Leaving Costa Rica, Bypassing Baltimore —by Jinny Batterson
In 2015, my husband Jim and I got to spend nearly the entire month of April in Costa Rica, partly to attend the destination wedding of our younger son and his long-term sweetie. They’d worked out all of the details ahead of time. All we had to do was share expenses, show up, and beam as they exchanged vows on a Pacific coast beach as the sun set behind them.
A few weeks before our departure, a discount airline initiated direct flights between Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington Airport and Juan Santamaria Airport, near Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose. We bought tickets, drove to Maryland, parked the car, and got a ride to the airport from my brother’s house nearby. Before leaving, we’d investigated package tours of Costa Rica and talked with friends who’d previously visited the country. What wound up suiting us best was our own customized “add on” itinerary for after the wedding. We’d spend three more weeks exploring parts of this biodiversity capital of the Western hemisphere.
Just after the wedding, we spent several additional days on the Pacific coast near Manuel Antonio National Park. More great sunsets, a park guide who pointed out hard to see tree-bound sloths for us, an abundance of white-faced capuchin monkeys, a secluded beach where Jim took a Sunday morning swim before the crowds arrived.
Then we took a bone-jarring shuttle van ride to the area of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Temperatures were much cooler, with morning mists and frequent showers. The wildlife was fabulous. We saw or heard hummingbirds and tropical birds that we’d never experienced before. One afternoon, our hotel room got raided by a coatimundi, a sort of cross between a raccoon and an anteater. At a larger reserve, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, a little lower down the mountain slope, we explored trails and listened to the piercing call of the “three wattled bell bird.”
After Monteverde, we went to a small village near the Tenorio Volcanos National Park in northwestern Costa Rica, with its magical “Rio Celeste.” This stretch of river is formed when two streams, each laden with chemicals from the region’s volcanos, merge to create a stunning turquoise blue river. Lastly, we did a river float on the Caribbean side of the country on the Rio Frio, which hosts a large population of caymans (smaller relatives of alligators), water birds, and monkeys.
Before returning to the airport, we stayed overnight on the outskirts of the capital in a hotel set in several acres of well-manicured gardens. The Hotel Bougainvillea was a wedding destination as well as an oasis for both foreigners and locals who came with their extended families for a Sunday afternoon stroll and a meal or cool drink.
On Monday, April 27, we went back to the airport. Our flight to BWI was a little bumpy, but uneventful. We arrived just before nightfall. It was not until we’d arrived at my brother’s suburban house that we learned of rioting in parts of Baltimore City in the wake of the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young African-American man who had died on April 19 of injuries suffered earlier while in police custody. The rioting brought back painful memories— as a young woman, I’d lived in downtown Baltimore for a couple of years shortly after the 1968 riots sparked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. I’d seen then how both the physical and psychic landscapes were scarred by riots.
On April 28, Jim and I headed back to the area of central North Carolina where we live, going at about 65 miles an hour along interstates and beltways, bypassing or cordoned off from any blighted areas.
During 28 days in Costa Rica, I did not witness any crimes or riots, although some areas seemed economically poor. I’m sure that Costa Rica is not without problems, but everyone I met seemed hopeful about his/her future, along with that of this small country s/he was unabashedly proud of, with some good reasons:
Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948, deciding instead to invest in education and health care for its citizens. It does have an armed police force, but the number of police is smaller than the number of teachers in this country with one of the best educational systems in Latin America. An estimated 95% of its 4.5 million citizens are literate. Nearly everyone completes at least a high school education. From a low of about 20% forest a half century ago, Costa Rica’s tropical forests have rebounded and now cover roughly 50% of its territory. About 25% of all land has been set aside in national parks and private ecological reserves.
Compared with the U.S., Costa Rica is much smaller in size, population, and diversity. It has both natural assets and natural liabilities that we do not. Most Ticos and Ticas we met had either bypassed or corrected some of the worst excesses of U.S. industrial and post-industrial society.
Since my return to the U.S., the spring weather has been beautiful. I’ve hiked and gardened to my heart’s content. I wonder if maybe giving more U.S. residents access to nature and a stake in its preservation could help us break some of the unnatural cycles of income extremes and environmental damage we have gotten ourselves mired in. Pure vida!