Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jaco Beach – The Bad

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our visit to Jaco, while educational and bringing a certain balance to our view of Costa Rica, was not nearly as enjoyable as our January visit in Guanacaste Province. This final installment on the country will attempt to detail why.

I would have to say that the oppressive daily heat and humidity ranks as the number one reason that this visit was not an unmitigated pleasure. Unlike some, I am not content to lay around a pool for any length of time; my preference is for exploring my environment, preferably on foot. Because the weather became so hot and humid so quickly each day, our peregrinations were largely confined to the early mornings. Even when I did leave the town to visit Quepos and Manuel Antonio, the same problem presented itself.

Jaco Beach itself, in my view, is a tawdry tourist town, rather dirty, with a fair bit of garbage strewn about, and uneven, broken sidewalks, offering little opportunity to experience some of the more important aspects of Costa Rican culture. Businesses seemed to consist mainly of restaurants, bars, and surf shops. I suppose this might be considered heaven for some younger travelers.

Both on the highway and in town, I came to discover that Costa Ricans are incredibly bad drivers. For example, on the trip through the mountains en route to Jaco from the airport, I was appalled at the number of cars and trucks that would pass on blind curves. The fact that we didn’t see any accidents mystifies me. In town, there seemed to be no respect for stop signs. Pedestrians have to be extremely careful, lest they become an endangered species. On a related note, the large number of vehicles on the main drag made for a very noisy and smelly atmosphere.

Perhaps because it is an area that caters to the young tourist, drugs are sold pretty openly. One evening two young Costa Ricans asked me if I wanted cocaine, and one afternoon on the beach, only about 300 feet from the beach police station, someone rather insistently tried to sell me weed. The fact that the sales pitch was made in such close proximity to the station really called into question for me either the competence or the integrity of the local constabulary.

Probably the most unsettling aspect of our visit to Jaco occurred one afternoon when my wife went shopping at a nearby mall. Upon her return, she discovered that her change purse containing about $60 and her credit card was missing. Revisiting the store where she made her purchases and generally retracing her steps were all to no avail, and she ultimately concluded that it had been grabbed when she had to squeeze by a group of young men, one of whom distracted her. This was our first brush with Costa Rican theft, something that I have since learned is quite common. The people at the hotel were great in facilitating the cancellation of my wife’s credit card (perhaps the theft was a blessing in disguise? – just kidding!) and we were henceforth much more careful when we were out.

Finally, I didn’t like the fact that prostitution, although legal in Costa Rica, is practiced so openly. While that may sound like a moral judgment, it isn’t; as I mentioned before, I see prostitution as a waste of human potential, and potentially quite dangerous. One can argue all they want about the economic imperatives that probably drive many of these young women to pursue such a career, but I still see it as a kind of surrender of hope for a better future.

In closing, I would have to say that the country has had quite an impact on me. If things go according to plan, we hope to spend a month there next winter renting a place somewhere in the Central Valley to experience the daily rhythms of Costa Rican life. I continue to work on my Spanish, hoping that on our next visit I will be able to better communicate with people.

I would be very happy to hear from you if you have any comments on these posts.

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