David and Lili's World Tour

COSTA RICA

June 2007 - Arenal, San José, Montezuma, and Manzanillo

We walked two kilometers with our packs to cross the border from Nicaragua (Costa Rica has numerous control points to monitor the heavy truck traffic). There isn't a public shuttle for tourists because the vast majority arrive on airplanes from the USA (and to a lesser degree, Europe), and the relative few who enter from Nicaragua or Panama generally hire a private tour company, or take an international bus. This is my third time in Costa Rica, and I came across this same border all three times. The first time I rode my bicycle, which was a breeze. The second time I took a bus from Managua, also easy. This time, we walked. Then we sat under a tree for about an hour to wait for a bus.

The Arenal volcano was erupting the day we arrived, so we headed into the mountains to see. At one point we took a taxi, and when the driver flipped on the radio, I was surprised to hear the announcer speaking in English. He charged us in US dollars, not colones. Many street signs were in English, too. All those tourists have brought English, fast food, and dollars.

Things are different compared to the rest of Central America. 25% of the terrain is under protection as a park or biological reserve, making Costa Rica an especially beautiful place. Costa Rica has a relatively good economy, and many things are convenient and safe. I highly recommend it to nature lovers who have money and like to hang out with Americans while on holiday.

Things are almost twice as expensive as Nicaragua. We usually stay in cheaper backpacker's hostels with shared bathrooms, and we eat vegetarian food, but it is still easy to spend USD $30 per day. Gringos who don't pay attention (or don't care) spend much more. Some Gringos go with all-inclusive package tours that cost over USD $900 per day!

We visited one beach on the Pacific (Monetzuma) and one on the Caribbean (Manzanillo). I had been to them both before so I knew they were nice. Plus, more remote equals less touristy.

One Tico (as the locals call themselves) said, "Gringos own everything." Another said, "We don't have oil or gas. Costa Rica is a tourist country. Gringos are our natural resource." A guy who thought I was Brazilian went on a long anti-Gringo rant; when I told him I was American, at first he didn't believe me, but when he saw that it was true, he cried. I think he learned to be less anti-Gringo and more anti-Bush & co.

Ticos are well educated, and rightfully proud of their little country. This can be seen everywhere in the freshly-painted houses and the well-kept gardens. The capital city, San José, is the safest, cleanest and most cosmopolitan in Central America. They have free health care, too. Ticos credit Pepe Figueres for being a world leader in nature conservation, eco-tourism, and good government. In 1949, Pepe abolished the military, choosing instead to spend all that money on schools, public health, and other infrastructure, including the preservation of natural resources. I happened to be in San José when Pepe died in 1990. The whole country came to a halt and there was a massive and tearful crowd gathered for his funeral procession. May we all benefit from wise leaders such as Pepe Figueres!

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