Note: We were traveling in Costa Rica when due to the spread of coronavirus, things around the globe started shutting down. (We had considered not going on the trip in the first place, but when we left our home town was still free of any known infections and we had a reasonably important reason to go that had nothing to do with our vacation. At the time, it seemed like a safe, responsible choice.) We’re on the south-western tip of the Nicoya peninsula, about as far from anything as you could possibly be, and waiting for an evacuation flight out. We’re safe, healthy and in good spirits, and in a relaxed place.
19-23 March: A highly dynamic situation
The last few days were a bit of a blur. Our little hustle before had provided us with everything we’d need — a house, a full fridge and a solid supply of water, and a couple of good bottles of wine. Mobility with out little golf cart, and for entertainment purposes a surfboard and a body board as well as more toys for little K. In the absence of flight options back home, we were ready to settle in.
Then the closures started for real. Schools, bars and clubs had long since been shuttered. Next up were restaurants and cafés. Shops were still allowed to be open, but many closed anyway: the double punch combo of Corona and no tourists was enough reason not to keep going. But again, we now had a kitchen and a fridge, so we’d be ok. Not just survive ok, but actual this could be enjoyable ok.
Then the country started to close of the beaches. Not all, but many. The situation had turned, as they say, highly dynamic.
For us, that meant a new reality. Our trade-offs now were:
- Costa Rica had low numbers of infections, and good measures in place to slow down the spread of the virus. It was sunny, and food was good. Unlike in Germany, toilet paper and soap supplies were plenty. But we didn’t know how things would escalate here, nor how robust the health system would be if push came to shove. More than that, with the beaches closed, our radius had just shrunk to our little house: Outside it was mostly too hot to do anything outside except very early in the morning. So we’d be entertaining a 2 year old from our rented house — quarantine with a good view, but still quarantine.
- Berlin is our home, we have plenty of friends there and our own place. It’s a known entity. The health system would be overloaded, no doubt, but presumably at a higher baseline. But it’s an infection hot spot, essential supplies had been running low for some time now, and we’d be stuck in an apartment without a garden, which with a 2 year old can get pretty intense. To be frank, by the news and stories related by friends and family about the situation in Germany and Berlin, I kind of dread going there; but in the end, it’s home for us. So we’re better equipped to weather a storm there than elsewhere.
That’s when Germany’s state department, Auswärtiges Amt, announced an evacuation program to get Germans abroad back home, if they so wish. This program first focused on high-risk areas with a high number of German travelers, but was eventually extended to Costa Rica (low risk, low numbers of Germans).
We decided to go for it, and trade the paradise with an uncertain future for our home with a certainly worrying present and future.
The website that Auswärtiges Amt (AA) uses to register Germans abroad was down, constantly, the servers overloaded with requests. In a surprising act of agility, AA had SAP build a new, dedicated site just for this Corona-specific evac program, rueckholprogramm.de. This site was much more contemporary and also worked on mobile browsers, but it too was overloaded.
In the end, by Friday night we managed to register our family there. (You will not receive a confirmation email, the site warned, and please don’t call us.) It’s now Monday afternoon; we’re waiting for a call from the embassy confirming that we’ve made it onto the evacuation list.
In the meantime, we try to enjoy the last few days of our vacation, at an arms length or two from everyone else. Since the town is mostly empty, that’s not too hard.
I’m reminded of Leo Lionni’s childens’ book Frederick in which a mouse just appears to be lazing around all summer, soaking up the sun. Come winter, food supplies and morale are running low, but at least Frederick can tell stories about the summer, the sun, and the colors of the world. He hadn’t just been lazing: He’d actively engaged with the summer, and now could remember those good times for everyone. In this spirit we try to make the best out of the situation and not to worry too much: We’re actively enjoying the sun, the breeze, the colors of the waves. Those memories will help us get through our upcoming months of indoor isolation.
17-18 March: Settling in for the long haul
As Covid-19 spreads, and with it closures of schools, bars, and airports, we face a simple question: Stay or leave? Evac out on the next plane, into a high-risk region; or settle in and isolate (pardon: socially distance) in Costa Rica.
Here in CR, the situation has been quiet and under control. The government reacted swiftly, right when only 5 cases of infections were known. By now, a few days later, no tourists are aloud to enter the country. Schools are closed, and overall it’s been a lot quieter.
Given the uncertainty back home and the overall guideline to try to stay put rather than travel, we decide to stay – so we had to act quickly as all around, everything was in flux.
Through our surprisingly extensive local network of landlords, restaurant staff and others, we sort out the essentials: a house, mobility (an honest to god all-terrain golf cart), and internet. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and there’s a real sense of community – we’re all in this together. It’s an incredible demonstration of solidarity and the strength of weak ties.
Sat, 15 March: Should I stay or should I go?
Corona impact is growing around the globe. We follow the news of its spreading, of shutdowns, of cancellations.
The wedding we were traveling for is cancelled; sad, but certainly a good call.
Italy is shut down. In France, shops and restaurants are closed. The US banned travel from Europe. Most countries cancelled all events – first of 1000+ participants, now increasingly also sub-50. Berlin just shut down all kitas and schools.
So now we’re looking at options. Stay in Costa Rica and work from here? Go home? Working without daycare is barely realistic. All options are on the table. There’s a distinct feeling that things are going to get worse before they get better. (And that’s a pandemic that isn’t even that aggressive!)
Meanwhile, we’re in vacation mode in relative isolation, in a remote location.