Saturday, May 31, 2014

San Jose, Costa Rica

Friday, May 30
Ever since I went to Guatemala in 1974, I have wanted to go to Costa Rica. For someone who loves nature and being outdoors, this seems like a natural destination. So finally I signed up for a trip with Caravan tours, an idea that had been on the back burner for years, and now was a good time to go. Never mind that it is the rainy season. I have come to learn that it is always the rainy season somewhere in CR -- in a country that measures rainfall by feet not inches.
Getting here was pretty easy - first to Atlanta and then to San Juan, flying over Cuba on the way - 3 hours on that flight. Coming into San Jose, one is struck by how green it is. (Photo 1)
Caravan met me and many others at the airport and escorted us to the Barcelo San Jose Palacio, our home for the next two nights. Sitting on a small knoll, the hotel has a view of the city and soccer stadium (photo 2) and a lovely garden, even in the rain (photo 3).
We were settled in by 2, with nothing planned until dinner. Not wanting to miss a thing, I found a delightful cab driver named Juan at the hotel who chauffeured me round trip to the nearby Museum of Costa Rican Art. Inaugurated in 1978, it is situated in beautiful La Sabana Metropolitan Park, in the building of the former control tower of the old San Jose Airport. The exhibits included work from the 19th century to some very intriguing modern pieces. One highlight was a garden of sculptures designed by Jorge Jimenez de Heredia (photo 4) Another was the Salon Dorado (Gold Room), exhibiting a mural by French sculptor Louis Feron, which depicts the history of CR up to 1940 when the building was dedicated. The room was the Diplomat's lounge for the airport. (Photo 5)
Back to the hotel for a much needed nap and then to dinner. I sat with a lovely couple from Sacramento, CA, whom I had met earlier and we exchanged travel stories. The buffet was extensive and delicious, with multiple choices of salads, vegetables and meats and fish. Much better than expected and it might be hard to keep from gaining weight. 
At 8 we had a group meeting and met our fellow travelers. Then our tour director, Aaron Salazar gave an informative presentation about Costa Rica. 
About the size of West Virginia, it has one of the richest diversity of plant and animal life in the world. It is considered the #1 country in conservation and nearly 30% of the country is designated as wildlife parks and refuges. It has 12 different life zones, from coastal wetlands to subalpine grassland.  It also has multiple micro climates -- I hope one of them is dry or it could be a soggy week.
Although CR represents only 0.03% of the land mass on earth, it has 5% of the total biodiversity in the world. It has 12,000 species of plants -- but only 8,000 have names, which means they are still studying the other 4,000 to see where they fit in. There are 239 different mammals and 900 species of birds.
From 1973-1989 CR had one of the worst deforestation rates in the world and they worked to correct it. By 2005 the rate was 0 and today it is illegal to cut down a tree unless you plant it. In 2012 they also banned hunting of any species.
What a lovely decision. But what do you expect of a country that abolished its army in 1949, making it the first and one of the few without a standing army. And they put the money into saving the land. This tiny country has much to teach us. A nice note on which to end.

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