Coatimundi in Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Our Visit in the Time of the Coronavirus

We were in Costa Rica in March of 2020.

Which means that we traveled in the time of coronavirus. Although, when we left home the new virus was just starting to make the news, at least in our state, in Arizona.

We considered canceling our trip, talked it over, but it seemed to make no sense to cancel. Besides, we would’ve lost our tickets; airlines did not offer refunds at the time. We talked it over, and decided to keep our plans. We saw no danger in going.

The airport was a bit quieter, but that was normal at that time of the night. We took an overnight flight, and it was full.

Things Changed Fast

A few days into our trip I read that the World Health Organization declared CoVid a pandemic. Later that day notices started showing up in Costa Rica about staying safe by washing hands. Hand sanitizers were set out in every hotel lobby, in every public place. But other than that, things were normal. People went on with their lives like before.

Things were different at home though, at least according to the news we heard. Everyone was talking about shortages of toilet paper of all things. I still don’t get the connection, but people seemed to be stocking up on toilet paper. Later, I heard of food shortages.

I received notices from my daughter’s school first about her college classes starting a week late (she’s in high school, also taking college courses), then later about her school extending spring break, and moving to online classes for a few weeks. Two days before we left for home, we got the notification that all Arizona schools would stay closed for at least two extra weeks.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica things were normal. We considered extending our trip – traveling back home was starting to look tricky. But we still had work to get back to, things to do at home. So we kept our schedule, and hoped for the best.

We got to our hotel near the airport the night before our flight was set to leave for home. Since it was an early flight, we set our alarms for 3:30 am together to the airport by 4. But as soon as we got to bed, we all received notifications on our airline apps that our plane was delayed – nine hours. Instead of 6 am now it was leaving at 3:30 pm.

We canceled the taxi ride, and got to bed. It wasn’t much we could do about the situation, so we enjoyed a few extra hours of sleep and a leisurely morning in the hotel.

At the Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica

The airport was easy to get through, no long lines, no problems, ten times easier than four years ago, when we last traveled through it.

Though we encountered a few travelers, the airport was almost empty. A few people wore facemarks, but most were not; seemed to take it like just another day of travel. But since there were no crowds, we had plenty of room for practicing safe distancing. We also had plenty of time to wander about, have a meal, window-shop for souvenirs, and enjoy airport art, toucans of all colors scattered throughout the terminals.

Our Time in Costa Rica

As about our vacation… if we didn’t have phones, social media and family at home we kept in constant contact with, we would’ve known little about the coronavirus. At least in the first few days of our trip. We don’t usually spend our vacations in crowded places, big resorts or other touristy areas. Nature was there for us, as always.

Ended Up At Chirripo National Park By Accident

We drove off the main road, looking for a chocolate plantation. Instead, we ended up at a small chocolate store, in a tiny town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But we found out that we were close to Chirripo National Park, and decided to stay and take a hike the next day. When we found a hotel we liked, we stayed two nights.

We drove over to an entrance to Chirripo National Park, which ended up being the back entrance, and hiked on a vertical trail, in the heat, and no shade, but the views made it all worth it.

Drove out to the ocean

We stayed in out-of-the-way, small hotels, with access to jungle paths, just like we would’ve anyway. Walking through dense jungle, birdwatching, wild-berry picking, drinking from mountain streams was what this vacation was all about. Without trying, we practiced social isolation, just by walking through nature, with little human interaction.

Visited an Active Volcano – Poas

The only place where we spent time among a group of people was visiting the very much active volcano, Poas.

We wore hard hats to protect our head in case the volcano decided to spew rocks at us, we had to join a relatively small group led by a ranger, on alert, and not allowed to spend more than 20 minutes by the edge of the volcano… the sulfur smell would damage our lungs if we stayed longer. They also had a first-aid center set up there, with gas-masks if needed.

All these precautions made it scarier than any virus. But we were fine, the volcano stayed quiet while we were visiting it.

The active Poas Volcano in March 2020

Spent Another Day at La Paz Waterfalls

We also returned to La Paz, where we spent half a day, enjoying rescued wildlife, shaded trails and the waterfalls.

Enjoyed the Company of Coatimundis on the Side of the Road

We also stopped on the side of the road when we saw a family of coatimundis. As it turned out, people were feeding them, that’s why they were out by the street. As bad as feeding them is, I was in their country, didn’t feel motivated enough to lecture anyone. Instead, I enjoyed the coatis company, without actually feeding them.

Coatis on the side of the road in CR
Coati on the side of the road

Spent Time in Out-of-the-Way Places, Enjoying Nature…

Mostly though, we enjoyed spending time in of-the-beaten-track small villages, where we only encountered locals, hiking up steep mountainsides, and walking through wet jungle paths.

On jungle paths in Costa Rica

Traveling Back Home

Considering all the new we’ve heard while away, we expected more delays at the Phoenix airport, but things went even more smoothly than usual. The airport seemed deserted though; I know that many flights had been canceled. Which made it easier for those of us who were still traveling for one reason or another.

Overall, I can’t say that the coronavirus affected our travels this time. It would’ve been harder, I’m sure, if we traveled to or from Europe or other affected areas.

Life is definitely disrupted at home. Though social distancing normally comes easier for me than social interaction, it’s hard on the kids without having school. I know it’s hard for so many people, but life will go on. Hope some of the changes will stick – like driving less, and polluting less in general.

In he meantime, while we can’t travel, we can still read about faraway places. We can read books, or visit art museums virtually, find a new hobby, knitting for example, or learn a new language. Or make a few face masks; you’ll find plenty of patterns online – that’s what I’ve been doing. Those of us who only need to stay home to help are the lucky ones. If we can help others, we should all try to do so. But the least we can do is help to stop the spread of this virus…

Wishing everyone safe and healthy days to come.

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