Upon arrival to Heredia, our families greeted us merrily at the gate of U-Latina. On our short drive home, we received a brief tour of the city. Both my roommate and I were surprised to find how developed the city around us was. There was chaotic traffic around us as cars whizzed by. In the front seat, our host mother scrolled on her iphone. Power lines hung overhead massive highways lined with fast food chains. We hadn’t necessarily expected Costa Rica to resemble a 3rd world country, but we mutually agreed that we hadn’t expected the level of technology that was present. Especially considering the group weren’t staying in San Jose, we were surprised to find such a vibrant city.
What I was expecting, however, was the importance surrounding the Costa Rican values. While the city visible around us was rather modernized, the communities within the city held values that could be considered old-fashioned in the US. The Ticos are a relaxed bunch, appreciative of the small things in life. They place a heavy importance on family, hard work, and spending time together. Our host family immediately asked us to tell them about our families, their jobs, and what they liked to do.
As we drove today through the more isolated terrain towards Monteverde, there was a noticeable difference in my surroundings. The buildings seemed smaller and run-down. Small shacks were built into muddy hillsides. Homes were composed of slabs of metal and wood with rain seemingly leaking inside the rooms. Compared to the very developed Heredia and San Jose, the communities seemed behind the times. And while I couldn’t find a school within sight of many of the homes, large touristic advertisements could be seen hanging nearby. As we approached closer and closer to Monteverde, tourism seemed to dominate more and more of the area. Families clearly couldn’t afford to have luxurious houses, but the neighborhood could apparently afford to advertise their souvenirs or all-inclusive trips. It was so incredibly disheartening that tourists like myself, have kind of ruined the area of locals. I can’t even imagine how upset I would be if I were in their positions.
With that being said, I was shocked as we drove by. Amid their crumbling homes, doors were open. Neighbors gathered in doorways, laughing and sharing stories. Inside the open houses, large families gather around, eating together. Despite their unfavorable conditions compared to surrounding areas, the Ticos still displayed their relaxed, good-hearted nature. I’ve discovered that no matter the area of Costa Rica, Ticos make the best of their situations, focusing on what brings their families together, valuing community above all else.