Once we confirmed that our chances of staying in Canada for the long haul were slim, and painful, a family meeting was called. I had no idea how this would turn out. Bride #1 wanted to return to Costa Rica, as did Thing #1. I could be swayed either direction and was tempted to try and stick out another year in Canada with the notion that our luck had to turn at some point. My sentiment was based on the notion that we would move yet again, paying a painful amount of money for yet another rent house that might, hopefully, be free of rats, and flooding.
Thing #2 was living the good life (as much as COVID permitted) with his small group of rowdy friends. If he wanted to stay, which seemed likely, I felt we owed it to him to try and make it work — particularly since it was my health issues that uprooted us from Costa Rica and forced everyone to start anew.
My handwringing turned out to be for naught. No one wanted another move to yet another rent house. Everyone wanted to return to Pura Vida.
There was now quite a bit of work to do. Moving 7,000+ kilometers is never easy. Doing so in times of COVID made every interaction include the word “maybe” and the phrase, “…we used to.”
It was also clear that the work would fall to me. Bride #1 was focused on finishing her degree. To do so she needed to finish her thesis, but the guidance she received on that front reminded me of an interaction with a Magic 8 Ball. Thing #1 would require surgery to remove his hands from his computer and the video games therein, so heavy lifting on his part was out. And Thing #2? Well, he managed to lose parts to his saxophone in his own, filthy room.
First up in terms of priority was school. We already knew that the Quaker school the boys had attended in Costa Rica was closed to new admissions (they more than maxed-out taking on students from the other private school in town which folded early-on in the pandemic). We pleaded for special consideration as our knuckleheads were returning, not new, students, and were told that the school’s oversight committee would get back to us. The Quaker voting process prefers/requires a unanimous verdict. Achieving that level of consensus, even for an easy decision, is a process comparable to that of a glacier (the formation of, not the melting bit).
Our request was far from easy for an overcrowded school dealing with COVID. As a back-up, I talked with a nice lady who provides tutoring services on the mountain. That path would likely involve some amount of home-schooling, which I dreaded, but, then again, Thing #2’s social studies teacher in Canada had just told the class that 911 was an inside job. Perhaps any solution was a step up. We would make it work.
Next on deck was the physical move of our bodies, and our possessions. It was here that COVID really leaned in. Many airlines, including Air Canada, had simply cancelled all flights to Central and South America. Further, the ferry that could take us to Seattle where at least one airline was still sending flights to Costa Rica was … shutdown until further notice. Best yet, every airline we could access had taken this opportunity to stop offering pet transport services. It was a mess — both hot, and spicy.
While I wrestled with the transport of our bodies, I openly debated the wisdom of attempting to move our household goods back to Costa Rica. A decent amount of furniture had been left back in Costa Rica for the renters (I did not know at this point that the renters had ritually sacrificed most of our pots and pans in a bonfire). We could, I proposed, sell everything in Canada and just start over. No packing. No expensive transport. There was really no need to yet again move a dozen boxes of Christmas decorations and, ahem, an equal amount of my tools. It made sense. It made life easy.
My idea went over as well as a pitch meeting for a Star Wars movie that doesn’t end with the destruction of a Death Star.
This was early days in what has become known as the global shipping and supply chain crisis, but I quickly found that the only firm still operating was the same one we had originally used when we first moved to Costa Rica. That firm had left me sitting in front of a storage facility in Houston with a pile of boxes and a team of movers charging by the minute — and no truck or container in which to load all of it.
The one good thing about not having options is that it speeds up the decision process. I hashed things out with the shipping firm, took a deep breath, and then took the plunge to have our small hill of boxes (which I would pack) loaded up at the end of July and placed in a shipping container. Before I inked the agreement, I again asked my family if we could not consider an auction, or perhaps what is known in the restaurant business as a “fortuitous fire.” The answer was still no.
Back on the airline front, Bride #1 decided to add a stop in Chicago to see her good friends and their offspring, and to take advantage of the ability to get a second dose of the vaccine for Things #1 and #2. These tickets, which involved no dog, were relatively easy to procure. My ticket, which had to include our beloved mutt, Wilson, existed as an aspirational goal with no basis in reality.
Desperate, I tried to find passage on a ship, only to find that Victoria to Costa Rica isn’t exactly a popular route and, well, no one wants a dog aboard a ship for a month for obvious reasons. Refusing to drop the boat idea, I tried to find someone with a sailboat who I could hire for the journey. That too was a dead end for the same two reasons “Big Boat” wasn’t interested– poo and pee–and the fact that the first expanse of water we would have to cross is affectionately known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”
I briefly dallied with the notion of a private plane but quickly discovered that it would be far cheaper for me to go to flight school and buy my own used plane. Eventually, I stumbled across a very nice man who helps people transport pets all over the world. He was familiar with my challenges and suggested an option I had not considered: flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt, and then, after a lengthy layover, arriving in Costa Rica a few days later. Was it cheap? No. Was it easy? Heck no. Did I have any other options (besides staying in Canada forever)? Not yet.
I tried to convey the difficulties to Bride #1, but she was now neck-deep in a rewrite of what she had thought was her completed thesis. I continued to pester the Quaker school in Costa Rica but found that their deliberations continued. Stress became my friend, or at least my constant companion.
The shipping of our household goods, which I thought had been squared away, went awry when the Port of Vancouver decided to combat the shipping/supply chain crisis by focusing solely on vessels involved with routes to China and Europe. The ship originally identified as the one that would take our goods was no longer available. Another was found, but it too was rerouted. I was just about to give notice with our landlord in Victoria, but it now looked like I (our dog and our stuff) might be trapped in Canada for an extended period. To add insult to injury, storage facilities in Victoria were maxed out so if I did have to vacate our rent house because of further delays there was no telling where all of this precious stuff would go.
Refusing to leave a stone unturned, I explored the very expensive option of having our goods shipped by rail to Montreal. The east coast, for whatever reason, was not suffering to the same degree as the west, and container ships were available. Only hours from executing this plan the option disappeared when cross-country rail service in Canada was indefinitely suspended due to wildfires.
About at the end of my rope, we received a double dose of goods news. First, the Quaker school found room for our boys. It goes without saying, though I’ll say it here, that we were all thrilled and thankful that our boys had been welcomed back. No one was happier than me. I’d awakened several times in a cold sweat from nightmares involving home schooling over the prior few months.
The second bit of good news was that Air Mexico announced a route that would go from Vancouver to San Jose, Costa Rica with only a short layover in Mexico City. This option was cheaper, Wilson the dog was welcome as cargo, and, best yet, I wouldn’t have to fly to Europe to go from Canada to Costa Rica.
All of this good news was soon followed by the fact that a ship had at last been identified. This was to be the last ship to leave the Port of Vancouver and head to Central America for the foreseeable future. Our goods could be loaded towards the end of July and, with any luck, would arrive at our home in Costa Rica around six weeks later. With all this news in hand, I gave formal notice to our landlord and began the long process of packing.