Archive | January, 2012

Costa Rica

30 Jan

Costa Rica is a beautiful and diverse country.  And while La Selva will provide an excellent glimpse into Costa Rican life, here is a little general information about our destination compiled from the discussion forum.

Costa Rica gets about 100 inches of rain annually. The wettest months of the year are in September and October, while the driest months are January through March. They have a booming tourism industry. They call speed bumps “son muertos” which means “dead person”.  Many fast food restaurants like Burger King and McDonalds do home deliveries in Costa Rica. They have a national social security plan that currently covers 90 percent of the population. They also have a public health care service that covers over 90 percent of the population as well. Cigar smoking is considered a strong past time in Costa Rica. Unfortunately many people in the cities try to scam tourists who are not well educated in cigars with fake Cubans and other top name brand cigars. Small stores know as pulperia, which are similar to convenient stores. Restaurants are known as “Sodas”, and sell common food such as rice/meats for cheap (2-3 U.S. $ a plate). A major bridge that is important to San Jose travel is “La Puente De Amistad de Taiwan”, or the “Taiwan friendship bridge”. A company known as MAA, and crosses the Tampisque River built it. Former President Oscar Aires (2004) cut of relations with Taiwan, and the bridge is now known locally as “Puente de la Apunalada,” or the Backstab Bridge. The country is comparable in size to West Virginia.

Volcanoes are common in Costa Rica.  There are over 121 volcanic formations in Costa Rica. Seven of the volcanoes are still active. One of the world’s top 10 most active volcanoes, Arenal, is located just outside of San Jose. This volcano is said to currently be in a “sleep” period since 2010. However, its formation was over 7,000 years ago and its most active period has been from 1968-2010. Active volcanoes erupt annually, sometimes numerous times and at different magnitudes.


Political, economical, and social structure of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a reputation for being a very peaceful country. It promotes social liberties aggressively. This includes recent protests against the increased US anti narcotic forces in the country. The main point of the protests was to legalize marijuana in order to avoid becoming more like Mexico, where the drug cartels basically rule because of the US’s backwards drug policy. They also remain one of the more stable countries in the region. It is the Switzerland of Central America because similar to Switzerland it does not have a military and it is known for its peaceful diplomacy. Costa Rica can survive without a military because there is real threat that Costa Rica poses to any other country. It does not have an abundance of needed natural resources (like oil) and its economy is largely supported by tourism.

Currency & Exchange

Costa Rica uses a type of currency called a “colon” (plural “colones”). One USD is equal to about 500 colones. It is terrifying, at first, when you go to buy a stuffed parrot for “4,500 colones.” Costa Rican Colon, 1 colon= .002 US dollars.


Costa Rica has a population of about 4.5 million people. It is about 49% male to 51% female. Surprisingly, the indigenous population makes up only 1% of the total population (60,000 people). There is a 95 percent literacy rate in Costa Rica, which is the fifth highest of all the Latin American countries. The national religion of Costa Rica is Roman Catholic, which 76 percent of the population follows, but religious freedom is guaranteed in their constitution.

Costa Rican army

The last Costa Rican army was decommisioned in 1949. It was abolished after their bloody civil war that later allowed for presidential elections to take place. If any country does try to invade it, Costa Rica relies on its relationship with other Central, North, and South American countries. Costa Rica signed the RIO treaty in 1947, which states that any attack on a country that is a member can be interpreted as an attack against all members. This allows the country to remain protected in the event of an attack despite the absence of a national military.

American presence in Costa Rica since the 19th century

The US-Costa Rican relationship could be called a “friendship with benefits.” The US supports most of Costa Rican commerce. The US at one point even reduced the Costa Rican debt in exchange for protection of their rain forest.

Female President

Laura Chinchilla, is the current president of Costa Rica. She assumed the position on May 8, 2010, becoming the country’s first female president. Currently, Argentina and Brazil also have female presidents. Argentinean president Cristina Fernández was elected in 2007, and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was elected in 2010.

Laura Chinchilla

Bordering countries 

Costa Rica is bordered by Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. It is 8-12 degrees above the equator.

Costa Rica’s latitude and longitude and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Cancun.

Costa Rica’s coordinates are 10º N and 84º W. Puerto Rico (where I visited two summers ago) has the coordinates 18º 15′ N and 66º 30′ W. Dominican Republic’s coordinate’s are 19º N 70º 40′ W. Cancun’s coordinates are 21º 9′ N 86º 50′ W. Hawaii’s coordinates are 21º 18′ N 157º 49′ W. Costa Rica is 8º closer to the equator or more than these other places.

Problems with crime

One student in the class said that they thought that there are a lot of reported child abductions and the police department is very corruption. However, Dr. Arevalo pointed out that she didn’t think that was true.

Costa Rican industry

In the early 14th century, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to crop coffee. In an effort to increase revenue and economic development, coffee farms expanded and by 1829, coffee became the country’s largest agricultural export. Today, in the Central Valley, there are numerous coffee farms that provide tours for vacationers, including a place called Cafe Britt. Prepare to be caffeinated!

Green reputation

Costa Rica has the largest area of protected forest. Almost 25% of the country’s land is protected. They have diminished the rates of deforestation from the worst rates in the world in the 70’s and 80’s to a rate of almost zero by 2005. This is new, as decades and centuries ago they were one of the biggest contributors to deforestation and lack of conservation. Over the past two decades, conservationists have effectively implemented many strategies to reverse the negative problems. They are especially sensitive to ecotourism, since tourists make up a huge number of people currently there and a huge proportion of their gross domestic product.Independence

Costa Rica gained their independence from Spain because of Spain’s defeat in the Mexican War of Independence in the early 1800’s.


The country is only 0.25% of the worlds land mass, it contains 5% of the worlds biodiversity

Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 different species, and it is among the top 20 most bio-diverse countries in the world.

  1.        Biodiversity is a measure of how many different species live in a certain country, so when you think about the small size of Costa Rica it makes these numbers seem even more amazing.
  2.       Brazil, which is about 67 times larger than Costa Rica, is the number one most bio-diverse country in the world.
  3.       However, according to, Costa Rica averages 228.3 more plant species, 16.7 more bird species, and 4.55 more mammal species per square kilometer than Brazil!!
  4.      Part of the reason Costa Rica is so bio-diverse is because of its geography.
  5.      It has a variety of ecosystems due to the fact that it has oceans on two sides, mountains, and volcanoes.
  6.       Additionally, Costa Rica’s proximity to the equator allows it to be green year round and to have an abundance of sunlight and water

    Costa Rican Blue Frog

Favorite Sport

The most popular sport is soccer, or as Costa Ricans call it, “futbol.”

  1. At local tournaments fans cheer on teams which represent their respective provinces.
  2. Costa Rica’s national team, Los Ticos, qualified for three World Cups and provides a source of pride for their country.
  3. Despite their disappointing finish of 31st out of 32 teams in the 2006 Cup, fans remain devoted. For recreation, people play “mejenga,” a casual tournament where the official soccer rules don’t apply.
  4. In addition, “papifutbol,” or indoor soccer, is commonly played.
  5. On Sundays locals gather in teams to compete. Should we add cleats and soccer balls to the packing list


Costa Ricans greet each other with the phrase “Pura Vida!”, which is also the country’s national motto. Directly translated, it means “Pure Life,” but it is most often used colloquially the way we would use “How’s it going?” or “Whazzzupppp?”

Costa Ricans are called Ticos.

Male – Tico

Female – Tica

Costa Rican Dining

Most meals in Costa Rica consist of some variation of rice and beans.   Along with the usual rice and beans, some source of protein is present, such as chicken or fish.    A usual breakfast is known as Gallo Pinto. This meal consists of rice mixed with black beans, served with sour cream, eggs and fried plantain.

The traditional desert is known as arroz con leche, rice with milk. The rice is cooked in milk with sugar, cinnamon and other ingredients.

Famous Ticos

Famous people of Costa Rican descent /birth include:

    1. º   J.P. Calderon—a professional volleyball player, model, and reality TV participant
    2. º   Ringo Cantillo—a soccer midfielder who played in the American Soccer League and on the U.S. national soccer team
    3. º   Franklin Chang-Díaz—an engineer, physicist, and former NASA astronaut
    4. º   Sonia Chang-Díaz—a member of the Massachusetts Senate
    5. º   Eliot A. Jardines—the first Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source (ADDNI/OS) in the U.S.
    6. º   Harry Shum, Jr.—a dancer, actor, and choreographer, best known for his role as Michael Chang on the FOX TV show Glee


There are a few groups of indigenous people in Costa Rica.

One group, the Boruca people who live near the Panama border, has a legend that I found very interesting.

When I was in Costa Rica last time I was inordinately obsessed with a kind of bird called the resplendent quetzal (we won’t see it at La Selva, but you should google image it – trust me.) The Boruca story goes that a great chief’s wife was about to have a son. When the child, named Satu, was born, a magnificent bird was perched on a tree branch singing a song. The sorcerers in the village saw this as a good omen, and gave Satu a golden amulet in the shape of the quetzal’s head. Satu grew to be the strongest young man in the village. his uncle, Labi, was jealous of Satu and stole the amulet. The next day, Satu got shot by an arrow and died. A quetzal flew and lighted on the boy’s body. Labi, frightened at what the bird’s presence meant, burned the boy’s body and the amulet. Then, Satu’s father and the rest of the village found that Satu died. As they mourned, a quetzal appeared in their midst, singing its song again. It flew off into the mountains, where it lives to this day. According to legend, Satu’s soul lives on in that quetzal. I saw a quetzal in the mountains, but unfortunately I was unable to verify whether or not it was Satu.


Male Resplendent Quetzal (National Geographic wallpaper image by Steve Winter)