Costa Rica: Some initial impressions

Okay, this was written a little while ago but I’m only now putting it up.  Enjoy:

Well, I’ve been in Costa Rica for a week, so I wanted to share my initial impressions.

First, it’s quite wet here. It’s the rainy season, which pretty much means that it will rain everyday until November or early December. But just because it rains everyday doesn’t mean it rains all day, and it’s gotten sunny quite a few times since I’ve been here. The first couple of days, it was so humid that I felt sticky all the time, but either I’ve gotten used to it or the wetness has eased off. Number 2 is less likely because one of the wettest days in the last month (or so I’m told) happened a couple of days ago, the tv news had lots of stories about floods and crap out in the countryside. In fact, there’s apparently now a state of national emergency.

By the way, the wettest day of the month also coincided with my second day of work. My boss picked me up on my first day on Monday, but I had to make my own way on the bus system the next day. I got off at the wrong stop in an entirely different neighbourhood then took the taxi to the landmark nearest to the office. See, addresses work differently here, houses and buildings don’t have numbers. When giving directions, people say, “Go 100 metres north from the park and 200 metres west, it’s the yellow house on the corner.” One block is taken to equal 100 metres, no one really cares if it actually is 100 000 centimetres. So they actually mean go 1 block north and 2 blocks west. It’s overcast a lot now so you end up having to keep asking which way is north.

That’s the surface stuff, but on to the serious bits.  On the topic of gender, it’s interesting to note that two of the guidebooks I’d read warned that travellers would be shocked at how much skin Costa Rican women showed.  All I can say is that the writers must have been Amish because I haven’t seen anything outrageous at all in terms of clothing.  None of the girls here in San Jose would look out of place in Los  Angeles.  The biggest difference I’ve noted between here and North America is that hiphop fashion is hardly present here for both girls and guys.

Anyway, I went wandering off the tourist path once and saw an amazingly scuzzy-looking woman, she had a beer belly, armpit hair, and a miniskirt and bare midriff.  Sure, it’s freaky, but I’m thinking back to some other scuzzy-looking women I’ve seen in Sudbury and I can’t say she looks that different.

Oh yes, prostitution is also legal here.  The prostitutes don’t have pimps because they don’t need them when they’re legal.  Apparently the tourist hooker industry is contained almost entirely in the Hotel Del Rey, which also has a casino inside.  I went inside to use the ATM once and saw lots of fat white guys and amazing looking women.  But apparently the locals have their own brothels they go to where the women aren’t as pricy.

Second, on the topic of race, I’ve noticed that most of the working class folk have darker skin while the richer set are very white.  You can’t assume that just because someone is blonde that they’re foreign because they could very well be a native Costa Rican (an upper-class one, to be specific).  It was really quite obvious when I went to the Canadian embassy (it was closed, apparently they punch out at 1 PM on Fridays, the jerks), which is located in Sabana Sur, one of the swankier districts here.  I wandered around and saw some big houses with SUVs in the driveway.  I also had some chocolate croissants at this one convenience store and watched some kids from something called the American High School hanging out in the parking lot.  A couple of them were blond as can be, though none were that Scandinavian blond that burns really easily in the sun.

Continuing in that vein, and to segue to the topic of language, I must confess that I find it easier to talk to upper-class Costa Ricans.  It’s just that I can understand their accents better because they’re more like the standard Spanish I studied.  It was only after having had trouble speaking with different clerks and taxi drivers did I realize that some of them must have been Nicaraguans who’d come over to do the 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) that are the lot of many immigrants the world over.  Anyway, they do stuff like omit the “s” at the end of words (“tremille”? Oh, “tres mille”, 3000).  Costa Rica is mostly inhabited by mestizos and criollos (i.e., they look mostly Spanish), but quite a few Nicaraguans are actually descended from the local Indians.   Which means that Nicaraguans tend to be darker-skinned than many Costa Ricans.

Also, today (note: on Oct. 8) there is a referendum on whether Costa Rica should sign on for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).  Anyway, the Si people seem to be mostly composed of the richer set, while the No people are more working class, with a couple of richer liberals here and there (I saw a guy in an SUV with a No sign in his windshield).  There have been convoys of Si vehicles tricked out in flags and Signs going up and down San Jose beeping their horns and drawing attention to themselves.  I did see a newspaper vendor shouting “vampiros” at them while they passed, though.

The building across from my hostel has one of the counting stations, there’s an armoured vehicle and tons of cops on the street.  Supposedly Costa Rica has no army, but I can’t really see the difference between these police officers and army pukes, they’ve even got army-looking uniforms and swagger around like soldiers.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to in Costa Rica so far.

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