California Wine Country to Costa Rican Beaches to Covid Evacuation: Travel Interrupted

I’m writing this on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, and as of this writing, the Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging the world and creating chaos.

In February 2020, Dave and I embarked on the first of our three trips for the year. Trip one included a month in the Sonoma Valley, and a month in Costa Rica. We were looking forward to experiencing long-term stays in new places so we could really take our time exploring the area and be totally settled in.

In Sonoma, we rented a charming cottage on a horse farm between Santa Rosa and St. Helena. We spent lazy mornings in front of a warm fire at the cottage, afternoons exploring the wineries, and evenings cooking dinner and enjoying our recently acquired winery purchases. On our first night, we scored a dinner reservation at The French Laundry, and had a bucket-list meal we’ll never forget. Some of our dearest friends came to visit throughout the month, and we enjoyed many meals, glasses of wine, visits to the horses, and bellyaching laughs. I will forever cherish that month!

We sampled more than our share of wineries, but stuck to wineries that allowed walk-ins (with the exception of the Prisoner where we made a reservation). Some standouts where:

  • Chateau Montelena: A beautiful winery in a lovely castle. Nice grounds too.
  • The Prisoner Wine Co: Modern and contemporary space with generous pours of great wine. Nice snacks with the tasting.
  • Iron Horse: We had a flight of bubbles here. The outdoor tasting room is divine with a great view over the valley.
  • DeLoach: Loved their tasting patio and the server was super friendly. It feels like you’re drinking at your friend’s house here.
  • Beringer: The grounds and buildings are exceptional, and our server was very friendly.
  • Francis Ford Coppola: This is a super touristy winery, but if you’ve never been you should really experience it. It’s a hybrid tasting room/museum/country club, complete with outdoor pool and patio. We had a wonderful server here who let us try some really special wines outside of our tasting.
  • Chateau St. Jean: Beautiful grounds and not super crowded when we were there. We joined their wine club and have a shipment arriving tomorrow!
  • Gloria Ferrer: Bubbles and more bubbles! The pours here are so generous and our server kept bringing special tastings. It was a very lively afternoon!
  • Castello di Amorosa: Another touristy winery but for good reason. You have to see the Tuscan castle to believe it! If you’ve been to Tuscany it will make you yearn to return.
  • Hanson of Sonoma Distillery: If you’re ready for a break from wine, head to Hanson for some tasty vodkas.When we weren’t at the wineries we were spending time in Calistoga, St. Helena (you must get English muffins at Model Bakery!), Santa Rosa, San Fran, Bodega Head (we didn’t see any whales but the scenery is pretty amazing!) and Sausalito. We took a drive out to Muir Woods (we’ve been but wanted to take our guests), and when we arrived the park was closed due to high winds. Such a bummer! We spent the afternoon in Sausalito instead.

Near the end of our time in Sonoma (late February) was really when we started to hear about the novel coronavirus, and what we heard didn’t alarm us. On March 1 we boarded a flight to Tampa and met up with friends Clara and Bryan (who were graciously storing our big suitcase while we were in Costa Rica), and flew to Costa Rica the next morning.

The flight to SJO was uneventful, and we anticipated arriving at our rental near Herradura by late afternoon. After taking two full hours to get through immigration and customs, we were starving and decided to grab dinner in San Jose before heading to the coast.  We arrived at 7PM and got settled in to our spacious, modern house, our home for the next month.

Having never been to CR, we weren’t sure what to expect. Most people we talked to loved it, although there were some who found it to be too underdeveloped. We were in the “loved it” category and found it to be developed enough to get anything we needed, but still wild enough to remind us we were in Central America.

We spent our first week exploring the closest beaches (Playa Blanca and Playa Mantas) and our surrounding area. More information was coming out about COVID but still nothing alarming.

Our second week in CR we went horseback riding, swimming in a waterfall, and zip-lining. There was a wonderful place a few miles from our house called Los Suenos Adventure Park that provided all these activities, plus ATVs, and a host of other fun options. I would highly recommend them. We spent a few afternoons wandering around Jaco which was 15-minutes from us. We hung out at the Rancho Bar Tangeri, watching the iguanas while the sun set. One visit we saw a crocodile, and occasionally someone on a horse would ride by. There is an amazing restaurant in Jaco called Amara where we had the most delicious fresh food, artfully prepared, and served by a lovely lady named Daisy.

Also during our second week we took an overnight trip to Montezuma, reaching the beach by water taxi (you are literally dropped in the water on the beach). Montezuma is a special place, but definitely not for everyone. It’s very bohemian/hippy, with lots of young people with no shoes. There is a party vibe at night and we did a little bar crawl which felt like a huge block party. We stayed at a lovely eco lodge called Nya, where we were greeted with champagne. The property is modern but understated, and the grounds are lush. There is a pool with servers and we had a couple drinks before heading to dinner. Dinner was at Cocolores, which was an excellent dining experience. The food and service were fabulous but the cherry on top was our table by the ocean.

We checked out the next morning to catch our water taxi back to Herradura, and by now we were starting to be wary of other people who may be contagious. Someone coughed on our ferry and Dave and I immediately covered our faces and slathered on the hand sanitizer. We bumped elbows with the guy at the front desk, and had a brief conversation about the virus with a Canadian couple. We still had no concerns about being in CR, and Dave’s kids were expected to join us in a week.

It was only a few days after Montezuma that the world really started to unravel. The kids were getting nervous about flying and we were starting to hear stories about TP hoarding in the US. The travel bans for the EU were announced but we still weren’t concerned about our May travel to Europe. To our great disappointment, Dave’s kids ultimately decided not to make the trip to CR (understandably). We had such a fun week planned, but we are already looking forward to reconnecting as soon as the pandemic subsides.

To cheer ourselves up, we decided to take a road trip to Tamarindo and spent two nights at the JW Marriott resort in Guanacaste. During our check in we learned the Costa Rican government had announced it would be closing its borders on March 18, two days away. An American family was at the front desk panicking about getting out of the country, but were assured the border closing was to keep people from entering the country, not to prevent people from leaving.

We spent two days lounging around the resort relaxing at the pool and sleeping in the big, fluffy bed. Of all the JWs we’ve stayed at, this was definitely the least luxurious, and the restaurants were just OK (but super expensive!). We checked out on the 18th and made the 3 hour drive back to Herradura. The next morning we were informed that our return flights to the US had been cancelled and I spent an hour on hold with United to figure out what our options were. We still had 11 days remaining in our trip and were not particularly anxious to return home. All the news from the US was bad and CR still had an air of calm.

United informed us that they were ceasing operations to and from CR until May (!!) and the last flight to the US was on March 24. We reluctantly changed our flight, but booked a separate flight home on Delta on our original date of March 30 just in case things still felt OK. By the 20th CR closed all its national parks and beaches and we took that as a sign that it was time to leave. We departed on March 24; our flight from San Jose-Houston-Tampa was uneventful although there were a lot of face masks being worn, and people were sanitizing every inch of their plane seat (us included). The airports were eerily deserted; we stopped for a beer in Houston en route to our gate, and the server said we were his first customers that day… it was 6PM and he had been there since noon. We finally arrived at our house in Sarasota a little before midnight. It was nice to finally relax and sleep in our bed.

That was 20 days ago; we’ve been doing our part to stay safe and keep others safe. We self-quarantined for two weeks to make sure we hadn’t contracted anything on the flight. We were able to get groceries delivered on our first day home (yay!) and we ordered TP and paper towels on Amazon. There have been a couple social-distancing outings to the pool and kayaking on the Myakka River. Dave and I both had our annual physicals with our doctor via video call. Dave rides his bike most days and I’ve been cooking like a fiend, and, like everyone else, we’re making the best of this alone time.

I finally had to deal with our impending trip to Europe. Of course our flights across the pond were cancelled before we even left Costa Rica, but we were to be there 3.5 months, with air travel and accommodations reserved in 8 countries. It has been quite a task to unravel the arrangements, but most of the vendors have been amazing. The airlines have given generous expiration dates to rebook tickets (except for Frontier who only provided 60 days to reuse our tickets…tsk tsk), and we’ve received refunds or credits for nearly all our rentals and hotels (I say nearly because I still have some cancellations pending).

I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of all the credits and vouchers so we don’t lose track of them, and have started the process of moving the entire trip to December (I’ve always wanted to spend Christmas in Europe!). It’s time consuming, but we certainly have plenty of that lately. I hope to have everything re-booked by August, before we head to Halifax. I was depressed that we had to postpone seeing my daughter, who was supposed to be meeting us in Salzburg. She lives in another state and we don’t get to see each other much, so this was a much-anticipated reunion. But, better to be safe than sorry; we will see each other again under better conditions!

We are supposedly nearing the apex of the virus here in the US, which should mean we will be on the back end of the worst of it over the coming months. Things will start to return to normal, although an undoubtedly new normal with face masks and no hand-shaking. People will return to work and school, sporting events will come back, and travel will start, maybe with fewer crowds and more courteous participants. We will memorialize the victims of the pandemic and the heros who cared for them. We will have a newfound appreciation for our service workers, and maybe they will get closer to earning a living wage in the US.

Until then…be safe.


Stephany & Dave



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