After 11 months knocking about rural Costa Rica waiting for COVID restrictions to ease, Niagara-on-the-Lake native Tristan Ibbotson is back in town, once again working a few restaurant shifts at the historic town golf club.
Ibbotson left Niagara in late 2019 to help his father Simon and now stepmother Joanne refurbish and open a small four-bedroom inn and restaurant the couple had purchased just a few weeks before.
(The story of Toucan Lane Inn appeared in the May 21, 2020, edition of The Lake Report.)
It was not unusual for Ibbotson to get out of town when the Niagara golf club closed for the winter. For some years he would grab a backpack and wander the beaches of Central America until the time came to return to town in the spring for the club opening.
This past winter was different in so many ways.
In addition to helping the new hosts open their new business, Ibbotson was a groomsman for their wedding last New Year’s Eve.
A few hyperactive weeks of painting and fixing and planning later, the property reopened — only to be closed almost as quickly by the rapidly spreading pandemic.
“In March, we shut right down” says Ibbotson, sitting at the golf club, just before his dinner shift. “Everything closed at that point. There was not a restaurant, no bar, nothing. Nothing was open except for grocery stores.”
Costa Rica was able to steer clear of the first wave, experiencing only 50 or so cases a day, according to Ibbotson.
It reopened the borders to international visitors in August. “Then it went to 400, 500, 600 to over a 1,000 a day, by the time I was able to leave.”
Ibbotson tried several times to get home to Niagara. One of the repatriation flights in June was completely booked and cost $8,000 one-way.
He just couldn’t get home. And by then, Ontario protocols made it unclear if he would have a job to return to, anyway.
So, he hunkered down, and helped the new hoteliers complete refurbishing projects that hadn’t been scheduled for months or even years.
“We took the opportunity to continue the renovations. They had planned to do them over five years or so. But COVID gave them the opportunity to move very quickly,” Ibbotson says.
“We started ripping things out. Redid the bedrooms and put in new bathrooms. And there were lots of days that I just sat by the pool reading and having a beer. But even that gets boring after a while.”
The property is still not open fully, offering a few rooms to wandering tourists and keeping the restaurant closed.
All in all, he’s happy to be home reuniting with his friends and relatives. Still, he can’t help but wonder if he’s not just doing the same things here, as he would be in Costa Rica.
Except it is colder here.
As for what he’ll do this winter, he simply shrugs and says: “We’ll just wait and see, I guess.”