Authenticity in Costa Rica
This is where this story began; it was hard not to miss the burning forest outside of Liberia.
When the Spanish claimed “Costa Rica” they named it after the RICH land they saw.
Mixed research indicates that in the 1940’s 75% of Costa Rica was forested.
As of today 20,000 acres of land is deforested annually. Now, while I can’t speak first hand about the authenticity of statistics, I can speak about what I saw while there. I had these HUGE expectations of Costa Rica . . . cue the dreams of . . . forging a river crossing in a Land Rover, maybe getting stuck in the mud a time or two, ducking under spider webs in the jungle, seeing a toucan through my binoculars while my braided pigtails lay over my fancy neck scarf, all khaki trekking clothes. [Dream comes to a screeching halt] I remember feeling baffled at why the majority of the country looked brown and covered in farm fields when viewed from the plane. There was hardly any rain forest out there!
In it’s defense, it was in the driest part of the small country, during the driest part of the year. But I realized that my first impression was not too far off when I examined the most beautiful electric blue butterfly in a souvenir shop. It was as big as my hand! Except the butterfly was in a plastic case, with it’s wings pinned down. I looked at the wall and frantically fingered through cases upon cases of dead butterflies. I can’t believe people take these things home . . . and admire them . . . I mean they hang these beautiful dead things on the wall like art! What people celebrate and support that type of thing?!?
Costa Rica is clearly at an economic advantage compared to it’s neighboring countries of Nicaragua and the northern tribes of Panama. Tourism continues to provide steady jobs for locals. We began our trip at a [purposefully unnamed all-inclusive resort] on Playa Hermosa. We only made it a day and a half vegging out by the pool and admiring the black volcanic sand beach before we had a conversation that sounded something like this:
“What do you think these people say about us when they go home at night?” Andrew nodded over towards the resort wait staff smocked in crisp white uniforms and chef hats. I watched the waiter attentively obsess over clearing a table. The clinking silverware echoed into eternity.
“I bet they hate us.” “I bet they hate all of the seemingly rich people that come to this resort.” “I don’t know, maybe they are thankful for the tourism; maybe they are thankful– maybe this is a good job here.” “Maybe these tourism dollars help make a good life for people.” I secretly thought of how empires of the past had gone to beautiful lands, enslaved the people, and capitalized on the resources. I was really starting to hate the whole situation that I was seeing in Costa Rica.
We took a drive through the brush, admiring the Brahman bulls, and stumbled across the tourist trap where the resort brought people to “zip-line” through the “canopy”. We scoffed– there was nothing forest-canopy about the location. The resort tricked people into paying ungodly amounts to wonder about on a bus, and arrive beside a farm to zipline. Meanwhile people felt like they were accomplishing something because they went out on an EXCURSION! (Man you should have heard the bragging in the dinning hall about the EXCURSIONS of the day!) I wanted to scream that the closest rain forest canopy was a 3 hour drive inland!Later we cringed when we stopped at the cruise port town of Playa del CoCo. So many floral shirts, and flip flops, and mopeds. . . you wouldn’t believe the mopeds! Later that day we dodged the sale of a time-share by really pissing off the American salesman when saying: “We’re just not the type of people who buy time shares. There’s nothing authentic about coming to a place like this.” We packed up our off road vehicle that night and didn’t look back. I have to be like, one of the only people in the history of the planet to have paid for a week at an all-inclusive resort . . . only to abruptly leave because I was miserable.
We forfeited our all inclusive resort for a $24 dollar hostel and man, did we have a great time after we got out of there. We arrived at the entrance of Palo Verde thinking we were the only visitors there in quite some time. The park ranger and Andrew shared a laugh as I ooed and awed over the bright yellow oriel-looking birds and tried to keep them from flying inside of the car. I was taking pictures like the paparazzi and squealed (half scared but mostly excited) when an ant-eater came nodding along beside me. We had a blast because the animals all hung out right beside the road!
At one point we stood on a floating dock to admire a strong moving river. Butterflies swarmed over the water like magic glitter– such a stark contrast from the plastic case butterfly–wild–free–how this place should be!
The biodiversity is incredible.
Ecotourism outside Monteverde Cloud Forrest
I can’t sing about my love of eco-tourism enough! Places like this one (Hostel Pension Santa Elena) outside pf Monteverde deserve some sort of world prize. I will take my $24 hostel/eating from a taco stand/sitting outside with the dogs establishment if it means I get to experience the culture.
I lay at the foot of the sleeping giant of Arenal, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. I felt totally helpless as I thought about the mini eruption that morning, and wondered if the sputtering was just the beginning of something drastic!
When morning came, the surrounding jungle came alive with the most beautiful bird and critter sounds crescendoing into a symphony. They were having their own little party.
So What’s the Problem?
I’ll admit I did see some adorable animals, which is what I set out to see. I’m happy to say that every animal pictured here was WILD! The Costa Rican government does a great job preserving the national parks and reserves. But private forestland is turned into farmland at an alarming rate. But it’s not that simple– people have to eat! But overall the years of raping and bleeding the land to turn a profit was very evident.
*Cue Joni Mitchell and Counting Crows sininging Big Yellow Taxi, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot . . . took all the trees and put them in a tree museum, then charged all the people a dollar and a half to see them”*.
Animals have been taken and penned up in private reserves (think class D zoo). Private parks are manicured and landscaped to look too perfect (think Rainforest Cafe with a sidewalk, but they call it hiking). None of it is legit. You have to really, really, DIG, to find something authentic. But when you find it, it’s totally awesome.
Thinking of visiting Costa Rica? So overall, what’s not to miss? Don’t miss Palo Verde, or Monteverde. Stay somewhere eco friendly. Don’t be afraid to hike out into the jungle. Don’t miss the authentic food of the Sodas outside of Arenal. You’ve got to see Arenal! Sleep at the foot of the sleeping giant. Soak in the hot springs of Tabacon (La Fortuna), hanging bridges, And don’t miss the crazy colored hummingbirds at the Hummingbird Cafe outside of Monteverde.