On Costa Rica

Thoughts   on   Costa   Rica

We went to a Jazz Cafee club and saw/heard Lebanese music with Belly Dancers. It was good. Cover charge was $8/pp  (Per Person)  Hmmm in Costa Rica and watching Lebanese belly dancers…That was an unexpected surprise.  Go figure.

The big and continual surprise was that Costa Rica was really expensive. In many situations goods and services were as much or more than in the US.  Our minds and budget were not prepared for that.  Costa Rica: a small developing country in Central America why does it cost as much as the states?  It shouldn’t. But it did.

Our first introduction to this happened when we went to the supermarket called Hipper Mart. It was more like a Walmart. Soon Jeong and I only bought food necessities to last us 3 or 4 days. Two small bags totalled USD $60.

Taking the local city bus was not too bad, but that was the only bargain; 50 Cents. We felt everything was over priced.  There was a city bus tour of San Jose. It was on a double decker bus with an open top. It was around 35 dollars ea. for a 3 hr tour. The catch was, San Jose is void of any major tourist attractions, nor is it a beautiful city. San Jose is just not that interesting.  I describe the city as a dry piece of toast: no big beautiful cathedrals, no archaeological sites, no wonderful cobbled stone streets lined with nice Spanish colonial buildings, no highly acclaimed museums or parks. It was just a city in Costa Rica. Yet they charge a rather stiff price to see it on the tour bus.

When we left San Jose we went to two of the recommended destinations in the northern part of the country: La Fortuna and Monteverde.  These are small towns that are close to scenic beauty of nature. … and that is what Costa Rica sells to the tourists: Nature.

(** A post note: I thought about this term Nature, After travelling in the highlands of Peru and in Uyuni of Bolivia, I need to say that Costa Rica sells Micro-Nature. Meaning the visually small things of nature: a bird, a monkey, dense jungle where visibility is a few meters, or the tiny point of a volcano 10 miles away.  The opposite would be Macro-Nature… grand vistas of a great valley, a full mountain range etc.)

The problem is that the scenic beauty of nature can not be guaranteed. Pay $17 dollars PP (Per Person) entrance fee into the Monteverde Reserve and, You will see much wildlife such as monkeys, rare birds, sloths, and maybe a jaguar, they say. That is if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see these elusive wild animals.  If not, you just get a nice walk in the jungle.  Or pay $45 PP dollars for a package tour to see spewing lava on the world’s second most active volcano: Volcano Arenal.  But hey..volcanoes are temperamental. Sometimes they spit lava and smoke,.. sometimes the don’t.  Again you are down to being at the volcano vista point at the right time with the right weather conditions. Along with the Volcano package tour we took there was a hot springs and buffet dinner included.  However, they do not tell you that the buffet is available only if there are enough customers to warrant preparing a buffet. On the day that we signed up for the package tour, we did not have good luck in either case: we saw no lava and no buffet.  By time we finished our Group menu, dinner, there were only 30 minutes to enjoy the hot springs. In short our $45 dollar package was not a good value at all.

Everyplace we went travel agents were selling, at a high price, things in nature that they could not guarantee.  Soon Jeong and I took an informal survey of the people we met on the tours. I asked everyone the same simply question: Considering the money you spent, and the things you received for that, do you think it was a good value? Just about everyone we asked said NO! It was not a good value.

Now I will admit that we only asked about 10 people. And we only did things in and around La Fortuna and Monteverde.  However, Anna, the Canadian woman we stayed with, said that she has found things to be quite expensive in Costa Rica…and she lives there.

In the states, Costa Rica is being sold as an exotic natural sort-of paradise.  Now that I have been there, I think its over sold.

Coast Rica has a unique distinction of having no army.  The money that is usually spent on defence is spent on social welfare. Thus, Costa Rica has a very good social security and social welfare system.

One other, not so well known distinction, that was a conscious decision, is that Costa Rica does not allow any planting of Robusta coffee.  There are over 60 types of coffee plants but only 2 commercially viable types; Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is of lower quality but the plant is more robust, hence the name. Arabica; the only type of coffee that is grown in Costa Rica, produces the finer grades of coffee. In 1989 the government officially banned all growing of Robusta coffee.  Costa Rica has established itself as a country that produces quality coffee rather than quantity.
Food: Casados, this is just everyday food… the typical dish of rice and beans with a few vegetables and/or a small salad. You can choose a Fish Casodos or Chicken Casados. It comes on one plate and its usually the best bargain for a meal.  And about the healthiest meal you can get also.

In Costa Rica EVERYTHING grows very easily.  I was talking to a Costa Rican woman who was a school teacher. She said that the national character of the Ticos, as Costa Rican people called themselves, is a bit on the laid-back side (she used the word Lazy).  The reason for this was because of the geography and soil. Because everything grows so well, people didnt really have to work all that hard to make a living off the land.  Plenty of vegetation to make shelters and items for daily use, and plenty of food growing too.  The best example of this growing easily condition was fences I saw.   If a farmer had animals that he wanted fenced in, all that was needed was to put stick in the ground. In a short time the sticks took root and grew into trees.   Except for urban areas, this was the preferred method of fencing.  The sticks were of one particular type of tree that I do not know. They cut a straight branch to about 6 feet in length and then stuck them into the ground a few inches apart. The sticks then grew into living trees that were so close together it would be impossible for anything bigger than a cat to slip through.  Ingenious and easy.

Women: We saw a lot of Costa Rican women with huge beer guts. The strange thing was they did not try to hide it… in fact, they wore tight T-shirts that exposed their belly. Yuck! I only mention this because it was so prominent. Soon Jeong made mention of it as well.

The other thing we saw, or more correctly, didn,t see a lot of ,was smiles.  Soon Jeong notices this first in each country we visit; friendly faces or not.  We are not indicating that one country is more or less friendly than another.  It just seems to be a cultural thing, some countries people smile a lot, others not so much.  Costa Rica is in the not so much group.

Final thoughts. Costa Rica is a beautiful country. However, in order to secure a stable and growing tourist industry, they need to find a way to guarantee delivery of their product. Without that, they do not deliver a good value.

In our opinon, there are other countires in Central America that have a better value these days.

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