After a fantastic New Years spent with RVing friends in Quartzsite, AZ, I turned Bertha’s wheels east along I10 towards Tonopah, and possibly the most beautiful desert…
Hi. It’s me.
I believe I wrote that first sentence about a month ago, but that’s as far as I got with that post. And then the world was turned upside-down.
Part 1: What I’ve Been Up To and Pandemic Plans
For starters, I’m fine. In fact, I’m doing better than a lot of full-time nomads out there right now.
Several of you have e-mailed or sent messages in the past couple weeks inquiring about my well-being, and I’m very touched that with everything that must be going on in your lives right now, you’re thinking of me.
To get you caught up, my last travelogue left off with spending the holidays with the Xscapers in Arizona. On January 10th, I put Tribble and Bertha into storage, and flew to Costa Rica to volunteer at Wild Sun Rescue Center again for three months. At that point, COVID-19 was barely a blip on the radar.
For newer readers, or those who weren’t around last winter/spring, here’s a link to all of my Costa Rica posts from last year, covering what Wild Sun is all about, travelogues, and logistics for staying long-term in a foreign country. In short, Wild Sun rehabilitates wild animals that are sick or injured, and then releases them back into the wild, and is part of a breeding program reintroducing the Scarlet Macaw to this part of the country, where it went locally extinct about 50 years ago. It’s a pretty great organization, and a very rewarding project to be a part of.
All remained pretty normal here in Costa Rica until about two weeks ago. But once things started happening, they happened FAST.
A timeline for Costa Rica:
- March 6th – First confirmed cased of COVID-19.
- March 9th (9 confirmed cases) – Mass gatherings suspended for 14 days, closure of a school in San Jose where someone tested positive.
- March 12th (23 confirmed cases) – Public spaces told to operate at 50% capacity. A list of 300 at-risk schools is published, which will close on the 16th. President Carlos Alvarado says that Costa Rica will not close its borders to international visitors.
- March 15th (35 confirmed cases) – Bars and nightclubs ordered to close. People who can work from home are encouraged to do so.
- March 16th (41 confirmed cases) – Four popular tourist attractions close. In the afternoon, a State of Emergency is declared. Costa Rica will close its borders to entry of all foreigners and non-residents starting at 11:59 pm on the 18th and lasting at least 25 days until April 12th.
- March 17th (50 confirmed cases) – All in-person schools close. All national parks to close starting on the 23rd. Nighttime driving restrictions from 10 pm to 5 am to start on the 24th. Costa Rica’s Immigration Administration announces that tourists on a 90 day visa will be allowed to stay in the country without penalty until May 17th.
- March 18th (69 confirmed cases, 1st death) – All gyms, pools and fitness centers close. All airlines to suspend international flights by the end of the month.
- March 19th (87 confirmed cases) – All cinemas and theaters to close on the 21st. U.S. State Department issues a Global Level 4 Do Not Travel Event, “In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the State Department announcement says.
- March 20th (113 confirmed cases, 2nd death) – All community and children’s parks, sports spaces, and day centers close. In the afternoon, all national parks are ordered closed 3 days before schedule. While Costa Rican authorities are not yet considering a national quarantine or curfew, Health Minister Daniel Salas has repeatedly asked the public to avoid non-essential travel and stay home when possible.
- March 23rd (158 confirmed cases) – All beaches close. All religious centers close. All foreigners residing or with regular migratory status in the country who leave the national territory will automatically lose their immigration status. This applies to foreign residents (temporary or permanent) of all nationalities and has no specified end date.
- March 27th (263 confirmed cases) – Driving restrictions tighten: on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday people are not allowed to drive between the hours of 8 am and 5 am (unless for emergency or food delivery or essential cargo transport).
The day the National Emergency was declared on the 16th was the scariest. That was one day before the announcement about tourist visas being extended, and there was concern at Wild Sun that we could get stranded here illegally with expired visas. The managers all made a last minute border run to Nicaragua that night to reset their visas before the border closed. It turned out to not be necessary, but better safe that sorry.
Even after that immediate concern was lifted, I still had a couple truly tough days deciding for myself if I should leave early or stay. My contract at Wild Sun was until April 4th. My flight back to the US on the night of April 6th. And as that week dragged on and more and more closures were announced, it became increasingly obvious that my plane would not fly on the 6th.
I decided to stay in Costa Rica for the following reasons.
1. With the border closing, no new volunteers would be able to come into the country to take care of the animals at Wild Sun.
2. Our volunteers at Wild Sun come from all over the world. And some of those from European countries farther ahead in the curve were likely already unable to get home. Being stuck in a foreign country with a pandemic happening could be scary. Being stuck all alone would be worse. But if we all stay, we all have each other.
3. While I’m healthy and younger, my decision to engage in non-emergency travel could put other people’s lives at risk unnecessarily.
4. Closure of non-essential services could make the trip quite difficult (Would public transport in Costa Rica shut down, keeping me from being able to get to the airport? Would Uber drivers stop running in the US, keeping me from being able to get from the airport to the storage lot where my RV is? If, say, my truck didn’t start when I arrived at the storage lot, would I be able to get someone out to fix it?)
Of course, there were some compelling reasons to leave too. Besides the obvious comfort of being in my own space and closer to family and friends, I speak minimal Spanish and was completely unsure how Costa Ricans were going to respond to the pandemic. Tourism accounts for 8% of Costa Rica’s GDP, and a lot of locals were about to be out of work with the border closing to tourists. How desperate would people get? Cabuya is about as remote as you can get in Costa Rica, not only do we not have a traffic light, we don’t have a single paved road. The closest clinic is 30 minutes away, a true hospital more like an hour. We had plenty of toilet paper and essentials now, but at some point would supply chains get cut off? (Well, at least Cabuya does a lot of fishing and it’s almost mango season, so starving doesn’t seem likely.)
A week and a half after I made my decision, I feel like it’s worked out so far.
There’s zero hoarding going on… at least around here. Supplies are plentiful and the atmosphere has remained pretty good in town. The locals are most concerned about people coming out from the cities (where the infection rate is highest) and bringing the virus with them, but with the closure of all the beaches in the country there’s less incentive for that happening now. I do worry about the families in the community who must be struggling with the loss of income. I haven’t seen it in person, but I know it must be happening.
At the time of this writing, Costa Rica has 330 confirmed cases, seven of which are in intensive care, and two deaths.
Meanwhile, the number of cases in the US has accelerated , and full-time RVers are facing a serious obstacle.
Part 2: The Situation for Full-timers in the US
Shortly after I decided to stay in Costa Rica, I started seeing the first posts from full-time RVers concerned about finding a campground to ride out the storm in. In some places, campgrounds and RV parks are being ordered to close as non-essential services. That’s creating big problems for thousands of full-time RVers who now have nowhere to stop and shelter in place.
People who are able to boondock are faring better as there’s been less closure of public lands, but even then the small towns and communities nearby those public lands aren’t wanting visitors coming in and buying out their limited supplies or heaven forbid, getting sick or injured and taxing their small clinics and hospitals. Friends currently camping on public land are fearing the dreaded knock on the door from local law enforcement responding to requests from concerned citizens asking them to move on. In Colorado, officials are telling front-rangers (people who live in and near Denver) and non-residents to stay out of the mountain backcountry.
It’s a strange time for sure.
The tables have taken a sudden turn, and where once RVers were welcomed for the money they brought in to the local economy, they’re now being eyed with mistrust and suspicion as potential virus carriers and as a burden that will deplete limited resources.
My advice? Stay in place. Take the threat seriously, stay home if you have one and stay put if your home has wheels. Lets flatten that curve and reduce inconvenience and suffering down the line. Here’s Escapees RV Club’s well-worded response in regards to Coronavirus voicing that same sentiment, only more eloquently.
Part 3: Resources and Links
Are you a full-time RVer in the US looking for a place to land?
- Here’s a list from RVillage of known open RV parks in the US, organized by state. If you’re able to contribute by updating this list for your area, that’d be much appreciated: RVillage List of Open RV Parks
- Rootless Living Magazine has compiled a similar crowd sourced list that you can also check out (and contribute to): Extended Stay RV Parks for Displaced RVers
- Campendium has a feature where you can filter out parks and campgrounds that are closed by clicking the “exclude temporarily closed locations” filter, to show you only what’s open right now.
- If Facebook is more your style, a new group has popped up connecting displaced RVers with landowners willing to share their property.
Have other resources to share? Please let me know in the comments. (Last updated 3/31)
Help keep campgrounds and RV parks open during this time of need!
Several RV communities and manufacturers are endorsing this petition by TruckCamper Magazine to keep RV parks open as an essential service, so that RVers have places to dump and fill their tanks, and to stay at and keep themselves and other safe by reducing travel: Here’s the petition.
Other Links and Last Words
Enough of us decided to stay at Wild Sun to properly care for the animals, hooray! But there’s another problem. A good half of Wild Sun’s funding comes from the on-site hotel, which was closed earlier in the month for the safety of everyone involved. We’re operating at a deficiency of about $3,000 a month with the hotel closed, and are expecting the effects of COVID-19 to financially impact the center for months.
There is absolutely no pressure here. I know money is tight for many right now, and there are a lot of other worthy causes revolving around Coronavirus that also need attention too. But if you’d like to help us continue to care for the center’s 70+ scarlet macaws, monkeys, and other wildlife, here’s a link to the fundraiser on Chuffed. (Edit 7/6: that particular fundraiser ended, so I’ve changed the link to their general fundraiser.) And if you do donate, thank you very, very much!
One last thing before I go.
This is a really hard time. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of disrupted plans. A lot of people are either out of work or not getting enough to meet their needs. We had no blueprint for what to do in the event of a pandemic, there’s not enough data yet to say how this will turn out. Tempers are short and emotions are high.
I hope you’ll be patient with each other, and kind. The whole world is in this together. And we will get through this. Much love, and stay safe.
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