The guard asked a few questions and cheerfully sent me on my way.

In nearby Brockville, people were wearing masks outside as well as inside. They were masked on downtown streets, in the waterfront park and in parking lots. When I indulged my unnatural craving for Tim Hortons coffee, a rarity in most of the U.S. but everywhere-just-everywhere in Canada, a group of about 10 people walked in together.

They were masked, but not socially distanced. The staff immediately ordered them out and told them to re-enter properly separated, a few at a time.

This was in contrast to the laxity along much of the Interstate 81 corridor and upstate New York, where few customers in stores off the highway were masked and no enforcement of distancing was evident. After my trip, New York’s St. Lawrence County was seeing new COVID cases at a rate 12 times higher than across the river in Ontario.

The vigilance in Ontario only intensified when I reached Quebec the next day. These were the early days of Quebec’s vaccine “passport,” the first of its kind in Canada.

Residents older than 12 must have the passport to be seated inside or on the patios of restaurants, bars, concert halls, outdoor events with more than 50 people, and most other public places that are not deemed essential. Outsiders do not need and cannot get the passport but must present vaccine proof as well as an ID showing a home address outside Quebec. Vaccine proof is not required to stay at a hotel in Quebec but must be shown to go into the lobbies and other common spaces.

Entering the once-again-bustling l’Estaminet restaurant in Rivière-du-Loup, my friend Suzie Loiselle, a tourism official for the vast Quebec Maritime region, held up her phone’s passport app to be scanned by the host.

“Adéquatement protégé” — “adequately protected” — flashed on the screen in green. With that and my vaccine card, we got our seats.

The pandemic hit hard in Quebec, as in Ontario, before Canada overcame its vaccine shortages and outpaced the U.S. and much of the world in immunizations.

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