Thursday, August 16, 2012

Costa Rica

Spent a couple weeks off in Costa Rica with the family. We got off the plane and the girls were asking where the monkeys were. Then the car rental place wouldn't take my debit card as a payment. They needed a traditional credit card. They got us a taxi to take us into San Jose and the girl from the agency, feeling bad and worried for us vulnerable gringos, came out and chatted with us while we waited on the curb. Then the taxi driver knew someone who did accept debit cards, so we changed plans and drove around the back of the airport into Carlos Leiva's driveway. He hooked us up with an SUV and a GPS at a fraction of the cost. When in Costa Rica, go with the flow, the locals will take care of you. Thank God for the GPS, as it would have been impossible to find our way without it. Also, the roads are a mess. I questioned the need for a 4x4, but by the second day, on our way out to the Pacific coast, I was no longer a doubter.  Potholes that could swallow a truck and rutted bedrock were the norm.
Five days playing in the waves playing surfer bum with my son. Read Kook by Peter Heller which the house we were renting had on the bookshelf. And then up into the mountains. In the more heavily frequented highlands, you pay to go anywhere. Also, the tourists were all wearing the same bug proof Sierra Club pants my wife insisted we buy at EMS to prevent us catching dengue fever. Apparently they all read the same blog post. Waste of time as there were no bugs. I told you so. You could get away with jeans and a can of bug spray. 
The best thing we did as a family was the horseback tour where you go up into the mountain tracks and see how the people really live. Costa Rica is essentially a country of small-holdings. The Spanish did not follow the normal pattern of enslaving the locals for their labor, instead becoming farmers and actually settling the interior. Consequently today the country seems to actually be a Latin variant of the Jeffersonian ideal, and indeed the ethic of responsibility and ownership could be seen everywhere, from the recycling being done extensively down to the smallest villages, to the informed conversations you could have with all sorts of people about topics as varied and difficult as global warming and government corruption. 
On the last day we stayed in Alajuela, near the airport, and wandered into the museum dedicated to the town's hero, Juan Santamaria, who died battling the southern American mercenary William Walker.  Walker intended to take over Central America and make it a slave state. Given that Costa Rica has no military, it makes it even more poignant that they should honor the heroism of such a man, whom most of us have never heard of.