Our recent trip to Costa Rica reminded me how little I know about Latin America.
I didn’t know, for example, that Costa Rica, with a population of 5,000,000, is a stable democracy with no army. According to Wikipedia, its national parks and protected areas cover around 23.4% of its land mass, the largest percentage of any country in the world. It is considered one of the greenest countries on earth. With a literacy rate of 97.8% and a life expectancy of 77.7 years (ranked just ahead of the United States), it has the highest standard of living in Central America.
We learned that this small country welcomes over 2,500,000 visitors per year. These are tourists and expats from North America and Europe, as well as agricultural and service workers from Nicaragua. January is their long summer school holiday and we saw many “tico” families enjoying the beaches. We also saw farm workers cutting sugar cane in the fields with machetes and loading huge sugar transport trucks as big as the lumber trucks we see in British Columbia. Apart from the luxurious villas closer to the coast, people outside the cities tend to live in small well-kept homes, many painted in bright colours, on little lots surrounded by walls or fences. There are modern air-conditioned “mega mercados” selling all the products we know from home, plus wine and beer, and, in Liberia, huge discount warehouses analogous to Costco. There are also itinerant farmers markets selling fruits and vegetables we have never seen before. We learned that Costa Rica is diversifying from their traditional agricultural economy based on coffee, bananas and pineapple, to manufacturing, services and tourism. As one friend (who spends her time in a totally different part of Costa Rica, in the south on the road to Mount Chirripo) says, Costa Rica is “an amazing country.” It certainly is now up there on my radar screen.
On another level, after a lifetime of travel primarily as a couple, this recent trip has reaffirmed the advantages of travelling with others. We shared this trip to Costa Rica with Sandra and Justus Havelaar, our in-laws from Campbell River in British Columbia. In many ways, their company was like an immersion seminar in lifelong learning. Spending two weeks with them on the balcony, I wanted to take in like a sponge all that they knew and I didn’t.
Just one example: Justus has been working with computers for years, ever since he first introduced them into his high school, way back when. He and Sandra came with a new laptop and a new iPad. He, unlike me, prunes his photos as he goes along, as professional photographers recommend. Watching my brother-in-law so readily manipulate his photographs on his new laptop raised my expectations. When I returned to Vancouver and found my 2008 vintage MacBook too slow to even download my pictures, I realized that I had “run it into the ground.” The new operating systems had long since displaced my old hardware, and it was time for a new laptop. Right away, I went to the Apple store, got a new laptop, and have been attending workshops there ever since. My life as a blogger just got 1000% easier.
Everyone was into ebooks; Justus his Kobo, Sandra her iPad, my husband his Kindle. When I’d finished the hard copy books I had brought with me, and was wondering where I could find a bookstore that would sell English language books, Justus used Apple’s AirDrop feature to send a couple of appropriate books from his eLibrary directly to my iPad. Now I understand the utility of AirDrop.
More important, I now see why ebooks are so popular. Another friend who spends considerable time in Mexico every year downloads books from the Toronto Public Library to her iPad before each trip. I have the TPL app but have never used it. My Costa Rica experience has given me an incentive to do so in the future. And my relatives told me about gutenberg.ca and gutenberg.org, where books out of copyright are available free of charge.
They also told me about the Petrucci Music Library, where all classical music in the public domain is available free of charge, and where copies of scores can be obtained, downloaded, and printed at home. Musicians undoubtedly know of this resource. I certainly didn’t. It’s amazing what you learn from fellow travellers.