It was FINALLY time for me to head away on Annual Leave, and let me tell you now, I really wish I hadn’t. What a wonderful thing hindsight is, however I’m going to write a blog post over the most stressful “holiday” I had to tick off country number 72.
I flew from Dubai to Costa Rica connecting in Amsterdam. I met my parents in Amsterdam and we flew with KLM over to Liberia with a transit stop in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose. I had around thirty hours of travelling from leaving my apartment in Dubai to arriving at the villa in Portrero on the west coast of Costa Rica.
We got to the villa in complete darkness and went straight to bed exhausted, but it wasn’t long before the eleven hour time difference got to me and had me waking up around 3am. Tossing and turning for a while I eventually gave up and decided I would use this early start to catch the sunrise.
The villa was perfect, exactly what we needed with plenty of space, three bedrooms and bathrooms and an absolutely stellar view. We went to to the west coast of Costa Rica so we could experience the beautiful sunsets that they boast, and if this was what we were getting for sunrise, I couldn’t wait to experience sunset. For anyone who wants to see the AirBnb booking link for this, just click here.
We spent the first morning by the pool in the villa before going to get a late breakfast at a cafe in the town en route to pick up the rental car. I’d researched into places to eat whilst we were there and this seemed a great option that was right up my street. So we walked into the town towards the coast.
The place was called Carpe Diem and boasted a small but wonderful menu of different options. I went for a traditional Costa Rican breakfast as I love to try out the local cuisine when I’m visiting new places and it came with two fried eggs, grilled halloumi, the most flavoursome rice and beans and some small pieces of garlic bread. The most random breakfast but it worked SO well. They also recommended their home made spicy salsa which I added onto the side. It blew my head off but worked amazingly with the breakfast dish. I washed it down with a latte and a freshly squeezed juice of apple, pineapple, ginger and mint. So refreshing and the perfect start to the day.
We paid up at the cafe and continued our morning walk. We wanted to walk to pick up the hire car which we had arranged, it seemed quite a way away but we thought it would be a great way to see the town, gather our bearings and make a few pit stops along the way!
The thing I was loving about Costa Rica was the wide open beaches situated inside little bays. You had the curve of the coastline to follow around paired with the blue waters and the lush green undulating background of the hills. It really did look like paradise but with it being midday now, the sun was beating down on us reaching the mid thirties. Working up a thirst, we spotted a beach side cafe that was playing live music and we decided it was cocktail time. It was the first day of our holidays after all!
What a slice of paradise! We grabbed a jug of white sangria and sat in the shade taking in the view and listening to the music and working out how much further we had to go before we arrived at the car rental place.
We sat here for around an hour more before seriously underestimating how far the walk was. In the baking heat with no shade, I can’t put into words just how warm we were. The walk in total took us just under two hours and we stopped at the supermarket on the way back to the villa to stock up on essentials to last us through the week when we came across such a magnificent view that I had to get my Dad to pull over so we could get out for a little photo opportunity!
We finished our day around the pool in the villa in the more bearable afternoon heat before going out to dinner that night. With the time difference and the effects of jet lag, it was a very early dinner that we wrapped up as quickly as possible as it seemed none of us could manage to keep our eyes open.
The next morning I woke up crazy early again, but lasted until 4am this time, which was a plus! I waited for the sun to rise a little before I went outside onto the decking to catch the beautiful colours and the view. I made myself a cup of tea and poured some cereal and waited for my parents to wake up. It was also going to be a fabulous day as my sister Millie was coming to join us, she was flying in from Alabama where she had been studying abroad. We actually couldn’t find flights where she would be landing at the same time as us nor for the following day, so unfortunately she had to miss a couple of nights but it was worth it to all be together. What was exciting was that two weeks earlier she had celebrated her 21st birthday and we couldn’t wait to celebrate as a family! We’d brought balloons, banners, cards and gifts and decided to have a sunset barbecue in the villa with drinks as sunsets are one of her favourite things!
The following day was the one and only day we ventured out of the villa. Things surrounding COVID-19 had changed drastically over the last couple days and stopped all of the things we had booked and planned from happening, along with taking this family holiday of a lifetime from something that was meant to be so amazing and memorable to what felt like a never ending nightmare we just wanted to get out of. But before I delve into that, we took a day trip out a little further south to the town of Tamarindo, around a forty minute drive from where we were in Portrero.
We parked up the car and our plan was to lounge at a beach club all day, they wanted $50 each per person which we thought was scandalous, so we took a stroll down the beach and waiter stopped us to tell us that we could use their sun loungers provided we stopped for lunch. I took a look at menu and knew there was something for everyone here so we set up camp, ordered some drinks and took in the beautiful views of Tamarindo.
A man came down the beach selling gifts and I bought this gorgeous little hat for $10 as the sun was so bright I was struggling to even read my book! Wasn’t long before both my dad and sister followed suit needing some shade from the intense heat and we all sat there in matching hats!
Not long after we wanted to eat lunch to escape the midday heat and sat in the shade ready to order some food. Me and my whole family are such a lover of seafood and the waiter recommended to us the seafood platter and said it would be plenty enough to share.
I drove back to the villa that afternoon where we changed and went for dinner. We hadn’t really dressed up all holiday and we were looking forward to a family dinner with a nice view.
We found a place called Coco Loco located on the beach front in Playa Flamingo which had an amazing menu and was one of the only places we could seem to find with somebody other than ourselves in there. So we grabbed a table and some sangrias and sat watching the sunset and poured over the mouth watering menu.
It was as though I hadn’t got my seafood fix earlier, we shared some starters of crispy calamari, coconut shrimp and some coffee rubbed beef tenderloin skewers between us and then I ordered the fresh whole snapper which came with a Caribbean sauce, rice and beans and wow was it heavenly.
Honestly the food here was amazing, right on the beach front, a stunning sunset, great cocktails, toes in the sand and a menu so delicious you would struggle what to chose. I highly recommend visiting Coco Loco if you’re ever in or around Playa Flamingo in Costa Rica, it was probably our favourite meal of the “holiday”.
That evening when we got back to the villa it seemed everything in regards to Coronavirus had spiralled out of control. The border to the United Arab Emirates, my home for the last four and a half years was closed to everyone but UAE nationals. I was unable to return back to the country until further notice. Flight cancellations were becoming ever more prevalent and tourists had stopped being allowed into Costa Rica as well. We began to look at options on changing our flights with us still having another week in Costa Rica but we ran into further problems.
As both my parents and myself flew out of Amsterdam we had been in the Schengen zone in the previous fourteen days and therefore could not connect via the US due to the limitations surrounding COVID-19 and air travel into the states. The only other option to fly back to the UK was with the current booking we had with KLM. There were two earlier flights yet these were completely booked up and we were unable to take these home. Our only options were to wait it out for our original flight in a weeks time and just hope and pray this didn’t get cancelled or that KLM would cease operations during this pandemic.
Thankfully for my sister, as she had been studying abroad in the US she was able to connect through there and we booked a flight for two days time after spending all evening on the phone with British Airways who were able to change her journey for her.
The next morning we decided to spend time just in the villa, we weren’t wanting to be spending much time in groups or away from our base with everything that was going on. We did a supermarket shop as best we could when we could find ones that remained open, but it seemed overnight Costa Rica was slowly beginning to shut down in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. Most bars and restaurants shut down, those who were able to stay open were not allowed to serve alcohol. I had booked a sunset catamaran tour which included snorkelling and an open bar for my family as their Christmas present which was had to be cancelled, and we were set to end our holiday in Costa Rica visiting the rainforest which was around a three hours drive in land which was also cancelled. There wasn’t much left for us to do other than wait it out.
So I chopped up some watermelon and spent the day in the sun and the pool reading my book and trying to make the most of the holiday, if you could still even call it that. Great beach/quarantine read by the way if anyone is looking for a gripping book!
The next day we drove my sister to the airport for her flight to Miami, and then onto London and then connecting up to Leeds. She had a long travel day to get back to the UK, but at least we knew she was back at home and one of us had made it back safe and sound in these unprecedented times.
The rest of the week turned into a bit of a blur, we extended our stay in the villa until our flight departed out of Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia and over the next few days we ate out only twice more and spent most days by the pool. The whole time I was honestly counting down to getting out of there. Every day I felt stressed at the thought of a flight cancellation or something else that could go wrong. Concerned for my job, and what it meant to be stuck out of the country.
The relief we all felt when we boarded the plane to head back to Amsterdam was like nothing else, other than the fact we’d already had three flight cancellations back to the UK, it was good to know we were getting closer to home. KLM were brilliant, not only for continuing to fly but I will be eternally grateful to the crew for flying in such strange times and not leaving us stranded in a foreign country. Then also arranging a different connecting flight home to Manchester including one for myself also. I was meant to be continuing onto Dubai at this point, so to know I was able to finish the journey with my parents really put my mind at ease.
We then had to stay overnight in Amsterdam, everything in the hotel was closed pretty much and we spent most of our time in the room, before an early start that flew us back to the UK. I’ve never been so happy for a holiday to end in my life.
It’s such a shame that this holiday me and my family had been looking forward to for the longest time, just turned into the biggest nightmare and waste of money ever. Costa Rica had so much potential, I had so much planned! I was planning on taking a day trip to Nicaragua to tick off another country, I wanted to see a sloth in its natural environment and witness the stunning scenery and biodiversity this beautiful country has to offer. Instead, it felt like I stayed in a villa the whole time which I could have just as easily done in Dubai. But who could have comprehended how COVID-19 was going to take over the planet?
So from this I ended up being stuck in the UK for two months before I managed to get government approval to return back to the UAE. From there I was put in a hotel for a week until I gave two negative tests for coronavirus and then I was able to finish the next week in my home. It was so nice to finally get home, there were no words to describe walking through my front door after being away for such a long time. When I finished my two week quarantine in full I was then able to venture out finally and return to somewhat of a normal life back in Dubai.
Then after a week of freedom, I was rostered a duty to operate a cargo flight to Newark in New Jersey. So I sit in my hotel room in New Jersey now writing out this blog post and update on whats happened over the last couple of months. A full three sixty from when I left for my holiday. The airline is slowly beginning up its operations with repatriation and cargo, and although its not back to normal 100%, it’s getting there. I can’t wait to finally be back to worldwide travels and exploring, rather than being so close to New York City and being unable to go out and wander round.
When I’m back in Dubai, I will again have to quarantine for two weeks before I’m able to go out again and I’ll also be tested once more. But it’s good to know that all is being done to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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