Locked Up Abroad, Pandemic Style
When catching up with friends and family they often ask what life has been like for us in Costa Rica since the world came to a screeching halt in March.
Much like the rest of the world, Costa Rica has seen progress march forward and backward. This country has done a phenomenal job in terms of the number of cases and death rate. *a link to the numbers below* This has not happened simply by chance, but rather through targeted measures. Since March 19th, the government has placed driving restrictions on the entire country, based on a system using the last number of your license plate. These restrictions also include daily curfews, and during weeks with a national holiday (Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc), up to three days a week in which you are not allowed to drive. All businesses that were deemed non-essential were closed for an entire month, starting March 19th. Those businesses considered important enough to operate began doing so starting April 19th with additional restrictions. These restrictions, or “health guidelines” include: capacity of patrons no greater than 50 percent, only one family per table at restaurants, all patrons must wash hands or use hand sanitizer before entering the establishment, and as of June 27th masks have been mandated for all customers and staff. Additionally, some businesses are checking each patron’s temperature before being allowed to enter, although it is unclear to us whether this is an official requirement. More recently, the country has seen a dramatic uptick in the amount of positive cases. As such, the government continuously changes the “health guidelines” and driving restrictions. Most dates for phased reopening have been pushed back, with heavier restrictions employed for short periods of time in an attempt to stymie the spread of the virus. All the while, the Ministry of Health has been giving daily news conferences, making it quite difficult to arrange plans to travel within the country as these rules/restrictions change daily and are implemented immediately.
Most of us have had the uncomfortable experience of wearing a mask at some point since COVID ravaged the world. While the mandate more recently hit our area, the experience has presented a unique challenge as we are still trying to learn a new language. We aren’t professional lip readers, but removing the mouth from view and muffling the sound through a mask has proven to be most difficult. Honestly, the masks take away any joy of leaving home, robbing us of the full social experience; with only ⅓ of your face showing it does nothing but suck the human aspect out of socializing. Patience with one another is already very thin during this trying time and given our skin color, as well as our Spanish-in-progress, it’s become rather laborious to simply muster up the desire to go out.
As such, our days have been spent mainly in the home (see also: patio). Thankfully, we have access to hiking trails very near our house, which we take full advantage of many days of the week. I have become an avid reader, at times reading an entire book in just a few days which is quite something for me! Meanwhile, Nick has been tailoring his bakery menu, with his homegrown sourdough starter at the heart of most recipes. As I mentioned earlier, driving restrictions have been quite strict. In our case, we are not allowed on the road Friday or Saturday. However, with the increase in cases during June, curfew has now been moved up to 7pm every day of the week (was 10pm previously). The local park, and access to the entire lake, is still closed to the public which is a major blow to our enjoyment of the small town we live in. Up until June 1st, all national parks were closed, which is where the majority of hiking access is in this country. The beaches reopened at the beginning of June from 5am-9:30am, so the idea of escaping to the beach isn’t much fun given the extremely limited hours. There have been reports of arrests and even jail time for those caught on the beach outside of these hours. Moreover, there are severe fines and possible license plate seizure (which is a serious hassle here) for anyone caught on the road during restricted days/times, with additional law enforcement patrols in order to keep people at home. Schools have been closed since March 19 with plans to reopen in November, but the school year ends mid-December. So, it looks as if this entire year will be spent homeschooling. The borders are closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Although the government-provided date for reopening the border is set for August 1st, we would be surprised to see that date hold. The Government has already stated that when they do choose to reopen the border, it will be to countries who have been “successful” in controlling this pandemic, which is rather ambiguous.
We are fortunate that we are safe and healthy and thankful to be ‘stuck’ in paradise while the world recovers. We were able to see most of our loved ones when we made the trek back to the United States earlier this year and for that we are so grateful. We have drawn calm and ease as a result of those visits. As travelers at heart, we do have aspirations to visit many places both throughout Costa Rica and abroad. For now, we wait.
Now for the numbers, we find the most accurate and up to date information on ticotimes.net. This is the latest article about the numbers. https://ticotimes.net/2020/07/12/costa-rica-coronavirus-updates-for-july-12-2020