After landing in San Jose, we proceeded to Immigration and Customs, where I received my first stamp in my passport. After acquiring our bags, we hailed a taxicab to our hotel, the Costa Rica Marriott. The ride from the airport to the hotel was only about five miles, but I was holding my breath the entire time. Driving laws are merely guidelines in this country. While we were driving down the Autopista General Canas, the main road from the airport to the hotel, I noticed that drivers didn’t care that there were only two lanes on the highway. Two lanes quickly became four as drivers made their own lanes. It didn’t faze our taxi driver at all because he drove just as aggressive as the others and refused to allow anyone in front of him. I also realized that crosswalks are more of a decoration. A pedestrian was walking across the street and instead of slowing down, our taxi driver sped up. I don’t know if he was trying to hit him, but it made the pedestrian realize that the crosswalk wasn’t a safety zone.
Charlie, my roommate, had spent six months in Costa Rica studying at the university and he lived with a family while he was there. After a few hours at the hotel, we were met by one of the people who he lived with as well as his girlfriend. They decided to give us a night on the town and show us around San Jose. I was wondering why they kept taking us to all the prostitution areas. She would point out girls on the street corners while asking me what I think of them. I realized that they believe sex rules everything in America. While prostitution may be legal in Costa Rica, it is not legal in the US, except in Nevada and Rhode Island. Because of the legalization of prostitution in the country, the sex tourism industry is just as popular as the ecotourism. I thanked them for showing us this side of Costa Rica, but I had other ideas in mind for my trip.
The next day, we were invited to their house for dinner. I was given a couple of rules before our visit. If I was offered a gift, I was to not refuse it, as it could be taken as a sign of disrespect. The second rule was that I needed to be careful about what I said. Specifically, saying that something looked nice in their house, such as a picture. The reason is that they would try to give it to me.
I was given a tour of the house while we waited for the children to get home from school. The children came home wearing their school uniforms and we made our introductions. Although, I don't speak Spanish, the children were able to communicate with me a little in English. The parents and I tried our best to communicate with each other, but everything was pretty much lost in translation.
Before we sat down to dinner, I noticed some very odd while I was in the living room. I was watching the Cosby Show in English with Spanish subtitles. I felt that it was odd that I was in Central America, but yet most of the stations on TV were in English. Only a few stations were broadcasted in Spanish. I wonder if they try to learn English just so that they can watch TV without having to read it.
As we sat down to eat, I noticed something else that was a little odd. I was so excited to try some authentic Central American cuisine, but instead we were having fried chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes. The food was excellent; it just wasn't what I was expecting. The family was trying so much to impress me and make me feel at home, that they went out of their way to make me something that they thought I eat back at home. While at dinner, the father gave me a shirt as a gift. He owned a store in town that sells odds and end items. Costa Rica is a developing country with 18% of its citizens living below the poverty line and GDP per capita of $12,500. For him to give me a shirt when every dollar he makes is needed to feed his family, it was the ultimate act of kindness.
The next morning, the two oldest kids picked us up from the hotel for a day at the beach. We piled into the back of their Toyota Tercel and prepared for the long drive to the Pacific coast. It probably would have been shorter, but we stopped every five minutes so that he could use the pay phone. He had to make a call to his family, and while we take cell phones for granted, they are a luxury in this part of the world. After he was able to make contact, we were now on our way.
At the town of Puntarenas, we had to use the ferry to cross the Gulf of Nicoya. The one hour ferry ride gave us beautiful views of the many different islands scattered in the gulf. After docking on the other side, we crossed the Nicoya Peninsula on our way to the beach. Playa Hermosa, located in the province of Guanacaste, is translated into “beautiful beach.” It was exactly that. The beach had fine white sand with warm blue pristine waters. The four hour trip was well worth it.
On the way back to San Jose, we began to discuss our different cultures and the stereotypes that Hispanics hold of Americans. They view Americans as greedy people who only want to make a dollar. While they don’t hold that view of everyone, that is the perception that they get from American television. Corporate greed and the demise of Fortune 500 companies such as Enron only add to their view of Americans.
I brought up the race issue that faces America with regards to white and black. Believing that America is the only country that grapples with issues regarding race, I was sorely mistaking. They told me that Costa Ricans deal with race issues just as Americans, except theirs are with the Nicaraguans. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Costa Rican or a Nicaraguan but they can spot them in a crowd and are viewed as lazy and stupid. They told me that you can tell a Nicaraguan by the way they talk. They chop the ends of their words off making them sound stupid. Who knows what Nicaraguans think of Costa Ricans?
Aside from the hot springs, rainforests, and beaches, this trip was a chance to experience a culture outside of my own. I was able to explore places not listed in Frommers and was able to talk candid about subjects that affect us both. The wonderful generosity and hospitality that I was shown on my trip gave me a different perspective on Hispanic culture.