January 17th, we arrived in
Because the city is high it has great weather all year
round, in the 70s usually, maybe the 80s in the middle of the day, but maybe
not. In the winter—the northern winter—it is nearly always clear, warm and
pleasant here. You get up and go out; the sun is up; the air is crisp and the
day clear, and you think to yourself, without the slightest surprise: Oh,
another nice day. Well, you can say this about a lot of small islands in the
For most tourists the parts of
Costa Rica is an interesting Latin American country in political ways as well: it is the oldest democracy in Latin America; it has a 96% literacy rate; in 1948 it dissolved its military and hasn’t had one since; capital punishment is banned; voting is compulsory; it has universal health care for everyone; life expectancy is 76, the highest in the western hemisphere, and that includes the US of A; there is a large middle class—although your middle is somewhere down around your knees since Costa Rica has a per capita GNP of about U$3,000. All of this is almost enough to give socialism a good name. There are two political parties that occasionally, and peacefully, replace each other in power. From a less statistical point of view one can simply observe that although there are some homeless on the street, there are certainly relatively fewer than in New York City. There are few or no Mercedes. There are few or no upscale shops. People are nicely-dressed, even stylish in an inexpensive and Latin sort of way. I can cite, as one measure of disposable income, the huge, wide-legged, completely dysfunctional pants worn low on the hips by teen-age boys, and the large, clunky shoes worn by boys and girls alike.
We pile into a cab to
go into the city. There is a lot of traffic. Imagine the cars in a typical
As to the countryside, the last two times we were here we took a week or so and went north in a van with a driver, almost to Nicaragua, to a place on the Pacific coast called Tamarindo, named after its Tamarind trees. On the trip there we got to see a lot of the vivid scenery. Most frightening were the high mountain vistas and narrow roads with only a thin, ineffectual-looking, living hedge of very small trees separating the road from perhaps a 1000 foot deep abyss. The driver had a crucifix more less permanently mounted on the dashboard and he made the sign of the cross before putting the auto into gear—really! From the way he then proceeded to drive he had obviously just made his confession and as a consequence didn’t seem nearly as worried as we were.
After you get down from the mountains you come into lush, green forests with families of monkeys running in the trees, and large parrots flying around loose as though the door of a large pet store had been broken down by vandals and the animals set free.
The first time we came to Tamarindo, for reasons that escape me now, we stayed at a sort-of hotel named El Milagro (The Miracle). After first hearing, and then watching, two frighteningly large lizards copulating on the corrugated iron roof above our room, we then discovered a small but nasty looking scorpion sleeping with us in the bed. It certainly was a miracle that we stayed there the whole week. But we went back to Tamarindo again on our last trip and—having learned our lesson and loosened our purse—we stayed at a very nice Swiss-run resort hotel, the Captain Suizo, pushing right up there to about three stars. The ironic thing is that of the two trips we remember most vividly the first.
Another time when we were here in Costa Rica—I forget which—we
stayed across the street from the large complex that is the Universidad de Costa Rica, in an elegant
little boardinghouse that was run by one of the professors at the university (a
little side money). Fellow boarders seemed to be from everywhere in the
world. Tricia took a class in Spanish at
the university; I seem to have taken a class in bars, majoring in one of the
local liquors, which unsurprisingly I can no longer remember the name of. We
both learned considerable. One of the things I most remember of the university itself
is what I think of simply as, The Bug Museum. This place is a permanent exhibit
of the insects to be found in
This trip we don’t
plan to do very much, or to leave the city.
We’ll just stay a few days and then it will be on to our Latin American tour. We are staying at the Gran Hotel de Costa
While thinking of communications, and people not having phones in their homes, we notice once more that there are many internet “cafes”, around the city. People also don’t ordinarily have computers in their homes either. In three of these cafés that we visited to get our email, computers were crammed closely together in every nook and cranny of the place, and people were internetting away intently at nearly every machine. The charge is a dollar an hour most places. The café part of an internet cafe is minimal; at some you may have coffee and perhaps a sweet, at others, nothing. Mostly it is business-like, concentrated internet browsing and internet telephony which is a big thing south of the border where the government owns the phone system and through exorbitant pricing uses it as a cash cow.
Returning from the terrace of the Gran Hotel to the lobby, there is on the left a junior-variety casino with some blackjack tables and a small forest of electronic gaming machines. This establishment seems to operate 7/24s, and it is probably where most of the hotel’s money comes from. Passing through while going to breakfast at 7:30 one morning we noticed one blackjack table still in operation. It wasn’t clear whether these people were winding up the night or starting off the morning. The gallo pinto (GUY-o PEEN-toe, literally Painted Rooster), that is black beans and rice, that one of the patrons was eating from a plate on the green baize table didn’t resolve the question as this ubiquitous and hearty food—one of Tricia’s favorites—is eaten here in Costa Rica at breakfast or at any time of the day or night as a snack. The tuxedoed croupiers at the other tables stood at bored attention looking somewhat out of place as the sun flooded into what should ideally be a den illuminated only by artificial light.
Our room on the second floor of the hotel, like most of the rooms
we have occupied in hotels in Latin America and
After only a few days, having now become somewhat acclimated to Latin America, our basic Spanish beginning to come back slightly, and our tolerance for a different way of approaching life resuscitated, we fly on to Lima, Peru.
Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner