Yes, pura vida, literally “pure life,” is the ubiquitous motto heard in Costa Rica. I think it’s supposed to represent the idea of living a peaceful life, surrounded by natural beauty, good friends and family. Sounds good, right? Well, lately it seems like it might easily be translated as “sell your country out to greedy developers and rob the tourists blind.”
I gotta say, the country has changed in the fifteen years since I was first there. I’ve been there four times now. Although I’ve never seen all that much of the country, this last time I was struck by a couple of things. The first is that it’s becoming overrun by tourists, and the second is that it’s getting pretty damn expensive, which is not good for either low budget travelers, such as myself, or the locals. Wages have not come close to keeping pace with the rising cost of living.
Which leads inevitably to property theft, which in turn leads inevitably to the main reason for my discontent, namely, I got frickin’ robbed in Jacó! Not just robbed, but fleeced, in fact. I lost my laptop, which I was silly enough to bring along, my camera, passport, iPod, reading glasses, cell phone, books, etc. Yeah, so it was stupid to have all that in one bag, I admit. Still, that’s the only time in my semi-extensive travels that I’ve been so thoroughly jacked.
I won’t go into the gruesome details, because I don’t really want to relive them any more than I have to. Suffice to say, it was an unpleasant experience in the extreme, and I would still cheerfully bullwhip the parasitic douche bags responsible. But, every event is an opportunity to learn, right? From this I learned that all possessions are transitory, and the important things to remember are the good times from the trip; seeing my sister, playing in the surf with my niece munchkins, and drinking Guaro and Pilsens while playing Nintendo with my sister and brother-in-law that last night.
Still, it’s kinda sad to see such a lovely country go down the road to rampant over-development. I mean, I don’t think Costa Rica is really anything to write home about culturally. Give me Mexico or Bolivia any time. But, it’s hard to deny it’s a very beautiful place. It’s also had the good luck of having a fairly broad base, economically and politically, and avoiding the typical oligarchy/military dictatorship to support an export based economy that typifies other countries in Central America. Maybe that’s what provided the basis for the extreme tourism and hence development. It’s a stable social democracy, and therefor is able to attract the normally cautious or paranoid (American) traveler.
I met a Costa Rican guy on the plane home who told me that CR gets two million tourist every year, and the native population is only four million. Imagine 150 million tourists visiting the states every year, and the effect that might have. My impression is that rich developers in Costa Rica, coupled with an influx of baby boomer expat dollars has a lot to do with it. And, let’s face it, some people look at a beautiful wetlands bordering a pristine beach, and all they can see are hotels, luxury condos, and the local version of SeÃ±or Frog’s.
Now, the cost of living for normal folks is way up, and consequently so is property theft. Prices in San Jose seemed to be almost as high as Portland, but your average working stiff is still only making a few hundred bucks a month. Hard to reconcile those two things. I’ve never spent much time in San Jose, but it seemed to me there were more homeless folks this time around.
Walking down the street in San Jose my last night, I had an experience that left an image I won’t soon forget. As I walked down the sidewalk, a junkie scuttled out of a doorway, spoon in hand, and squatted in the gutter to scoop up a bit of greasy water. I passed him on the way to the bodega on the corner, and thought to myself “please tell me you’re not going to cook up your fix with that nasty shit.” Sure enough, on my way back there he was, patiently holding a butane lighter under that same spoon, a tiny little white rock in the middle of a pool of that same water.
Now, I don’t know if you can blame that on over-development and greed, but hey, why not do it anyway? In the meantime, I think I’ll focus on traveling to other places I’ve never been, so Costa Rica shall lose my meager dollars. I might still go hang out at my cousin’s place some time, but otherwise, it’s a big damn world out there, most of which I’ve still never seen.
None of this is meant to dissuade anyone from going, of course. But unless you’re a white, middle-aged prevert, I’d stay the hell away from JacÃ³.