On the drive from Heredia to Monte Verde today, we went through many different communities. There was the urban center of San Jose/Heredia, tourist area of the Pacific coast, and the rural agricultural area of Monte Verde. Since arriving here on Saturday night, my idea of Costa Rica has changed significantly.
I originally thought that all Costa Ricans were very focused on sustainability, that the country was mainly flat, and that coffee farming was a prized job. All of these have turned out to be mainly false. Costa Rica is extraordinarily mountainous, with the continental plate colliding along the country the mountains soar into the clouds here in Monte Verde, so that misconception was purely my fault. Coffee farming is not exactly a prized job, because there are so many spots to fill inside of a coffee farm. Owning a successful plantation is most certainly a prized job because of the amount of profits that they can earn, but picking coffee is a migrant worker job and just hard labor without much chance of earning promotions or increased wages. So here I have realized that working inside the coffee business is just the same as most other business models, everyone wants to be on top. The tricky one is the sustainability focus of Ticos. Most Ticos care about the environment in theory but do not do much to make sure that they personally are contributing to their country’s sustainability. Trash is scattered throughout the streets in the larger city and larger items are not recycled very often because of the difficulty getting to the recycling plants or pickups. Some people are very passionate about their country’s sustainability, yet it seems like there is a larger part of the population that doesn’t care so much about creating a sustainable environment.
Driving through Heredia, the level of development really stuck out to me. Buildings lined the road offering all types of services and the traffic was bumper to bumper the entire way through the city. The congestion and completely developed land gave it a very urban feel. Horns blared whenever something good or bad happened. Someone lets you in, then give them three quick honks; Someone isn’t moving as fast as you like, then give them a blast of the horn; Someone tries to cut into your lane, then make as much noise as you want with the horn. The people are friendly and are happy to help you with your Spanish attempts.
At sea level along the Pacific coast, there is a large discrepancy in the sights along the road. On one side, there is the ocean and perfect rolling waves, the picturesque scene only marred by multiple cargo ships chugging along close to shore. And on the other, there are many smaller run down houses along the road and farms. Additionally, there are advertisements lining the billboards paralleling the highway. Except, these billboards aren’t advertising things that the people living there can afford. Instead, things like tourism adventures like zip lining or mountain hikes and nice new homes cover the bill boards. Another striking thing about these ads were that they were in English, with Americans in the pictures. They were ONLY for tourists. Tourism is taking over parts of Costa Rica because of the large amounts of money that can be earned through it if it becomes successful, and apparently, this stretch of the Pacific Coast fell victim to it.
Monte Verde is perfectly described by its name, Green Mountain. The cliffs are covered in grasses, bushes, and trees, oh so many trees. The road up the mountain is perched perilously on the edge of the cliffs and consists primarily of dirt and rocks. It will be paved soon according to Guillermo, a local farm owner, who gave a talk on Monte Verde’s sustainability programs. Up at the top of the mountain at almost 5000 feet above sea level, the shops are small, based on tourists staying at the hotels scattered along the upper reaches of the mountain, but until the hotels start appearing, there are no shops to be found at all. Only the occasional cattle ranches or farms can be found clinging to the sides of the mountains. What stands out to me about Monte Verde is how secluded they are from the rest of the country. It takes over an hour to scale the mountain, and that was in a light mist. Guillermo also said that there are landslides during the rainy season, completely sealing off the road and the only way down the mountain.