|Book Review: Costa Rica
||[Apr. 3rd, 2017|11:04 pm]
What I already knew about Costa Rica: It's a Central American country with a lot of US expatriates. (Therefore I am wondering if it would be a good alternative to where I live now if things go badly around here.) One of the Zoology professors I used to type for took students there every summer to do biology research. And ACC's Spanish III study-abroad class is held there. They have preserved a lot of their land and have a surprising amount of biodiversity.
I actually read two books with the same title.
1) Raum, Elizabeth. Costa Rica (Countries Around the World) (2012) - This is a children's book from that series that's not my favorite.
Ancient people created perfectly spherical stone balls, some as small as golf balls and some over 16 tons, probably between 600 and 1500 C.E.
Columbus arrived in 1502, saw natives wearing gold jewelry and assumed he had found a source of gold but was wrong. They had traded colorful feathers for it from Mexicans. Of course European disease killed many. And Native Americans now make up only 1% of the population, though there are also mestizos.
Brief historical outline:
1821 - Spain granted independence; it was run by dictators
1840s - Coffee becomes cash crop
1889 - Became a democracy
1948 - Ex-president who lost starts civil war and loses. New Constitution created and army abolished.
1980s - Nicaragua civil war spills over into Costa Rica; Costa Rican develops a peace plan and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.
2007 - President pledged that by 2021, Costa Rica would be carbon neutral, using only renewable energy like water, wind, solar, and geothermal energy. By 2010, 99.2% is renewable.
Costa Rica is located between Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south with borders on both east and west coasts. It is thought that this area started as volcanic islands that eventually formed a land bridge between the Americas. There are two mountain ranges approximately parallel to the coasts and most Ticos (Costa Ricans) live in the valley between them, which has great weather. Some volcanoes are still active and there are earthquakes.
It's a bird-watcher's paradise. And has 18% of all butterfly species. There's a protected jaguar corridor. "Farmers have learned to make room for the big cats. ... Although jaguars sometimes eat livestock, they leave people alone." There are anteaters, iguanas, monkeys, peccaries (wild boar), and sloths. In the ocean are manatees, humpback whales, turtles. There are also poison dart frogs, crocodiles, boa constrictors and poisonous snakes.
Tourism is Costa Rica's largest industry. Ecotourists visit rain forests, cloud forests, volcanoes, and beaches.
"Costa Rican's are very polite. They greet one another with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek."
Electric power, telephone service, clean drinking water and health care are available "almost everywhere despite the difficulties in remote, mountainous areas." "The World Health Organization ranks Costa Rica's health care system 36 out of 190 nations." And the literacy rate is 96%; English and computer literacy has been required in public schools since 1994.
Ox-carts, first used to transport coffee beans, are a national symbol. There is an Ox-cart Museum, and brightly painted ones are often seen in holiday parades.
Of course they are into soccer, even in the smallest villages. And they watch as much TV as in the US.
They eat a lot of beans and rice, either plain or with fish, meat (especially roast pork), or eggs. They rarely eat dairy but eat lots of tropical fruits (like papaya, mango, pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe). The national dish is gallo pinto (lit. spotted rooster). (Fry up some onion and bell pepper, add beans, then cooked rice, then add Worcester sauce, Tabasco sauce (optional), and chopped cilantro; serve with salsa). In the picture, it's served molded into a pretty shape next to tortillas.
2) Miranda, Carolina A. and Paige R. Penland. Costa Rica (Lonely Planet) (2004) - This is a tour guide. I read only the first and last sections and a bit of the San Jose section. There is so much more detail on the history, geography, and, of course, tourism than the other book.
Tourism is mainly eco-tourism and adventure tourism (hiking, mountain biking, diving, rafting and kayaking, and waterfall rappeling). Even driving: "It is a badge of honor for travelers to boast about the disastrous roads they've survived in Costa Rica." And so they have a section labeled "worst roads."
Costa Rica was a backwater colony for Spain; in 1821, Guatemala declared independence for all of Central America. In 1823, it joined the Central American Federation; in 1824, "Guanacaste-Nicoya was voluntarily annexed from Nicaragua." Interestingly, in 1855, "an American renegade military adventurer [named Walker] ...arrived in Nicaragua ... to conquer Central America and convert the area into slaving territory and then use the slaves to build a canal through Nicaragua to join the Atlantic and Pacific. He defeated the Nicaraguans and marched south, entering Costa Rica more or less unopposed. ... Then, as now, Costa Rica had no army, so Mora [the president] organized 9000 civilians to gather their arms and head off Walker in February of 1856." They won, chased Walker back to Nicaragua, and set fire to a wooden fort where he had taken refuge. He survived to make "several other unsuccessful invasion attempts before facing a Honduran firing squad in 1860. In the meantime, President Mora's cronyism and a burgeoning cholera epidemic (that he and his men reportedly brought back with them) would become his undoing. He was deposed in 1859, led a failed coup in 1860 and was executed in the same year as Walker."
And, about that democracy. "Democracy has been a steady (if sometimes tenuous) hallmark of Costa Rican politics ever since . One lapse occurred in 1917 when Minister of War Federico Tinoco overthrew the democratically elected president and formed a dictatorship. Resistance from his own people and the US government soon put an end to his regime. ...
"In 1948, Calderón again ran for the presidency, but was beaten by Otilio Ulate. However, unwilling to concede defeat, Calderón fraudulently claimed victory, claiming that some of the ballots had been destroyed. The tense situation escalated into civil war, with opposing forces led by ... Ferrer [who] led an interim government for 18 months, and in 1949 handed the presidency over to Ulate."
About that Peace Prize: One president let the Contras and CIA use the country as a military base, but the next "overturned this decision on the grounds that it violated Costa Rican neutrality and his subsequent work on framing the accords that ended the war in Nicaragua and instability in other parts of the region would earn him a Nobel Peace Prize."
When I first read about Costa Rica not having a military, I thought that was strange since they border Nicaragua. Then I finally realized that their military was more likely to overthrow their democratically elected government than to protect them from foreign invaders, so they feel safer without it.
In the section on culture, it says Ticos are proud that they are not illiterate, not poor, take care of their land, and are peaceful. "Ticos will avoid conflict at all costs, no matter how trifling the topic. People will say 'yes' even if they mean 'no,' and 'maybe' often replaces 'I don't know.' ... Tough negotiating is not a strong suit." Conversations start with small talk, and "Bullying and yelling will get you nowhere." "Disputes tend to be settled amicably through careful negotiation and compromise, rather than a winner-takes-all mentality. Ticos do not respond well to boastfulness or arrogance."
There is poverty (23%), but "By the early 1990s more than 93% of all dwellings had running water and a little under one-third were connected to a sewer system." Yet life expectancy exceeds that in the US. Federal law makes spouses "legally responsible for supporting each other, their children and immediate family members requiring assistance (e.g. a disabled sibling)."
On wildlife: "Nowhere else in the world are so many types of habitats squeezed into such a tiny area."
On food: There really is a lot of beans and rice. For breakfast it is served with eggs, cheese, or sour cream. For lunch and dinner it is usually served with meat, cabbage salad, and some more carbs such as potatoes, pasta, or plantains.
And I'll end with (most of) my favorite paragraph in the book about something that's not good for people like Robin and me who are supremely talented at getting lost. "Though some larger cities have streets that have been dutifully named, signage is rare and finding a Tico who knows what street they are standing on is even rarer. Everybody uses landmarks when providing directions; an address may be given as 200m south and 150m east of a church. (A city block is cien metros--literally 100m--so '250 metros al sur' means 2 1/2 blocks south, regardless of the distance.) Churches, parks, office buildings, fast-food joints and car dealerships are the most common landmarks used--but these are often meaningless to the foreign traveler who will have no idea where the Subaru dealership is to begin with. Better yet, Ticos frequently refer to landmarks that no longer exist [such as the site of an old fig tree]."