Costa Rica was discovered by Columbus; the fact that it had no gold lead the Spanish to ignore it, which was a blessing. The country is a perfect example of what good leadership can accomplish. While its Central American neighbors have been and still are in turmoil because of crime, gangs, drug trafficking and wars, this country has not had a standing army since 1949 and has set aside 25% of its land as nature conservancy. This has drawn tourist dollars to the country and lessened its dependance on the volatile banana market. Coffee is also a major export.
We have visited the capital San Jose on the gulf side of the country, but docked today in Puntarenas, located at the end of a long peninsula on the Pacific side. The country is divided by a mountain chain which is the beginning of the Andes and these cause the west to be significantly drier than the east, where we took a tour through a cloud forest, a romantic way to say that you are walking in a heavy fog. That’s not to say that the area where we docked today isn’t green. It’s a matter of degree.
Puntarenas is a small town. We walked off the pier and immediately encountered an internet cafe. In less than an hour we were caught up with podcasts, email, and news of the day. (As always the ship’s internet is like watching grass grow.) The beach was right there as well. The sand doesn’t look inviting, but it’s dirty appearance is caused by the volcanic ash from eruptions nearby over the years. Of course, there were also vendors near the pier. In my younger days there would have been many handicraft items there that would have tempted me, but now that acquisitions lead to wonders about how to dispose of it all, it was fun just to amble and admire.
The vendors gave us extra encouragement to buy, because we are the last cruise ship here for the season. Things will be on hiatus until Europeans start arriving with their children during school holidays. Once it starts to get cold in North America, things will get busy again and little Puntarenas will host at least one cruise ship every day.
The afternoon tour began with a ride on a very old train that used to take passengers through the mountains. We passed a lot of ramshackle housing. Our guide said that these days upwardly mobile Costa Ricans don’t like to do work that makes their hands dirty and most farmers are legal or illegal immigrants from Nicaragua. The train made a racket working its way up the mountainside and suddenly we plunged into a long tunnel. It’s hot and humid here, but the only A/C we had was the warm breeze that came through the open windows.
Then we drove to the Tárcoles River for a tropical mangrove boat tour. This area has one of the largest crocodile populations on the American continent. Our viewing was hampered by the fact that it was high tide and the crocs were floating in the water rather than sunning themselves on the river banks. All we could see was the spiny protrusions from their heads to their tails as they lurked in the chocolate colored water. They prefer to live in murky water, which makes hunting much easier, but they were hard for us to photograph. Whenever we got close, they slipped beneath the surface. However, we could tell that some were huge, up to eighteen feet long and the guide said they live 60 - 70 years in this protected setting .