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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Happy Costa Ricans!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

         So check this out: in the last blog post I talked about Irazu Volcano, right? The sleeping giant just a few thousand feet up the slope from us. And I bragged, perhaps prematurely, that it has been quiet since 1996. Well, in the last couple of days, local residents in towns on the flanks of Irazu have felt a series of small earthquakes! Now that could mean nothing or it could mean … Dum, ta dum dum … Something!
         Of course, none of these tremors have been more than 3.0 on the Richter scale, so likely it’s just the Goddess of Irazu sighing or shaking her hair a bit. But it does make for a little drama in Costa Rican life.
         We took another trip to the mall today, still searching for clothes for me better suited to the climate. (On our next trip, I’ll pack heavy on loose-fitting cotton shorts and lighter on jeans and jackets.) Once again we needed help in selecting the right bus. The red and white one that pulled up to the stop had signs in the window for locations we never heard of, with nothing about central Heredia, our destination. But as we shook our heads and backed away from the door, a woman from the nearby shop asked where we were going and when we said “Heredia,” she urged us onto the bus, saying it would get us there. And indeed it did, leaving us unclear as to the meaning of the window signs. Obviously, we still have a lot to learn about the bus system.
         While waiting on a bench for the bus, a woman and her little girl walked up. I moved over and said to the child, who was perhaps five years old, “Sentado?” offering her a seat by me. Like many Costa Rican children we’ve seen, she was stunningly beautiful, big dark eyes, straight black hair, exotic olive complexion. But oh, so shy. Still, she took the seat by me and now and then looked up to meet my ready smile. After we were seated on the bus, in what were very tight seats (one of the major differences in the various buses is comfort level), another woman and her little girl sat down in front of us. Perhaps four years old, this nina had dark brown curly hair, pulled up into little ponytails on each side of her head, sparkling (could they be diamonds?) earrings decorating her small pierced ears. Sitting in her mother’s lap, she would peek over her mom’s shoulder to flirt with Layne, a bashful smile animating her pretty face. With saucy Latin music wafting through the bus for a change, and our timid little friend flashing those pretty eyes our way, our ride into Heredia was most entertaining.
         Layne and I theorized that these happy children could explain the January 7th New York Times report that Costa Ricans are the happiest people in the world, according to three different surveys in recent months. (See story here: The US came in 20th on one, just for comparison.) If children are loved, as these clearly were, are well-fed and comfortably housed, as most Costa Rican children are, have the security of government-sponsored, excellent health care, as they do, enjoy the benefits of free education, as Costa Ricans have, and live in a country without warfare since they abolished their army in 1948, there is every chance they will grow up to be happy adults. This is not to say, of course, that all Costa Ricans are happy nor that there is not poverty in this beautiful land. We see the shantytown below the bridge on the way into San Jose and it’s not a pretty sight. But fortunately, it is a rare sight.
         Here in San Rafael de Heredia, we see parents walking children to school and back home every day. The kids are in uniform, dark pants and white shirt, a policy Americans could learn from since it eliminates the kind of competitiveness over clothing - of all things! - that we see in the USA. As we stroll along residential streets here, the houses are not fancy but they are secure. The kids are not inside watching TV or playing video games so much as they are outside playing soccer, a national obsession.
         The young adults we have met have generally been in college or working as was Roy, the pleasant young man who sold us our GPS device at the mall. His efforts to practice English and mine to practice Spanish resulted in some humorous exchanges but we did communicate, due more to his advanced English than my pathetic Spanish, I must say. At one point as I was struggling with a Spanish phrase, Layne said to me: “He speaks English, you know.”
         “Yes,” I answered, with Roy smiling in agreement, “but I’m trying to practice my Spanish on him and he’s practicing English on me!”
          We’ve lusted after a GPS unit ever since riding with Jean-Pierre, our real estate friend, out to Grecia. (See post As I’ve mentioned before, Costa Rican streets generally have no identification, no numbers and no names. But Jean-Pierre drove through the maze of San Jose streets using his dashboard-mounted GPS, confidently following the pathways delineated by the device. We were pretty wowed and realized that, despite the price, a GPS would be invaluable to us in this unfamiliar country.
         So we now have our GPS, I have a new pair of shorts, and my Spanish is improving every day. (Can’t say the same for Layne’s, however!) We’re still evaluating Costa Rica as a permanent residence, but if measured by the happiness of the people here, it’s a big winner.

1 comment:

  1. I just read most, maybe all? of your blog, Kat, and I was enraptured. I love the way you write, so conversational I felt I was sitting talking to you! I'm a big armchair traveler, not even sure if I like traveling as much as I do reading, fantasizing about and planning it, so I just love reading all the details of yours and Layne's adventures there. It sounds wonderful, except maybe a little too hot for me. You my dear need more of those cotton capris and some sleeveless cotton tops. Try shopping online at Lands End, I'm crazy about their clothes, although most of their stuff is t-shirt type cotton and you need even lighter stuff. Linen's good for that clime, but gets so wrinkled. Question: How close are you to the beach? Don't you want to live closer? I'm so jealous, but if you do move there maybe I can come visit! Keep blogging!