Saturday’s difficult ride left me dreading conditions on the roads away from the ‘quiet’ Nicoya peninsula. But we left Puentarenas on a cycle path, then joined a main highway with a wide shoulder and a concrete cycle lane!! Fantastic. Busy traffic and uninspiring scenery didn’t matter: we were safe! The landscape improved on coastal route 34, I am enjoying this ride!! Charles less so – I left my phone in a cafe, offered to collect it myself, but Charles insisted on cycling back – an extra 20km added to his total ride. Thank you Charles. I booked a hotel right next to Parque Nacional Carara – we checked in early and checked out late. Wonderful! A stylish and comfortable room, ac, a choice of pools and the gardens were beautiful, leading into forest trails. Virtually all other guests were British ornithologists, identified by khaki clothing, binoculars and huge camera lenses, huddled together in the evening ticking off species spotted like a hushed game of bingo. I wonder if birds respond in kind ‘spotted two Germans and a skinny man with strange oil markings’. They were all friendly, lovely people. And guess who joined us for breakfast? Two scarlet macaws!
Further south again staying in Quepos so we can visit Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. It’s a tiny reserve and very crowded but we saw tree frogs, a deer, an owl, sloths, hummingbirds and butterflies, many more macaws, a toucan. The racoons and white faced capuchins were so cheeky on the beach. I was dozing in the sun but heard shouts of monkey, monkey from the swimmers, calling to me! One capuchin was on guard while another unzipped the bag next to my head hunting (successfully) for food!
Despite the crowds we found quiet forest trails. Again, it’s the forest that steals the show, stunning tropical forest, but oh so steamy hot. Exhausting, enervating.
So why is Costa Rica so stable and wealthy compared to its Central American neighbours? Feel free to skip this bit! It begins with the Spanish ‘Conquest’ from the Atlantic: a lack of gold and silver on the ‘rich coast’ and dense impenetrable, mosquito-infested swamps and forest stymied development and made Costa Rica a poor, isolated, and sparsely-inhabited region within the Spanish Empire. Costa Rica was described as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America” by a Spanish governor in 1719. Costa Rica’s indigenous population was too small to become forced labour so Spanish settlers had to work their own land, and large plantations didn’t happen. Costa Rica became a “rural democracy” with no oppressed mestizo or indigenous class. Eventually, Spanish settlers crossed the forest and found rich volcanic soil and a milder climate in the hills. Post independence, they grew wealthy growing coffee. Bananas were the next export boom (early C20th) but this time controlled by American United Fruit Company, or El Pulpo (the octopus) importing migrant labourers, buying up land and infrastructure. José Figures opposed United’s dominance and exploitation, and after a brief conflict became Costa Rica’s first socialist leader. He taxed the wealthy, nationalised the banks, introduced a welfare program and gave women and minorities equal rights. Quoting HG Wells “ The future of mankind cannot include the armed forces” Figueres disbanded the military, laying the foundation of today’s unarmed democracy.