February 23, 2005 [LINK]

In Venezuela's footsteps?

Jacqueline has returned to the states, sad to leave this marvelous little country but eager to see Princess and George back home. Yesterday we "shopped till we dropped" in downtown San Jose. My feet are still quite sore from all the beach hiking at Corcovado, so my mobility is below par. Otherwise, we're both in pretty good shape. It is wonderful to be able to travel in a Latin American country without constantly worrying about nasty bacteria in the tap water.

This morning I saw three more life birds, in the athletic park only two blocks from our hotel (Kap's Place): A pair of Prevost's ground sparrows, several Silvery-throated jays, and two Blue-crowned motmots! They are one of the truly dazzling tropical birds, with very long fluttering tails, and sharp green, blue, and black colors. Just awesome. I should mention that there is a lot of garbage strewn about just outside the park, which itself is decently maintained. Sadly, many "Ticos" (as Costa Ricans call themselves) lack much of a sense of personal responsibility to the community. Perhaps because of the generous welfare system here, many local folks apparently disdain manual labor, and many farm jobs and other unskilled jobs are done by Nicaraguans. Quite an ironic imitation of the United States!

It has taken a while to get a feel for the political currents in this country, and I still don't know enough to comment very intelligently on it. I am getting the sense that there is a sort of deadlock preventing further opening of the economy to the outside world. Almost every product in the stores is made right here in Costa Rica, which must be terribly inefficient for such a small market. Proposals to reduce such protection generally fail because industrial workers are quick to march in protest. Pride in the country's strong democratic tradition makes politicians loathe to do anything contrary to popular sentiment, even minority sentiment. Like the U.S. in the 1970s, Costa Rica's economic policy is stuck in the mud, and no one knows what to do about it. I have a vague but disquieting hunch that this country is so used to a high standard of living based on its agricultural exports and (more recently) tourist dollars that it is in for a rude shock not unlike what Venezuela faced in the 1990s. Next year's elections should be interesting...

Fortunately, the only indication of anti-Americanism I've seen so far is a billboard sponsored by labor unions denouncing the war in Iraq. Despite the strong American presence here, with many thousand U.S. citizens living in retirement or just hanging out, diplomatic ties between Washington and San Jose are apparently rather distant. There are many more tourists from Canada, Europe, and Japan than from the U.S., another illustration of the paradox that Americans are so ill-informed about their "back yard" neighbors.

Tomorrow I plan to leave San Jose again, heading northwest into the canton of Guanacaste, which has dry terrain along the coast, and possibly into Nicaragua. NOTE: After I return to the states I plan to split some of these travel blog posts into their respective topical sections. It's just too much of a hassle for me to manage the site the way I'm used to doing away from my own computer, so only the main blog page will include the updated entries until early March.