11 August 2012

Costa Rica: Introduction

It was rothko who came up with the idea of going on vacation in Costa Rica. As a professional barista, she was interested in visiting a coffee plantation and learning more about the process of growing, harvesting and roasting the beans. I knew nothing about the country, and had to go do some research.

It turns out that as Latin American countries go, Costa Rica is very unusual. After a brief civil war in 1948, the rebel army which seized power proceeded to draft a constitution, institute democratic elections, and disband the country’s entire military, including its own forces. The tiny nation has been peaceful and democratic ever since, and still has no military today. Judging from the US State Department report, it does a better job of respecting human rights than the USA does.

Costa Rica is what I believe is politely termed a “developing nation”. For many years its economy was based on agriculture. Coffee was planted in the 19th Century, and quickly became the country’s most lucrative export, followed by bananas and pineapples. In recent years some Western corporations have set up manufacturing plants in the industrial areas around the capital, San José; Intel has a major CPU manufacturing plant which likely supplied the processor in my laptop, and which now accounts for 5% of the country’s GDP. Pharmaceutical companies have also set up labs to investigate possible medical uses of rainforest flora.

However, the real economic revolution for Costa Rica has been the discovery of ‘green’ tourism. In spite of its small size, the country has incredible biodiversity; 5% of the world’s total biodiversity in only 0.1% of its landmass. Rainforests, jungle, cloud forests, beaches, volcanoes, mountains, all in a country smaller than England. The natives, known as Ticos, are now trying to achieve the difficult task of profiting from increasing tourism without ruining their environment.

A little more research revealed that Costa Rica’s wildlife includes many beautiful species of bird, including 17 different species of parrot.

It was about time we had a somewhat adventurous vacation. I like coffee, I like parrots, and I like pineapple, so Costa Rica seemed like an excellent option. We picked up a couple of guidebooks and started planning.

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