Why Costa Rica?
By Expat Man
I sometimes attempt to explain Costa Rica to people newly-arrived here by simply telling the day’s anecdote; an accounting of some outrageous and inexplicably Costa Rican event. Telling the day’s lead story usually leaves the listener with that weird half-smile on his or her face, accompanied by a questioning gesture of inwardly curved shoulder and hands, as if he or she wants to say, “Yeah. Well, what am I supposed to make of that?” I am then left with the thought, “I don’t know what you are expected to make of it. I just thought that such a story would help you to define and understand the peculiar nature of Costa Rica.”
Here’s an example. Today I went to a travel agent, seeking help in arranging a trip for my family and myself to San Andres, a Caribbean island destination that belongs to Colombia. We spent two hours and fifteen minutes, coordinating flights, ground transportation, and hotels. Finally, it all came together. Exhausted by the experience and wanting to confirm the itinerary before something changed, I reached for my wallet and credit card. At that moment, the agent then asked if I had my Yellow Fever vaccination recently done. I thought that maybe he was putting me on, and waiting for some form of a grin that never came, I said, “My what? of course not.” He then advised me that I was required to have a recent Yellow Fever shot, as did everyone in my family, to go to San Andres, Colombia, and, of course, he now tells me, there was no Yellow Fever vaccine anywhere in Costa Rica. So, no vaccine, no trip.
Don’t ask me why, but I felt compelled to ask the agent, “Why did we just spend over two hours arranging a trip that we could not make, because of the lack of something that was not available anywhere in the country?” At times there seems to be a shortage of everything in Costa Rica except irony, and the inevitable shrugging of shoulders.
“Well,” he said, “I didn’t want you to think that I was not trying, at least.” He actually said that. In the face of such logic, what can one do?
The moral of the story being that a Costa Rican will never, never tell you that something does not exist, or cannot be done, or that he does not know the answer. Ask a Costa Rican for the directions to somewhere and, if he has no idea where that place is, he will simply create some directions.
Now, from that, one can decide that, A) Costa Ricans are very creative, B) Costa Ricans have way too much spare time, C) Costa Ricans are totally crazy, D) Americans are crazy for trying to understand Costa Rica from a structured, rational viewpoint. Or, all of the above.
Yet the seduction of Costa Rica, for me, lies exactly in its craziness, its impromptu manner, and the way in which Costa Ricans are always smiling widely at you and saying, “Listen, if you don’t like it like this, then you can always go back to Omaha, Or wherever. You’re a gringo, an American! You can go wherever you want!” And even as they are saying this, they know, they just know, how exceptional their place in the sun is, and there really is nowhere better to go. And that’s the rub.
Let’s see. In Costa RIca there are around 8 hours of sunshine on an average day, the air in the Central Valley is around 78 degrees, the ocean is 82 degrees. In the towns, and the city, the nights vibrate with the buoyancy of passionate, generally happy people. Costa Rica is a place of unusual lyricism and soft tropical colors and light. And people wave and smile at you as you pass by, and I do really feel forever thankful that I stumbled into this country. But one cannot say these things without sounding like a travel brochure.