We finally put the travel in “have orders, will travel” with a weeklong trip to Costa Rica! In this life, it’s hard not to visit somewhere else and spend the entire trip comparing the two places, so I figure that’s a good place to start when recapping the trip. To my pleasant surprise, the two countries bear little resemblance, thanks in large part to Costa Rica’s beaches and booming tourism.
The most immediate and stark difference was the language barrier, or lack thereof. For the last five months, English has felt like our secret language. There’s no need for clandestine whispering in Honduras; J and I have private conversations in plain view just by speaking English. From the second we touched down in Costa Rica, that was not possible. Not only were there gringos everywhere but at least three-quarters of Costa Ricans we met spoke lovely English. In a country that depends on (and excels at) tourism, you’d think languages would be a cornerstone of public education. But our cliff jumping guide said his English instruction didn’t begin until high school and even then it was basic. Apparently most Costa Ricans learn English just by “figuring it out on their own.” Easier said than done. (No pun intended!)
Costa Rica also felt incredibly modern (though maybe it wouldn’t have seemed that way had we come directly from the States.) Nearly every public space has free Wifi (and good Wifi). Some restaurants even had tables with built-in charging outlets, something I’ve never seen before. Roads were smoothly paved (!!!) and continually being improved (we ran into enough roadwork to say that with confidence). Grocery stores were huge and the variety was overwhelming. We made the mistake of creeping into a Walmart on our last night there just to see what it was like. Turns out it was like America.
The most meaningful difference to us, naturally, was security. The security situation in Honduras leaves a lot to be desired. The irony of traveling from the murder capital of the world to a country where “pura vida” (pure life) is the law of the land is not lost on me. We stayed in Playa Jaco and La Fortuna and only saw barbed wire and barrier walls in San Ramon, a small town located along the drive between the two. Car windows weren’t tinted, windows didn’t have cages, and stores didn’t have armed guards. We walked as much as we could, covering more ground in the last week than in the previous 5 months combined. I only wish I didn’t feel the same paranoia about people walking up behind us quickly or getting too close, but I think Tegucigalpa has rooted that fear in me pretty deep.
From safety to scenery, all of the checks seem to be in the Costa Rica column for us. But the grass is always greener on the other side, right? Honduras does win a few points for weather and affordability. Both Jaco and La Fortuna were in the mid-90s and oppressively humid. A small price to pay for beautiful beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls, and animals (all topics for upcoming posts). What wasn’t a small price was, well, the prices. We’ve both traveled Europe extensively and have never, ever been gouged quite like Costa Rica! Every meal, no matter how simple came out to at least $15/person. Not to mention the 13% sales tax and 10% service tax.
And, of course, Central America syndrome reared its head in Costa Rica too. Those magically smooth roads I mentioned? Well, we sat unmoving for a full hour in a line of traffic at least 100 cars long while road workers filled in potholes. Apparently that’s not too unusual, as people in cars ahead and behind us settled in for a long wait, some eating lunch on the hood of their cars. And, while not in your face at every moment, poverty is still a major problem. Behind our beachfront AirBnB (to be gushed about ad nauseum in a future post) was a small medical clinic, likely the only one for miles, with lines out the door. It’s the kind of thing that makes a luxurious vacation (by our standards) hard to reconcile. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s natural beauty and endless sources of entertainment also make it hard not to enjoy the hell out of every second. But that’s fodder for a slew of other blog posts.