Our summary about Costa Rica

Janina’s summary

At the 2nd of November we headed north to Nicaragua. That means we left the first country we’ve visited on our 1-year voyage from Costa Rica to Canada. We’ve stayed in Costa Rica for 27 days which is just a little bit shorter than we had in mind originally. Why move on? Because Montezuma treated us to some heavy rainfalls and showed us what the rainy season really is. So the idea to go hiking and camping around the Nicoya peninsula pretty much drowned. In addition to that we don’t feel like visiting another national park with steep entrance fees. Costa Rica is pretty expensive in general and we started to feel a little uncomfortable with that.

We want to say goodbye to this beautiful country with this article that sums up our experiences and impressions.

First of all, we really started with a top-notch destination: Puerto Viejo. During low season it’s just perfect with only a few tourists and the opportunity to experience a lot of nature all around you. We just hope Costa Rica can manage to keep all it’s wild nature for a long time. At daytime you’d hear the sounds of the jungle all around you and everywhere you looked something living was moving like the lovely mimosa plant, geckos, cats and dogs that were pets or strays, feel-good-people, toucans and other birds, crabs, octopusses, squirrels, spiders – always spiders – and so much more.

What I won’t forget is the bus drive from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. That one moment when suddenly huge trees with giant leafs appeared everywhere along the road. It reminded me of Jurassic Parc and felt like entering another world entirely. You’d almost expect a dinosaur to stick it’s head through the leaves. In that moment I was fascinated that this kind of vegetation really existed and is even more impressive than any photo would lead you to believe. It continued all the way to Puerto Viejo and even though it really is some kind of party town it felt like being in garden Eden. Endless beaches that were almost deserted, palm trees with coconuts, banana trees full of fruits and so many animals living their lifes all around you while not minding your presence at all. It wasn’t like living in nature, it rather felt like living with it and being part of it. In Germany people are glads if they have a garden, in Costa Rica the most beautiful flowers and the overwhelming jungle grows everywhere around you.

Unlike the houses elsewhere in Costa Rica the homes in Puerto Viejo were wide open to their surroundings. You didn’t see a lot of fences but big terraces and people wouldn’t bother locking their houses or cars or hiding themselves. People looked you in the face and gave you a smile.

At first I had to learn to relax and to trust people. I’ve made many bad experiences in other countries with people being seemingly nice but really just wanting something from you. In Costa Rica we learned that people go up to you without expecting something. What also played a role in us enjoying that place was having some sort of home in the beginning by doing our first workaway job.

Of course there were also downsides for us like e.g. that nothing really is as clean as in Germany (I love Germany for that) or that just getting somewhere can really try your patience since the infrastructure isn’t too good.

What upset me were the hermetically closed-off houses with gates, fences and barred windows. I knew they have those in Panama everywhere and that was actually the main reason I was never interested in going there.

What I got to love is the incredible diversity in flora and fauna and the lovely animals like couatis, tapirs, armadillos etc. and the carribean coast and it’s endless carpet of green covering the mountains. Another endearing thing that we heard is that in Costa Rica practically anybody knows the names of all the different birds.

Martin’s summary

There’s nothing much I can add to what Janina wrote about the carribean coast of Costa Rica. Just like her I liked that part best and when I’ll think of that country in the future most memories will be of Puerto Viejo and around. What I’d like to add to this article are some more general impressions and observations.

Costa Rica translates to “rich coast” and Columbus set foot there in 1502. As described above you can still see a lot of that original beauty but what you can also see is the exploitation that was triggered more than 500 years ago. When you drive from San Jose to Limon on the carribean coast and you enter the lowlands you’ll notice that there is one banana or pineapple plantation after the other. Huge companies like Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte earn vast sums of money by selling those fruits all over the world. Also there’s the numerous coffee plantations in Costa Rica of course and artificially created grassland for cattle-raising. The cows raised there end up mostly in burgers of McDonalds, BurgerKing and the likes whose restaurants you can find everywhere in the bigger cities.

It is always said in the travel guides that the Ticos lead good lives and are pretty wealthy even when compared to the USA. We always wanted to have some explanation for that statement since we saw some sort of ghetto in San Jose with sheet-metal hovels and in all the places we’ve visited we also saw a lot of relatively humble homes. Food is pretty expensive and that’s why most people eat a lot of cheap rice and beans up to three times a day. The biggest and nicest houses were almost always owned by foreigners who had come to Costa Rica as far as we could tell. Also most of the bars, restaurants and hotels in and around Puerto Viejo were owned by foreigners, apart from small supermarkets and the sodas.

Of course there’s also Ticos making good money and Manu told us a rather depressing story about that. If you own land in Costa Rica you can earn money just by not building anything on it. A lot of other countries pay for that to make up for all the carbon dioxide they’re producing. Near Puerto Viejo there’s a reservation for the indigenous people of Costa Rica – the Kekoldi reservation. One weekend we planned to go there to learn something about the “real” Costa Rica and it’s history so we asked Manu about it. He said not to bother since there aren’t any indians living there at all. It’s all just a farce and the reservation was only created for political reasons and to earn money because nothing may be build there. The money paid by other industrial countries is supposed to go to the indians but it goes to the chief of the reservation instead who isn’t even an indian himself. Actually the land where Manu’s house stands today was once part of the reservation but a former president of Costa Rica and some others passed a law to swap it with some other land further up in the mountains. The reason being that land nearer to the coast was worth more and could be turned into real estate to make money. The indians didn’t really care since they’re living high up in the mountains anyway. Their traditional way of living has been corrupted too. There’s Colombians who pay them with rice and flour to plant and harvest Marihuana on their land.

I find all that quite depressing. One of the important things about our voyage is to me that we’re trying to find out what we really need to live. I’ve already found out that I don’t need TV or a gaming console to be happy but I’ve also realized that there’s almost no way to escape money and capitalism along with all it’s ugly hallmarks. Don’t get me wrong though – Costa Rica is just as beautiful and a wonderful place to visit or live in as Janina described it! The nature and wildlife and the friendly people made a huge impression on me too and I’m very glad that we decided to start our journey there. Also I don’t want to end this article on a depressing note so I’ll add some random observations and fun facts:

  • What’s with all the chinese people in Costa Rica? At least every second little supermarket and quite some restaurants are in chinese hands. We never found out why that is.
  • There’s really few people smoking in Costa Rica and smoking is prohibited almost everywhere.
  • When the Ticos overtake somebody on the road they honk their signal-horn and often the person honks in response then. They also do it when passing pedestrians or cyclists or when entering a tight curve with obstructed view. It seems to be an ingenious way of preventing accidents.
  • Ticos love platanos which are chips\crisps made of plantain. Martin loves them now too!
  • There’s radio towers everyhwere. Even small towns like Santa Elena have several of them and every bank seems to have it’s own on the roof.
  • To find a shower with hot water is a pretty rare occurrence in Costa Rica.
  • You see more guns around than you’re used to as a german. Every security guard carries one and every bank has at least one armed guard. When you enter a bank they search you for concealed weapons and you have to go through a metal detector, too.If you happen to witness the refilling of an ATM you feel like you’re in an action movie. There’s always three guys with bulletproof vests, handguns and shotguns rolling up in an armored car. Two of them look around nervously and with grave expressions on their faces having their fingers on the triggers of their guns while the third one refills the machine.
  • In the supermarket you can get the most things as in Germany but there’s also a few things more. You’ll always find a shelf with beans in every variation. Dried beans, fresh beans, refried beans, seasoned beans paste, black beans, red beans, white beans etc. Also there’s always plantain, yuca, fresh coconuts, tamarind, some sort of pumpkin and variants of sweet potatoes. Also you can eat chicken practically everywhere in Costa Rica.
  • Costa Rica is a pretty small country and covers an area about as big as Lower Saxony.
  • Power outages are not uncommon in Central America and we’ ve experienced quite a few of them already. It’ s always good to have a flashlight there.
  • As the only country worldwide Costa Rica doesn’t have any military forces.
  • There’s all kinds of churches and no two of them seem to belong to the same flavour of religion.
  • Dairy products are pretty expensive in Costa Rica and there’s not too much variety.