It’s a Jungle Out There
The 30-ish lady, dressed in Banana Republic khaki, and her 40-something male friend, both grinning widely are here to “do” Costa Rica. It is not that they were compelled by rumors of the country's natural beauty, or that they were engaged by the reputation of a country whose citizens are reputed to be decent, cheerful, kind-hearted and who actually welcome North Americans; no, it was none of those things. It was just that, well, everyone they knew has already been here, and they had no choice, you know, but to come. And maybe even, she says, to look at some nice houses for sale. It was as though all of their friends had seen this season's big movie, and whenever these friends wanted to talk about it, they, not having seen the movie, were just left out of the conversation. "And how long will you be with us," I asked. "Oh, just for the weekend," she said. "We'll be going back to Dallas on Monday." "One whole weekend?" I said. "You want to see Costa Rica in two days?" "Well, sure. I mean, we don't expect to see just every little thing, you know. Just the major attractions. Like, last year we did France, Spain and Italy in a week. You know, the Eiffel Tower, and we rode a gondola in Venice, and saw a bullfight, a real one, in Madrid. And Puerto Rico, well, it's real small here, isn't it?" "Costa Rica, its Costa Rica, not Puerto Rico," I said, my mouth open, still aghast at the prospect of someone attempting to "do" Costa Rica in a weekend. "O.K. Cohhhsta Rica. Whatever. So, anyway, you're a guy who sells real estate here, so…? We want to visit some of the parks, the national parks, and see some animals and things, and then see some real estate." "And maybe some beaches and museums, and some of those cloud forests, too," he said. "If you think there's time after that we’d love to see some of your properties for sale. Really..." "If I think there's time? Well..."
I took a deep breath and started to relate to them some feelings that I had about a trip which I had taken earlier that week, to a remarkably friendly lodge in the Osa Peninsula, called La Paloma, and the glory of Drake's Bay and Corcovado national park. The Osa is still the one pristine place that satisfies the primal dreams of tropical jungles, of Tarzan and Jane, of animals that roar in the night, of great hanging vines and of ancient trees thrusting into impossibly thick and lush verdant canopies. To get there one had to catch a very small plane out of the Central Valley to a landing strip near Palmar Norte, a 19th century banana republic town, and from there bounce by car over killer roads to the head of the Sierpe river, where, if all goes well, a boat will take you for a couple of hours down the river, through floating islands of hyacinth and past quiet families rowing by, waving at you from their dugout pangas , and great blue herons soundlessly fishing at the mangrove edges, up through the mouth of the river and into the volatile Pacific and then tuck into Drake's Bay and again up another river and from there a hike up to the lodge. And, whewww, then from there a trek up and over muddy trails to empty, postcard silent Cocolito beach.
On that serene, flawless beach there was not a footprint other than mine. I had found a natural tide pool amongst the rock outcroppings and sat there in the warm Pacific, letting San Jose and business and the world wash away, just float away with the tides. Two enormous adult scarlet macaws had landed in the palm tree just above my private pool and squawked at me and I squawked back, feeling that it was an ordinary activity, to sit on the beach and talk with parrots. And when they flew off, tiring of my conversation, the red and blue of their giant flying bodies across the tropical green landscape whisked crimson color against the sea of waving green palms... How can I explain any of this to the pleasant lady and her friend now standing in front of me in the office of Hot Tropics Real Estate? How can I tell her that you can't really do Costa Rica in a weekend, that certain things just take time, that it is not Universal Studios, that they will not even begin to find the place that exists in their minds, that they have seen too much Discovery Channel, that it is all far, far away, that it is all at the end of impossible roads, endless drives and up rivers that are only navigable at certain places of tide and time, or at the far reaches of interminably sloggy trails.
"Well, you don't want to miss the Coffee Tour or the Butterfly Farm... And be sure to give us a call after you’ve seen those jungles…" I brightly tell them, snapping back into present time, the scarlet macaws screaming at me from far away Osa peninsula, and then fading, fading into the distant niches of the mind.
The Presidential, National Elections are here… Party time!
Since the beginning of the Republic of Costa Rica, in 1821, and on every fourth year thereafter, Costa Rica is relentlessly bombarded by political campaigning from each and every political party. Certainly not of the sophistication of such elections in the States; here they are something else entirely. It is more like a celebration, a country-wide party. As in “party time!”.
For many, many years, there were just two main political parties. Period. Liberacion Nacional, a Social Democrat capitalist party and Unidad Social Cristiana, another neo-capitalist party.
Since the last elections, in 2002, a third political party came into being, that of the Partido Accion Ciudadana. And this marked the first time that a truly socialist, leftist party had ever received sufficient votes to be considered a viable power.
For this upcoming election, two new parties have very recently joined the struggle for power: Union Para el Cambio, a spin-off from the original Liberacion Nacional (also Social Democrat with strong capitalist tendencies) and Movimiento Libertario, a hardcore, right-wing capitalist party. Adding to the excitement, and for the first time ever, the Costa Rican constitution was modified to allow re-election, so that the old leader of the Liberacion Nacional party, ex-president (1986 1990) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, has reemerged and definitely appears to be the one who will become the next president of this small and still somewhat humble country,
No matter what the final results are in this election (although it seems that everyone knows and agrees as to who will win), the most wonderful aspect of it all is to watch the spectacle itself, the very form that the democratic process takes, here in Costa Rica.
On election day, February 5th, voters from all over the country will flock to the voting centers, many of them wearing their preferred party’s colors, most of them waving political flags from their cars, and all of them in a deliriously celebratory mode. At 6:00 a.m. voting centers will open, but since it is on a Sunday, most people will wait till around 11:00 a.m. to leave their homes for the big celebration. By 2:00 p.m. the roads around San Jose will be one monstrous traffic jam, and it will be a site to behold…
Tens of thousands of cars, all with their occupants waving flags, honking horns, screaming, shouting at one another, laughing and partying as if the National Soccer team had just defeated world champion Brazil in a game. And even in this absolutely crazy high adrenaline environment, people will still be wondrously courteous, laughing and friendly, even though the guy in the next car is waving an opponent’s flag. There will be enormous SUV’s and station wagons driving around with the entire family, and out of each window will be thrust a different colored flag, fluttering in the wind at 3 miles an hour, as each family member declares his personal allegiances.
And for all of us American football fans we will have to watch the Superbowl at home, since on election weekend all bars are closed and businesses are not allowed to sell alcohol.
Elections, surely as they should be, an enormous nation-wide celebration of freedom and democracy, and with everyone somehow crazily together, in peace, not as socialists or democrats or republicans, but as Costa Ricans... Finally, that’s what this country is really all about.
There are some things that are so expressly Costa Rican, so absolutely Tico in their nature, that to talk about them, to think about them, is to talk and think about Costa Rica itself.
If you are considering a real estate purchase in Costa Rica, then you might want to consider some of these wonderful idiosyncrasies and what they tell you about all things Costa Rican.
This will be a regular feature of our Newsletter. Feel free to contribute.
"Las Pintas de Enero"
One of the more folkloric of Costa Rican traditions is referred to as the “Pintas”. Pintas occur during the first 12 days of January, and are an indispensable part of the culture. The Pintas are Costa Rica’s way of forecasting the weather for the coming year.
The word itself is one of those impossible things to translate, but it means, approximately, "looks like" or "seems like", so when you ask someone, as an example, "What does the sale of your house look like…?", you could substitute the "look like" with "pinta"...
The first 12 days of the year are used traditionally to forecast the weather patterns for the rest of that year. So, the weather on January first would be the prediction for the weather for January; the weather on January 2nd would be the weather prediction for February; the weather on January third would predict the weather for March, etc.
This year then, so you can prepare, the weather forecast is:
January 1st: Very nice. A clear and sunny day, which of course means that January (except for the first 12 days) will be a wonderful start to the Costa Rican summer.
January 2nd: Warm and sunny day with a bit of cloud cover. So that is what February, overall, will be. Meaning that you will be able to enjoy summery weather, all through February.
January 3rd: Sunny and hot. Which means that March will be one hot month.
January 4th: Very hot and sunny with some cloud cover. The heat will continue through April, with some clouds.
January 5th: Still hot, but very hot. But there were some clouds and a pleasant, short drizzle in the afternoon. So, May will be our hottest month of the year, but there will be a few blessed rains now and then to cool things off.
January 6th: A cloudy and rainy day. Well, it seems that the rainy season will begin in June, so have those umbrellas ready...
January 7th: More clouds, more rain. And that’s the way it’s going to be.
January 8th: Hmmm, cloudy and even wetter. It rained seriously on January 8th. Well, what did you expect, August is ALWAYS one of the rainiest months in Costa Rica.
January 9th: Lots of clouds, a bit of rain and windy. Hmmm, wind in September, who would have guessed? The rainy season will continue, but with cooling wind, so hold on to your hats as well as your umbrellas.
January 10th: Sunny, mostly clear. So according to the "pintas", the rainy season will be over early this year.
January 11th: Fresh, brisk and sunny with only an occasional downpour. Seems like we will have some heavy rains in November, but most of the time it will be pleasant and warm (and mostly dry)...
January 12th: Cloudy in the morning, even more clouds in the afternoon and windy. Which, of course, means that next December will be cold again (for Costa Rica, around 68 78 degrees. Brrrr. But, ah, what would Christmas be without a chill...
The "pintas" are correct at least 90% of the time, and they are at least 100% Costa Rican.