All I’d heard about Costa Rica was right | OPINION

Little Costa Rica has been judged to be the world’s happiest place, based on average levels of health, satisfaction with life and devotion to preservation and sustainable development. The most foreign thing about Costa Rica is that the bottom-line doesn’t dictate values as it does here. When major decisions are to be made, they’re decided on the basis of whether they’re good for people and the environment.

After a life of travel to out-of-the-way places, my wife and I finally decided to abandon do-it-yourself travel planning use a travel service. We decided only where to go and how long to stay and let the pros at Pacific Tradewinds handle bookings and make sure of connections in between. After so many years of dealing with unforeseen travel glitches, Costa Rica was to be the least stressful of our adventures — except for the air travel.

Airlines keep inventing snarky schemes for squeezing more dollars from travelers. Their latest trick keeps budget travelers from reserving seats other than First-Class or Economy Plus. First-Class is out of our price range and Economy Plus costs $19 for four extra inches of leg room. The remaining 80 percent of the seats can’t be reserved until the day of the flight — and the airline adds that the flight will be overbooked which panics travelers who can’t deal with uncertainty into buying expensive seats.

With layovers in Portland and Houston, the trip took 14 hours, three hours for passengers boarding in Houston who were surprised to learn that they’d paid $12 more per ticket than we did. Another consolation was that travelers over the age of 75 no longer have to remove shoes during security screening.

All credit for a happy time goes to Costa Rica. With a population no larger than Houston-Dallas, it lies sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama. Depending on the season, Costa Rica is washed by breezes from the Pacific or Atlantic. Mountain ranges catch precipitation that makes everything including fence-posts grow. Yes, fence posts. Farmers simply stick rows of cuttings into the ground and, after a short wait, tie-off barbed wire to the leafed-out sticks.

The fences are symbolic of the nation’s attitude toward nature. Costa Rica is bursting with wildlife, housing 20 percent of the wildlife species of the world. While Costa Rica compares with Switzerland in area, it took a radically different route toward development, honoring nature over development. With a per capita income only a fraction of the Swiss, Costa Rica has achieved goals that no other nation comes close to matching:

It planted enough trees to increase forested areas by 20 percent, allowing the return of wildlife that had disappeared decades ago.

A quarter of the country is set aside as national parks and refuges.

By 2021, Costa Rica will be the planet’s only carbon-neutral country.

It has the largest green sea turtle preserve on the Caribbean coast and the world’s largest Ridley sea turtle preserve on the Pacific.

Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in the Western Hemisphere, drawing tourists from around the world.

Costa Rica can supply social services because it supports no armed forces.

These priorities helped to earn Costa Rica’s a rating as the world’s most happy nation. After spending two pre-Christmas weeks there we tend to agree. Smiles and greetings were open and relaxed, putting us at ease for our entire stay.

Personal economics are clearly different. One resort hotel manager said he makes about $1,200 per month while his wife brings in another $1,000 per month. He said they lived quite well compared to average earners who take home 68.4 percent of his executive pay. Everyone’s medical is covered.

Unemployment of 15 percent to 20 percent still plagues the economy and a federal safety-net that supports the unemployed imposes a troublesome drain on the national budget. Part of the problem stems from a constant flood of Nicaraguans crossing into the nation to illegally harvest trees or clear-cut patches for farming. And there was the recent flap when Nicaraguan engineers used a faulty Google map to guide dredging in the border’s San Juan River. These are small down-sides for what is otherwise paradise.

American ex-patriots are buying in. A modest home (think clotheslines, not driers) runs about $500 per month. Expect to pay a total of $1,500 a month for living costs without a car. Double that for top-tier luxury living. A big draw is that Costa Rica offers a safer environment than any other Latin American nation. Another is the unfailing friendliness of Ticos — a nickname nationals have adopted.

Visitors learn to give and get smiles along with the normal greeting of, “Pura vida,” or pure life. Costa Ricans (Ticos) mean it. They live

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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