the Caribbean sun
Last weekend we went to Puerto Viejo (translates to “Old Port”). It is a town on the Caribbean. The Caribbean is interesting because it has a strong African influence, so it is a very different culture than the Pacific coast and inland areas. For instance, we went out dancing, and a lot of the music was Afro-Caribbean – heavy percussion, calypso-style, etc. Most of the restaurant owners, locals, etc. spoke English as well as Spanish. While this is probably because beach towns are fairly touristy, I think it also has something to do with the history – Great Britain colonized places like Jamaica, and then workers from Jamaica were brought to Costa Rica and Panama to build train tracks and the Panama Canal towards the end of the 19th century. So the Caribbean has more tradition of speaking English than other places in Central/South America.
Anyway, Puerto Viejo was really cool! It was basically one main street, with restaurants and shops on both sides, and the ocean/beach literally 20 feet away. We rented bikes to get to the beach and just spent our whole Saturday there. I am learning many things about the ocean. Like, if waves don’t break, you can just ride them/float in them like in a wave pool. However, if the wave breaks (which is where you see the white part), you have to dive under it or you will get shot backwards with the wave. Also, getting saltwater in your nose and eyes really hurts. I did get a little sunburned, but considering I spent about six hours at the beach it’s really not that bad. Also, we found a shady spot to put our stuff, so it was nice to be able to get out of the sun. Also, I got some sea coral! (Legally, of course – it was already dead on the beach.)
Someone asked me about the bugs here. There are mosquitoes; however, there are supposed to be less mosquitoes in the rainy season (which is now) than in the dry season. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but I’m not complaining! All the windows in my house have screens, but I still kill 2 or 3 mosquitoes in my room each day. If there is one when I am going to bed I usually put on bug spray, because I have woken up with a few massive bug bites. I have also seen a few bigger bugs (beetle/cockroach-type things) but really just a few and never in my bedroom. There are also bugs like spiders, ants, flies, etc. that don’t really bother me. There are ants all over the place, but they don’t bite. Well, the ones in Puerto Viejo were like fire ants, but the ones in Heredia just mind their own business. Fun fact: if you touch an ant, the other ants will smell human on it, assume it is a predator, and attack it until it dies. The good news is that in addition to those bugs, there are also butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, etc. Costa Rica has 1250 different species of butterflies. I think the coolest one I have seen is clear – the outline is brown but the wings are totally seethrough. Of course, the blue ones are also really pretty.
I also got a question about how Costa Ricans view the US or people from the US. It is a really complicated answer. In my culture and development course, we have been talking about Latin American economies over the past century, but in doing so we have to talk about the US and European economies as well, since they affect smaller countries like Costa Rica so much. In that class, the professor has been pretty unbiased. Certainly, some economic actions have had better effects than others on Latin America, but I as a US student in the class don’t feel ostracized or blamed for something the US might have caused. Another thing is that the US has intervened and/or invaded quite a few Central and South American countries in the past, and that is looked upon a bit more as interference. However, they also talk about the dictators themselves in the countries, which has less to do with the US.
A lot of people I have met really like the US though. My little host brother, Andrés, told me he really wants to live in the US when he grows up. He showed me his state quarter collection – he has 4 quarters. It was really cute. The kids were all fascinated when I explained what playing in the snow is like, so I think part of the draw of the US to them is the variety of climates. My host aunt is traveling to the US this week for work, and everyone in the family is making a list of things they want her to buy while she is there (clothes, makeup, drugstore-type stuff, etc.).
I think it helps too that Costa Rica does not have a military – they abolished it in 1949. So any diplomatic relations they have are peaceful. The US has not done anything bad specifically to Costa Rica like they have with other countries. (For example, Panama used to be part of Colombia, until the US seized the land, controlled the Panama Canal, and eventually Panama got independence. So Colombia still associates the US with that.) I think if a country hasn’t had a bad history or doesn’t have a “grudge” against the US, there is less anti-US sentiment today.