Columbus set foot on the coast near Puerto Limón in 1502 but the Spanish who tried to settle the country were prevented to do so by the jungle, tropical diseases and the Indians until Juan Vásquez de Coronado founded Cartago in the healthier highlands in 1562.
Cartago barely survived for the next century and a half before more settlements were established in the fertile central highlands. Heredia was founded in 1717, San José in 1737 and Alajuela in 1782. By that time, European diseases had virtually exterminated the original Indian population.
Central America became independent from Spain in 1821. Costa Rica was briefly part of the Mexican Empire, became a member of the United Provinces of Central America and finally acquired independence in 1838. When the American filibuster William Walker and his mercenaries invaded Nicaragua in 1855 Costa Rica's first president Juan Mora Fernández organised a makeshift army of 9000 civilians that defeated Walker at Santa Rosa in Costa Rica and at Rivas in Nicaragua.
Growing exports of coffee, thanks to a railroad from San José to Puerto Limón, and of bananas, introduced in 1878, brought prosperity and population growth. Democratic and orderly government was the rule except for the short Tinico dictatorship from 1917 to 1919 and the one year Ferrer junta of 1948. When the junta stepped down, the army was abolished and progressive social programmes which are still in effect, were introduced by the socialist Partido de Liberación Nacional (PLN). The other major party, the moderately conservative Partido de Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC), won the last elections in May 1998.
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From Barbados I flew to Caracas where I spent the night in the airport and waited for the connecting flight that brought me here.
I had spent three months learning Spanish here in 1992-93 so I first visited the city centre to re-acclimate myself in this environment.
Here, the "Parque Central" with the Cathedral on the left are photographed from the city's main west to east street, "Avenida Segunda"
Three blocks east along Avenida 2, the "Gran Hotel" looks much better now that all the handicrafts stands and sidewalk vendors have been removed from this plaza. The marimba players and the casino in the foyer still create the same ambience however.
Next to the "Gran Hotel" is the 1890 "Teatro Nacional" which is considered San José's showpiece and of which the people are very proud.
Busy Avenida Central, one block north, is a pedestrian mall in the city centre. The tall building in the centre, on the right side of the street, is the back of the "Gran Hotel".
A few blocks east and two blocks north we come upon "Parque Morazan" named after the Liberal Francisco Morazan who was President of the "United Provinces of Central America" from 1830 to 1839. Morazan's liberal reforms aimed at reducing the disparity between the Hispanic upper class and the Indian lower class were vigorously opposed by the Conservatives (Church and Landowners). The federation broke down with the pieces falling in the hands of right wing extremists (very much like Bolivar's Gran Colombia).
Four blocks south of Parque Morazan, the Plaza de Las Garantias Sociales sometimes draws dancers to the music of marimbas and drums.
One block further east the church of La Soledad reminds us of the power of the Catholic organisation even in this country, the most progressive of Central America.
I lived in this house for a while in November 1992 with an elderly couple who lived in fear of being robbed.
Costa Rica is much more advanced socially than its neighbours but the gap between the rich and poor is still high and it has not yet eliminated the desperate poverty that feeds crime in Latin America.
Then I moved here, in the home of a lady who was not as paranoid but who was nevertheless very careful about locking up her caged home not only at night but during the day as well.
I had a great bunch of classmates at the Instituto Universal de Idiomas that I attended. We went on weekend trips together of which I have good memories. Here are some of us in a restaurant in Quepos near the "Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio" on the west coast where we spent a weekend to see monkeys and other wildlife. (The restaurant owner, Thérese, me, Irma, Gilles and Denise.)
Another weekend trip brought us to the top of Volcán Poás, looking down into the crater.
We also enjoyed fresh fish in this seaside restaurant in Puerto Viejo on the east coast.
That winter, I also visited Puntarenas in the Nicoya Gulf on the west coast.
And I stopped to have a look at Playa Coco on the Guanacaste coast before moving north to Nicaragua in February 1993.
Getting re-aclimated to the city was great but more important was visiting old friends like the Montalto family with whom I had lived in December 1992. In the usual order, Viviana (3) who was not born yet in 1992, Giaconda, me, Juan Carlos (16) and Carlos. The picture was taken by 11 year old Adrian.
These old photos show the Montalto family watching a traditional Costa Rican cowboy parade called "El Tope"
Here is a fine pair of draught oxen with a traditional hand painted cart.
A young cowboy on his prancing mount.
The army was abolished in 1949 but Costa Rica has an efficient civil police force. These riders showing the flag belong to the Rural Guard, a part of the police force.
It was a pleasure to see my friends Juan and Mauricio Ulloa Fernandez that I had met in the computer department of the University in 1992. They took me for a ride north of San José in Mauricio's WW.
The exuberant growth of Costa Rica's lush rain forest has to be seen.
The big leaves of this plant have given it the name of "the poor man's umbrella".
Here's a nice place to stop for a beer.
Good friends, good memories.
Rio Sucio (Dirty River).
We went for a ride in the Aerial Tram to see the canopy of the rain forest.
Juan and Mauricio with our knowledgeable guide, Irina.
Below, two views of Parasol trees and further below,
a bromeliad on the left and a flower now called "Lewinsky Lips" (previously "Hot Lips").
I also visited the Sibaja family whom I had boarded with in January 1993. (Allan, Rodolfo, me and Marlen, picture by Jeffrey).
Rodolfo benefited by Costa Ricas free education system to become a successful gynaecologist and so did Marlen who is now a lawyer tempted by a political career.
I also visited my internet friend Juan Antillon and his wife Diana and we went to see their friends Glen and Maria Lutz in the country near Coronado (Juan, Diana, Maria and Glen)
The view from Glen and Maria's house in the hills is just fantastic. They are building a few cabins to rent out as a secluded retreat for writers and artists who need a break from the urban rat race.
Volcán Irazú (3432m) was lost in the clouds when I was there but the view was great anyway,
After ten days, it was time for me to move on. The warmth and spontaneity of personal contacts that I found in Costa Rica was absolutely delectable after the more impersonal communications I had generally experienced in the islands where I had just spent two months (there were some exceptions but few).
My explanation of the difference is that tourist saturation and economic dependency on tourism preclude significant personal exchange and lead to contempt.
Central America is not as safe as the Caribbean but it is warmer, more vibrant and more interesting than the dollar culture of the "servants of tourists". I hate to hurt the feelings of some fine people I met but I call things as I see them.