Triplog: Costa Rica (Part 3)

Yeah, I know the trip was in December and I’m posting the final penultimate update in April. Next maybe I’ll finally write about my trip to France in May…of 2006. Family is welcomed to comment with any CR details I’ve forgotten in the interim.

When last we spoke, we had concluded our time in Guanacasta and taken a treacherous(-ish) mountain journey to La Fortuna, around Lake Arenal, which looks (from afar, through the fog) sort of like this:

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Triplog: Costa Rica (Part 2)

I am writing now from La Fortuna, several hours inland by car from our previous location on the western coast. To get here, we traveled over major (paved, two-lane) highways and smaller (packed dirt, one- and two-lane) roads. We frequently had to cross what one local called “oh my God” bridges: narrow, single-lane water crossings with no side rails. Traffic lights are very rare, “stop,” “caution,” and “yield” signs are frequent.

In Guanacasta we did our first major tourist thing, which was a package that the tour company called the “Mega Combo.” After a two hour drive to Rincon de la Vieja we took a treacherous trail on horseback down to a secluded hot spring. One of our number found the experience a bit too exciting and left his horse behind. He quickly discovered that the journey on foot was far more treacherous and had to meet up with a tractor along the way.

The forest and the springs were beautiful, although I chose to forego the mud bath. After an hour, though, we were ready to move on to the next mega destination, a quarter-mile long water slide. Which was a blast. Everyone went twice.

Next up, ziplining. There were eleven platforms suspended in trees high above the floor with great views of the forest canopy. We saw a few monkeys, but not much else, unfortunately. We were each outfitted with a climbing harness, rope and pulley, and a safety rope. At each platform a guide would attach our safety rope to a secondary airplane cable and then we would do a pull-up so that the could hook us to our pulley on the primary cable. One hand rests on the line attached to the harness, one on the zip line behind the pulley. Cross your legs, lean back, and use your back hand (with a thick leather glove) to slow your descent. Very fun, great views, and easy to do. Despite what the picture implies, we were actually quite high off the ground.

Ziplining really is a blast, and with any luck we might do a bit more of it before this trip is done. And that wraps up the “Mega Combo.” It was super typical! (As they say on the signs for their markets here).

Tuesday was an in day at the hotel: pool, kayaks, cooking class, and the like. In the evening we rented a car and headed down to Playa Grande to sit around for several hours waiting for wormsign turtles.

The huge leatherback turtles (measuring 1-1.5m in length) return to the beaches on which they were hatched in order to lay their eggs. In the early 90s a thousand turtles a year would come to Playa Grande to make their nests, now that number is far lower. We were not allowed to bring lights, cameras, or cell phones and had to keep quiet. When a turtle was spotted we were led to the beach and allowed to stand within half a meter of the huge mother turtle as she slowly dug her nest with her back legs and then dropped over sixty eggs into it, before burying them in the sand. We were not allowed to stay to watch the turtle return to the water (nor were we allowed to take any pictures, and I almost got a “ticket” for bringing my camera along). Still, it was a pretty neat experience. I can only hope when I bring *my* children to Costa Rica some day there will still be turtles left to visit.

Next time: Germans! Rafting! Volcanoes! Mosquitos!

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Triplog: Costa Rica (Part 1)

Although this is the dry season in Guanacaste province, which is in the north of the country, we were delayed getting from Liberia airport to our hotel due to recent flooding that had damaged a bridge. While enjoying daredevil driving, I had a chance to acclimate from the snowstorm I had just left in Boston to the hot and humid Central American weather.

The primary artery from the airport to the coast is a two lane road. Much of the country is like this, with critical infrastructure in need of repair and major transportation arteries seriously undersized. While Costa Rica, a highly progressive and environmentally-friendly nation, hopes to become carbon-neutral within the next 20 years, problems of infrastructure threaten to hamper those goals. Idling cars do not make reducing emissions any easier.

That said, Costa Rica’s energy generation is nearly 99% renewable, with a substantial majority of it coming from hydroelectric and geothermal sources — dams and volcanoes, to put it simply. Now, dams aren’t always entirely environmentally friendly, but geothermal energy has a pretty good track record, and CR even exports electricity to Panama and other neighboring countries.

Speaking of neighbors, we learned that the country has a bit of an immigration problem. Nicaraguan laborers from the north come to CR en masse during harvest season. Nicaraguan mango pickers work long days in the groves, looking up into trees and using a blade and basket assembly on a pole to pick ripe mangoes and pack them into crates. One basket usually holds 30-40 mangoes (depending on size) and they are paid about 200 colones (40 cents) per basket.

Mirroring the American immigration problem, dueling forcers are at work: the need for cheap, abundant labor to perform jobs that the general population is not willing or able to perform for the wages offered, and concern about rising crime and the cost of social services, both problems that can be pinned, justified or not, on the migrant community. There are differences, though. For one, Ticos and Nicas share a language and similar cultural traditions. Less than a quarter century ago Nicaragua was a more prosperous land than its neighbor to the South, but years of war and internal strife led Nicaragua to its present economic situation.

When we asked a guide about his feelings on the immigration wave, he said that while others may think badly of he Nicaraguan community, he is a supporter of their plight, has Nicaraguan friends, and has a Nicaraguan flag hanging in his house. So far we have not encountered any Nicaraguan xenophobes, but then we haven’t exactly been looking.

All around our hotel are condominium units built or under construction for rich American (and sometimes European) ex-pats. The top industry in Costa Rica is tourism, bringing in $1.7 billion annually and making the nation the most visited in the region. Next up is high technology, thanks to a concerted push in the last decade to bring in outside technology investment through major tax incentives. Intel is here, and a tour guide told us with evident pride that it was Costa Rican scientists who developed and a Costa Rican fab that is producing Intel’s newest Penryn processor. Fitting, as the Penryn uses a new low-power, high-performance design.

The third major industry in CR is agriculture. Fruit, cattle, and sugarcane are major crops.

I’ve run out of internet time (frittered away fact checking!), so next time I’ll talk bout our first adventure tour (the “Mega Combo” package!) and post some pictures. Until then.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3