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Crazy Costa Rica: Ruminations on Costa Rica

Irazu Volcano and National park, where we tried to go today but didn’t see much due to fog:
Guayabo National Monument, where we did go today even though we got there shortly after it was closed, but didn’t see much due to pouring rain:
Costa Rica. Ah, Costa Rica

This might become a bit of a rant. If you’re not up for that, this particular post may not be for you.

Looking at the past couple of days, I feel like one good thing I can say is “At least nothing bad happened.”
And I think it’s terrible to have that be one of the primary thoughts in my mind about a country which clearly has a lot to offer.
While venting these thoughts about Costa Rica on Facebook, I was a little disappointed.
Someone said I sounded like a typical American with my complaints about things not going according to plan or schedule.
I’m familiar with the “typical American,” also known as the “ugly American.”
It’s the first time I’ve been aware that something I’ve been talking about with regard to our travels has come across that way. Hopefully it’s the last time I’ll come across as a typical American in a negative context, and I’ll definitely be more aware of that going forward.
At the same time, I have felt frustrated or annoyed nearly every day we’ve been in Costa Rica, while not at all in Panama. The first week at Hotel Aranjuez in San Jose, the second week at La Tortuga Feliz, the turtle project near Bataan (south of Tortuguero), the third week in Puerto Viejo, and now, this week, outside of San Jose.
One good thing I can say about Costa Rica is that the people we’ve met here have been really nice.
None of this is a reflection on them.
Here’s what I’m running up against, I think, in thinking about Costa Rica…

All my life (literally since I was little) what I have heard from people who have been to Costa Rica is how much they love it here. They say things like:
-“It’s a tropical paradise!”
-“The weather’s perfect!”
-“The beaches are beautiful!”
-“Your money goes a long way there!”
-“Costa Rica will be carbon neutral by 2011.”
-“They are so peaceful there, they don’t even need an army in their country.”
It’s because of this (these images and expectations in my mind) that I think I’ve not enjoyed Costa Rica all that much.
(I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met here. Again, this experience I’m relating is separate from the people I’ve met here.)
Overall, the experiences I’ve had here (so far) have been less, more costly, or significantly more difficult than what I expected.
I knew in advance of coming to Costa Rica that the infrastructure wouldn’t be what it is in the states, and I wouldn’t expect the infrastructure to be perfect by any means.
I guess why I’m disappointed is that I’m unable to find what causes people to love it here so much.
I want to like Costa Rica because of what people have said, and perhaps that’s part of the problem.
-It’s a tropical paradise. (Definitely no more so than in Panama, and in Panama, the same amount of money buys more.)
-The weather’s perfect in Costa Rica. (Right up until the time you actually want to see or do something)
-The beaches are beautiful! (If you don’t mind sand fleas gnawing your heels, toes, and any other exposed skin on your lower extremities – at least on the Caribbean side)
-Costa Rica will be carbon neutral by 2011. (They might be able to do it sooner if some of their trucks and buses were a little less polluting. I’ve never seen a country with so many black clouds behind vehicles.)
I’ve not seen the criminal element much. (I did see a drug deal in my side view mirror while stopped at a road stand, but that could happen anywhere.) San Jose is about as dirty as other big cities where we’ve been. Also, there are quite a few poor people here, and when they are poor, it’s a whole different level of poverty than that of the U.S.
However, from my (admittedly outside) perspective, there do appear to be many opportunities for those who want to take advantage of them. (I could be wrong on that point.)
Our biggest frustrations have been:
– Paying as much as or more than in the US (in many cases for less than you get in the US).
– Road closures that no one warns you about, even though the closure is 10k (6-7 miles) down a one lane road which is supposedly taking you to your destination (this happened 2 times in 1 day – AFTER we got the GPS settings correct)
– I know that many Americans have an obsession with punctuality. I’m also very familiar with the fact that other cultures don’t view time the same way as Americans do. However, everywhere and everything (and as a result everyone) seems to take two hours (or more) longer than you’re told it will (factor that in when you come here). For us, that meant that because we arrived two hours (or more) later than initially planned, the natural elements (rainstorms and clouds) frequently obscured/prevented any of the things we’d driven hours to see.
After two days and 15 hours in the car, we felt pretty defeated and frustrated.
Part of the problem was that the GPS (that we paid to rent) was set to avoid traffic and avoid U-Turns. That’s our fault for not checking thoroughly on the GPS, and we learned that lesson (check rented GPS settings before driving anywhere) here in Costa Rica.
That’s a good lesson to learn.
However, even after we figured out the settings on the GPS, it continued to take us through some people’s backyards and through several mud bogs that we barely got out of, one of which had us stuck for a while, even with a good 4WD.
This led to a couple of funny experiences with locals, who were always very kind and forgiving that we were making their horse trails and walking paths (and backyards) into jeep trails because our GPS said it was the right way to go.
Even if you’re not planning on going 4wheeling (which we weren’t), that sort of thing can be fun for a while.
However, it really gets grating when you’ve been bouncing along for 4-6 hours, on bumps big enough to cause your head to smack the ceiling of the car, and continually ending up in places you’re not really supposed to be, just in the efforts of getting to a place where you want to go, with the GPS telling you the whole time that you’re on the right path.
On the plus side, after yesterday I have a whole new appreciation for what a Suzuki can do. (I don’t recall a specific event, but I might have made fun of Suzuki in the past, without knowing a thing about Suzukis.)
However, after yesterday, Suzuki is a brand about which I’m likely to only have good things to say.
I’m really wondering what I don’t understand about Costa Rica that has people coming back to the States really excited to talk about it.
Anyone want to chime in on what they loved about Costa Rica?
Please feel free to comment below.

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