Today, the 14th of April marks three months since we arrived in Costa Rica and started our sabbatical. Already? Yep, time flies when you are having fun! Right?
In fact, it is a bit scary how fast these months have passed.
But we haven’t done ANYTHING yet of what we had planned!, my “stressful me” shouts in desperation. Except for watching wildlife. And visiting some National Parks. And learning new things. And spending some quality time with each other. And volunteering for Osa Conservation. And…oh well! Maybe it has not been that bad after all.
To ease my mind, I went go back to our initial 12-month planning, which looked roughly like this:
- Month 1: Settle in, detox and sleep
- Month 2: Reconnect / Travel around
- Month 3 to 5: Explore: First volunteering (Conservation)
- Month 6: Reflect
- Month 7 to 9: Explore: Second volunteer (Wildlife rescue center)
- Month 10-11: Reboot; network; rethink live options
- Month 12: Travel around and prepare the return
January: Settling in
As we had planned, we spent our first 15 days in Costa Rica settling in. We managed to open a bank account, submit the visa papers, find the food for Matilda and, not the least, buy a car. We even had a couple of days free to explore the farmers market in Alajuela and to visit a wildlife rescue center with our dear Tico friend.
In the last days of January, we finally headed to the beach, for our detox and reconnection month. The aims of that first month were very clear: to regain balance -physically and mentally- after a very exhausting period of work and to settle in and start new healthy routines.
February: Detox, sleep and reconnect
In the first half of February we did just that: we moved smoothly between the hammock, the birdwatching chairs, the dinner table in the porch and the kitchen, where our fridge was stocked to the brim with fresh fruit.
We started making “jugos naturales” (water-based smoothies) at any time of the day, trying the amazing Costa Rican coffee and cooking Tico style. We also got hooked on blogging. First, with the aim of keeping our family and friends updated on our sabbatical adventures but soon enough as a pleasure in itself. Something that we have grown quite fond of doing.
In the second half of February, once that we had some energy back, we started exploring around. First, going to the beaches close to the house, then venturing to one-day trips to close-by national parks and finally to 1-night out excursions to reach those parks that were a bit further away.
We visited the PN Volcan Tenorio and the Rio Celeste, the PN Palo Verde, Tempisque River and the wildlife reserve of Mataredonda. We also had to go one day up and down to San José to see an eye-specialist for Matilda.
March: Explore. Volunteering in Conservation
At the end of February, and with almost our full energy back, we set the direction towards the end tip of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula in the South Pacific. But we did not go in a straight line. We took some days to stop over in Monteverde and visit what many people consider to be a bird paradise within Costa Rica. We were not disappointed. Monteverde also enchanted us with their sustainability approaches, to which I will come back in a blog. Suffice to say that we plan to come back and stay for a longer period of time.
Until then, everything went according to plan. We arrived at the Osa Peninsula with some time to settle in our new house and place and start our first volunteer work.
I cannot express how much we were looking forward to it. By early March, we had completed our period of detox, sleep and reconnect and we were ready to explore new things. My mind at least was finally free from work and worries and ready to take up a new challenge.
So, we embarked on our first volunteer job with heart, soul, and brains. The first two weeks passed in a flash. We meet fantastic new people from all corners of life, enjoyed the biological station in the jungle, learned about the marine program and our tasks.
And then, the coronavirus crises hit the world. And this lovely country in the tropics.
How the Corona is affecting our sabbatical plans
The conservation organization for which we are volunteering decided to close the offices, at least until the end of April. We received the news on the 13th of March.
We could choose, on the spot, between going to the biological station and stay there until the crisis was over or stay in town and telework. For us, it was not really a choice. Matilda -or any other pet for that matter- is not allowed at the biological station. So our only choice was to stay in our house and telework from there.
Fortunately for both of us, our main work for the volunteer organization can be done remotely with some adjustments. Fortunately as well, we can get a more or less decent mobile internet connection from home. We communicate regularly with our boss at the organization and we continue working 5 days a week. But is not the same right?
We feel blessed and frustrated at the same time.
Frustrated because we do not interact with the people at the conservation organization, learn about their life work, engage in real fieldwork like doing turtle patrols, or helping with the mangrove restoration program or the coral garden. And because we cannot visit any of the wonderful national parks that are in the area. Or go to the beach. So, basically, most of the things that we had planned to do here.
Despite all that, we also feel blessed because at least we can continue doing the volunteer work, learning about conservation and contribute to it. Blessed because there are much worse places to spend the quarantine than in this house, watching wildlife from behind the breakfast table and the computer, being able to walk around the mini-forest behind the house.
And so the feelings of blessing and frustration alternate between days. Not only between days but also between the two of us. So, this last month and a half have felt like a roller coaster. Some days up, and some days down.
It is putting our capacity to enjoy the sabbatical no-matter-what to a test. We might succeed or we might not. We are trying…the best we can! It is what it is.
A dear friend asked us if we have considered to return to Sweden and resume our sabbatical later on? We have not. On the one hand because all the arrangements we had to make with our colleagues, cannot be repeated. We continue to be incredibly grateful to those who have taken over tasks and who have adjusted their plans to our absence.
On the other hand we also, and perhaps more so, have not considered going back because we take all this as part of the sabbatical. Working at an NGO in an exotic country (not just tropical, but different in many respects) includes dealing with unexpected things.