Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Costa Rica: an overview
.01% of the world's land area, but contains 5% of its bio-diversity, with 840 identified species of birds. To protect this heritage, the government has set aside 25% of the nation's landmass either as a national park or a protected area, the highest percentage in the world. By contrast, the developing world averages 13% and the developed world is at 8%. The US stands at 14%. By 2005, Costa Rica reduced its rate of deforestation from one of the worst in the world to nearly zero. Ecotourism now brings in more money than the combined revenue of the top three export crops of bananas, coffee and pineapples. In the Global Green Economy Index, Costa Rica is ranked top in the world. Presently, 93% of the nation's energy comes from renewable sources, with a goal of 100% carbon-free by 2021. San José, has the 4th cleanest air of any city in Latin America, in spite of the fact that over 1 million people live or work there.
Panamá and Guatemala, as well as southern Mexico and Yucatan. Seen above is the luxury bus we used to travel through Costa Rica. The seats were large and comfortable, the windows were huge, and there was an on-board bathroom. Caravan's tour directors always ensure that there are plenty of bottles of water on board, and that the seating is rotated on a daily basis so nobody gets to hog the "good" spots. In the photo's background is the Hotel Barcelo San José Palacio, where we stayed on our first night in the country. The 5-star facility has a lovely location, but we wished it was closer to downtown so we could have walked around and gotten a sense of the city. Like every large city, Costa Rica does have some bad neighborhoods, with crime and possibility of robberies, but we sometimes thought Caravan went a bit overboard in isolating us from potential problems.
"pura vida!" (pronounced poo-rah vee-dah). This is the ubiquitous, all purpose expression in Costa Rica. The literal translation is "pure life", but it means much more than that. The expression is used in dozens of different contexts. For example, it can mean "enjoy life", "all's good", "hello", "goodby", "thank you", "that's life", etc.
The busy city of San José
A templo was begun in 1825, and completed in 1827. Finally, in 1850, the templo achieved the status of Cathedral when Bishop Anselmo Loriente y la Fuente became Costa Rica's first bishop.
Parque Central and the Cathedral. Once again, we regretted that Caravan did not include a visit to any of these. I would have especially liked to visit the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) which has many pre-hispanic gold artifacts. The discovery of these kinds of trinkets among the native population living along Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast gave the country its name: "Rich Coast". Click here for a map of this area of San José
Juan Mora Fernandez, was a merchant, teacher, and politician. After becoming temporary president in 1824, he was elected to a full term in 1825 and was elected twice more, finishing his service in 1829. Mora Fernandez not only guided the new nation through its critical first years, but established Costa Rica's first printing plant and newspaper, making him the "Father of Costa Rican Journalism". He encouraged the exportation of brazilwood and coffee, which transformed the agricultural economy, and pushed for mining in Montes del Aguacate. Following his term as president, he became a judge, member of the constituent assembly, and delegate to the Central American Federation.
"horror, crime, and violence...scene of a dark chapter of human rights violations." The prison was originally established in 1899 and finally converted into the Children's Museum in 1979, after a period of disuse and decay. It was the brainchild of a former First Lady of Costa Rica, Señora Gloria Bejarano de Calderón. The museum contains 40 rooms--formerly jail cells--for interactive exhibits. Almost 300,000 people visit every year. Unfortunately, we were not among the visitors, but could only view the building from our bus windows.
Since 1869, education has been free and compulsory. By contrast, the compulsory education movement in the US didn't start until the 1920s. Costa Rica's literacy rate is now over 94.9%, higher than the average for Latin America, making the country a mecca of foreign investment. Although Costa Ricans do not have the income levels of the US, Canada, or Europe, they are very well-off by the standards of Latin American or the rest of the developing world. This has resulted in a continuing problem of illegal immigration from much-poorer Nicaragua. In addition to their relatively high per capita income, Costa Ricans enjoy a high-quality system of free universal heath care. In fact, in terms of access, affordability, and outcomes, it is superior to that of the United States. Costa Rican life expectancy at birth is 79.3 years. By contrast life expectancy the US in 2012 was 78.8 years. The Nicoya Peninsula area on the northwest coast is one of the world's Blue Zones, i.e. an area where it is common to find people living active, energetic lives at ages in excess of 100 years. All this has created a boom in "medical tourism" by as many as 100,000 foreigners each year.
dive emblem indicate an outdoors orientation. This probably means the owner is an environmentalist, not a surprise in this ecologically-conscious nation. Almost 16,000 American expats live in Costa Rica as of 2011. This is the third largest US expat population in Latin America, behind only Mexico and Ecuador. The number of Americans in Costa Rica has jumped almost 60% from 2000, when it stood at about 9,500.
Architecture of the past
found the country very thinly populated. In a later posting, I will go into pre-hispanic Costa Rican history in some detail. Suffice it to say that most of the people lived in hamlets and small towns and were governed through a system of chieftaincies. Recently, a couple of ancient cities have been discovered. While these may eventually change our understanding of Costa Rica before the Conquest, nothing yet has been found on the scale of the great pre-hispanic cities of Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico. Costa Rica's ancient cultures seem to have resembled those of Panamá more than those of northern Central America and Mexico. Spaniards came to the New World for the wealth it would bring them. This was achieved either through the mining of precious metals or, later, by the establishment of great estates. Both of these avenues to wealth required large scale forced-labor, which Costa Rica's small native population was unable to provide. Disease and maltreatment of the native people exacerbated the problem. As a result, a system of small-scale agriculture developed in which the land was worked by the Spanish settlers themselves. This created an economic environment radically different from that of the rest of Latin America. In 1719, Costa Rica's governor described the area as "the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all of America." After all, if you couldn't get filthy rich and lord it over the natives, what was the point?
William Walker invaded Nicaragua with a group of American mercenaries (called "filibusterers"). He seized power and reinstated slavery, previously abolished during the Mexican War of Independence. When Walker invaded his next target, Costa Rica, the people rallied under President Rafael Mora Porras. The Costa Ricans drove the filibusterers back into Nicaragua, where they were defeated in the Battle of Rivas. Walker himself was captured by the government of Honduras and executed in 1860.
The dark side of San José
This completes Part 1 of my Costa Rica series. I hope you have enjoyed the photos and the commentary. If so, please leave your thoughts and any questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim