Step aside Oprah, Dr. Phil, and all you neo-yogic philosophers…these Ticos have definitely learned the secret to the simple and peaceful life of constant contentment. My experience so far leads me to believe that either they have more than just coffee beans in their morning brew, or that as a people they have chosen a life of happiness.
I was reading yesterday about the history of Costa Rica, and how it was really only in the last century that this small country adopted the progressive mindset that has made it the peace-loving oasis of Central America. In the 1940s, Jose Figueres Ferrer, head of a temporary junta government, enacted nearly 1000 decrees – from taxing the wealthy to voting rights to women – and also laid the foundation for the disarmament of the national military, which still remains today. At the local level, Ticos know how to take care of each other and live in harmony. Obviously very family oriented, at times they almost seem like actors in a commercial for Disney World, walking hand-in-hand, mother, father and daughter to the pier to watch the sunset. They no doubt deal with their own difficulties in life, but they are also warm and friendly with visitors, and are proud to show off their country to those willing to travel to see it.
At times the juxtapositions are humorous, though. Sitting high up in the mountains on the edge of Parque Nacional Chirripo, I took a taxi from San Isidro down 10 km of paved roads to Rivas, and then down 12km of cobblestone roads clinging precariously against the steep slopes of the peaks blanketed in thick greenery. Just when you thought the road could go no further, it turned again, eventually revealing Albergue Uran nestled beautifully close to the trailhead that I plan on taking tomorrow morning, just outside the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. At the hostel, however, I am greeted by a local woman wearing 3-inch platform sandals, who walks her way down the cobblestone as if she was on 5-foot stilts. She is wearing capris and a tight tanktop, and obviously put a lot of time into her make-up. No matter where you go, the women are dressed to the nines, even if they have to swing on vines to get to work. They are all beautiful people with so much to give.
In 1502, when Christopher Columbus landed on the eastern coast of the country to make repairs to his ship, he ventured inland and made exchanges with the local people. When he returned from the encounter, he claimed to have seen more gold in two days than in his four years in Espanola. Hence, the name Costa Rica, or the Rich Coast, came to adorn this land of dense, unforgiving jungle, though his predecessors found no gold in the area. Eventually they would discover soil that was rich enough to grow coffee and bananas, which put Costa Rica on the map. Gold or no gold, these Ticos are wealthy beyond measure for they have found a secret so dear that an adventurous Canadian had to travel thousands of kilometres to discover it.
Nothing is worth more than peace, if only inside yourself. And friendliness goes a long, long way.
© Meghan J. Ward, 2009