Costa Rican History

Tower of the National Museum, San Jose

Costa Rica means rich coast in Spanish. Conquistadors landing there found the natives adorned with gold and silver jewelry, but that all came from elsewhere. The Caribbean coast was lined with a nearly impenetrable jungle. San Jose the Capitol, located in the Central Valley, was not fully settled until the 1950s and homesteading was still ongoing into the 1980s. Although, the country now exports coffee and tobacco, it did not start that way. Before the $300 per pound golden bean, oxen and mules were once its leading exports, because they could be walked to market.

Since its 1821 independence, Costa Rica has been blessed with unusually good leaders. Even its first dictator was benevolent. Self-effacing to a fault, Costa Ricans claim that they do not even know how to be a good dictator. An example of this self-effacing attitude was related to us in a story, when a grandfather told his grandson that his pickup truck cannot use its fifth gear, because that is only for other, much larger countries. In the 1870s bananas came to Costa Rica and with them the term banana republic. A civil war occurred in 1948, which was ended by a social reform minded president, the local archbishop, and the communist party leader. Evidence of this revolt still adorns the National Museum. Costa Rica has enjoyed free and fair elections since 1953. That reform minded president abolished the military and then used that money to support education. Education is mandatory K-12.

Today, Gringos’ ecotourism is a major industry. All those North Americans want to come see grandma sloth. 50% of Costa Rica is still covered by forest. However, while Costa Rica strives to protect the forests, it is also the world’s best client for chainsaws. This post was taken from notes on a talk that was given to us on our first day in country. The speaker peppered his talk with stories told by his grandfather. Twice a year, his grandfather got his pants washed and on those days was given a bitter pill to swallow for fighting parasites, but he was also given a hardboiled egg as a reward. As well as Costa Rica is doing now, it is still not without its problems. Problems exist with infrastructure, the slow pace of government, modernizing education, growing inequality and drugs. Still, who is not without their problems. Costa Rica is a lovely country and a joy to visit.

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