Have settled happily in a small casa (house) on the property of Ana Piedra, a justly-famous Spanish proferssor, and her fascinating German/Costa Rican husband Alex. It’s in a garden full of crotelaria bushes, trees and birds, an oasis to the surrounding crowded and over developed suburbia.
Strangely, while this is “rural” Costa Rica, we have all the services although like many places in CR the water is probably not good for my european-trained stomach (so bottled water only 4 me) and the sewage system doesn’t like paper which gets disposed of separately. And the neighbours mostly believe they are in a disco or deaf so the noise levels are unbelievable for anyone who hasn’t lived in a South Indian town where they have the same mind-set. Its not so much loud music all night although we’ve had some of that, as revving car engines for hours and very early morning metal cutting (try 6am) in some backyard home workshop 1 house down. I think as overall noise levels outhere with no freeway, trains or planes, are so low, its really noticeable.
The pollution issues are classic 3rd world – most local people still seem think its really ok to collect their own rubbish and plastics and then burn them behind their house, but if it’s not their family’s rubbish and at home, it’s quite ok to leave it – on the beach or in the bush between the tropical wildlife, orchids and ancient trees that the tourists come for.
There are a few erstwhile folk down at the beach who painfully and very publicly sweep up plastics and bottles dumped by their partying mates the night before, but a lot of that seems to be only in the presence of tourists, many of them are disabled so it seems to be a way to make money as a tip of some kind from me the tourist, for the effort, is pretty much expected (monetary of course, and they take dollars and beers). Kind of “you want to enjoy a clean beach, so pay for it – because our governing bodies certainly don’t”.
Much like my own country, ZA, around this beach at least, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of civic or national pride shown by locals, in their amazingly beautiful country.
The Espanol classes with Ana, and sometimes with Alex, are provi g really useful. Every afternoon for 3 hours on the porch of the large casa I share with Alex’ 15 year old son, Daniele. The casa is painted a wonderful tropical green and tiled and full of windows and fans and cool breezes, and spotlessly clean. A real delight. 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and half the house a long high-ceilinged open-plan living area with desk, handmade wooden chairs (v v comfortable!!) And kitchen – all the basics, and its enough.
The neighbours, however, are loco. On the day I arrived one cut down a small copse of banana trees and other flowering shrubs and bushes next to the fence, sadly on the outside. Apparently that space is nominally defined as a public thoroughfare- but as one side connects to a tough and aggressive neighbour so is now pretty much private property and inaccessible, and it doesn’t actually connect anything, clearing half seems incredibly pointless. The gorgeous plants that were hacked down with gay abandon and some malice methinks, hosted a number of large iguana, a black/red squirrel, and any number of birds, but in spite of cajoling and sensible arguements from my hosts, this nutter continued on his “civic duty” to make this space accessible. Now his kids who should be in school hare up and down there during classtime, smashing sticks against the fence. Neighbour problems but with some profound long term impact on the overall area.
Behind Alex’s 3 hectare property, and also a block away, closer to the main national road, similar manic destruction of treed areas is happening. The excuse of the landowners apparently being that the land is up for sale and new owners will want it cleared. My heart just breaks to see them hacking down really really tall trees – 20\30 metres, old growth, and then burning them to clear the ground, as they’ve not been felled for timber why do anything else with the wood? Its brainless savage destruction and there’s absolutely no policing or municipal regulations to prevent it. In rural areas along waterways (these two examples are neither rural nor on water) the trees may not legally be felled within 50m of a waterway to prevent erosion problems. There, you can report someone who clear trees, but it will usually be after the event in which case nothing can be done to save the trees, and according to the various horror stories I heard in Puriscal, near the farm, only a small fine is sometimes levied – depending on whether the landowner has “friends in high places” or pays bribes.
So while millions are being spent to protect trees in certain areas and to painfully, carefully, reforest other areas, wilful manic massive destruction of the country’s assets continues unashamedly and very very quickly. Its quite horrific to see an acre of forest disapear within a day and then see massive smoke plumes for the next few days as those divine trees are simply burned, releasing all that carbon and making the air poisonous, this aspect of Costa Rica is totally freaking me out ( as you may have realised…)
However, I simply watch it all. This is not my country and I don’t have any leverage to encourage change or a way to educate people in appreciating the intrinsic value of what they are destroying. Anyway, we aren’t doing any better in South Africa or the U.K., and much worse in India, three other countries I love, and know well.
Now just recently we see massive floods again in the UK, a seemingly annual occurrence now, within totally de-forested and untreed agricultural areas in the UK, and causing mass destruction of towns and homes. So a result we could learn from. However, rather than talk about giving land back to nature and keeping it covered in trees, which was its natural form in much of the U.K., all we seem prepared to do is blame the current (3 year old) government, and suggest massively destructive “solutions” like dredge rivers deeper so the rain can rush out to sea faster – along with all that english topsoil.
it is horrific, sitting here watching the process happen from a little earlier in the social development of a young country. First capitalistic greed takes hold, they apply the “rules” of the World Bank and US trade agreements, following religiously the “growth principle” and enforcing each landowning citizen’s total right to “property value increase” and viz a viz right to destroy that land – or whatever you want to call our current philosophy or economic principle, it’s certainly taking shape and gaining force in Costa Rica.
However, its a no-brainer to reach the conclusion that we in the so-called first world really have no value to bring or advice to give. We ourselves have no idea how to care for the planet or prevent our environments from becoming totally inhospitable. We are absolutely all in this together, wanting nice holiday hotels with big lawns but continued access to primary forest (!! ????), super cheap food at home from fields denuded of their organic matter and nutrients, easy access on wide straight roads and trainlines to absolutely anywhere we feel we want to go, there’s a long list. With a massive environmental charge we are simply not paying at the moment.
But we will. And so will the iguanas, the howler monkeys, the last few jaguars and macaws and dolphins, and the rest.
I’m not feeling very proud to be a human being at this time.