In Costa Rica if someone asks you how you are doing the correct answer is “Pura Vida” – great life, or GREAT! And really it just takes a ride down to the beach or through the mountains to understand this mentality. Despite its economic poverty, this country is very rich in beauty and life.
Costa Rica is BEAUTIFUL.
You cannot talk about Costa Rica without beginning with the natural beauty. Mountains roll down to the coast as you drive from San Jose to the southwest, lush green mountains probably filled with monkeys and sloths. The highways ribbon their way down towards probably one of the most spectacular coastline in all of Central America. I mean there has to be a reason the region is called Rich Coast, no? We passed many beaches that cater to both the international tourists and backpackers with wide-open green spaces between settlements. The little houses are typical Latin American-style homes, that is cement with metal laminate or ceramic tile roofs, but all very clean. There were even large hacienda style homes set on large pieces of land with the lonely cow or horse. It’s what I didn’t see that surprised me as we drove through towns and the countryside, broken glass shards.
I did not see fancy haciendas behind high cement block walls with barbed wire atop. I did not see little houses behind concrete with glass shards embedded in cement protruding out of the top. I did not see wild packs of dogs ready to chew you in half guarding the gates of driveways. Even in the barrios where we are working people had some sort of tiny yard with out glass shard fences. Sure people had wrought iron gates that locked either on their fences or on the front patio, but it was the lack of intense need of security here in Costa Rica that is most striking; a stark contrast to its Central American neighbors. The absence of glass shards is telling. While there is great poverty here, there is also the presence of a fairly stable economy built on eco-tourism.
This stability is due to the absence of a national guard/army, since 1960. Leadership in Costa Rica made an extremely important decision in the middle of the twentieth-century when it disbanded its military. As other countries in Central America fell to great violence throughout the century, Costa Rica enjoyed a great deal of stability. The key was not having a military that could be used by a dictator against its own citizenry. This blessing has enabled Costa Rica to develop economically, socially and politically into one of the most stable Latin American countries.
Sometimes absences can be a good sign. However, I did also notice that there are almost no street signs, which is just confusing and no house numbers. I suppose it wouldn’t be a Latin American country if there were not some type of non-functioning system. How do people get their mail? How do people give directions? I asked Alvaro, our driver for FIMRC, and he said you tell a taxi driver the name of a church nearby, or a bar, or a drunk guy or a dog and that’s how you get to where you want to go. Wow.
No matter this slight bit of disorganization it would seem that Costa Rica offers a great life. The absence of dangerous violence and an over abundance of natural beauty is all you need for a Pura Vida!