March 5, 2005 [LINK]
Don't Cry For Me, Costa Rica
I finally made it back home to Staunton last night, taking the AMTRAK train from Manassas. There wasn't as much snow on the ground when I arrived as I had feared, but today it has been snowing since dawn. It is hard to imagine a starker contrast to Costa Rica. I should have stayed for another week... This photo montage shows some of the very distinct places Jacqueline and I visited. Clockwise, from the top left: La Paz Waterfalls, in the cloud forest east of Poas Volcano; downtown San Jose, from the Jade Museum atop the INS (National Insurance Institute) Building; a falen tree flower in Santa Rosa National Park; and the beach at Playa de Cacao, near the town of Golfito.
Overall, I would have to say that this was one of my best foreign trips ever, in terms of the scenery, wildlife, and the hospitality of the local people. I wish Jacqueline had had enough time to stay with me for the entire trip, but she might not have appreciated the rugged terrain and risky territory that I visited in Guanacaste (NW) and Nicaragua. From a tourist standpoint, the only way in which Costa Rica falls short compared to most other Latin American countries I've visited is the absence of significant archeological ruins. This reflects the fact that the Indians who lived here before Columbus were not as advanced as the Incas or the Mayas.
From an economic standpoint, Costa Rica's prospects are good as far as I can tell, but there are a few serious problems, some of which I've mentioned previously. The comparison I made on February 23 with Venezuela's precarious social order is apt, I think, but there is one big difference: Costa Rica has not had any armed forces since 1948, and is therefore free from the threat of a military coup. Among the "Tico" political leaders, I am unaware of any populist firebrands similar to Hugo Chavez. Thus, the country seems to be a safe haven for private investors. The fact that so many Americans have invested money here, and even moved here for their retirement, means that Costa Rica has a big vested interest in maintaining the favorable status quo. It would take a large-scale economic catastrophe (an earthquake, perhaps?) to cause a big enough shift in political currents for radical left-wing politicians to gain control.
One of the best things about traveling abroad is meeting interesting people and sharing experiences and opinions. I met a Swedish woman who voiced the mainstream European antipathy toward U.S. "militarism" and "arrogance." I politely explained the rationale behind U.S. policy in Iraq, but she really did not seem interested. Unfortunately (?), the United States is under-represented among the tourists who visit Costa Rica; the same applies to Latin America in general. I put that question mark there because there are just enough stereotypical "ugly American" boobs in Costa Rica to warrant some anti-(North) American sentiment. (NOTE: The word gringo usually applies to just about any person of European descent.) I also saw a few rude people from Europe and Canada, however, so bad behavior is by no means exclusive to the U.S.
I could go on and on about how much I'll miss Costa Rica, but that will become evident in all the text and photos I post about our trip over the next few days. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful people I met down there, above all, Karla Arias, the proprietor of Kap's Place, where Jacqueline and I stayed while we were in San Jose. It is a very nice, well-decorated, friendly, comfortable, and well-run establishment that I think is destined for Bigger Things in the future. One thing's for sure: I'll be back!