As I sit here in the San Jose airport awaiting my flight back to the states, I can’t help but reflect back on the last couple weeks backpacking around Costa Rica and those differences between living in a developed country versus a developing country. Costa Rica is definitely the later- a place where modern development is rapidly growing out of metropolitan centers right next to unexplored pristine rain forest.
Having been born and raised in the typical suburban middle class US setting then spending a couple weeks alone gallivanting around a developing Central America country, I’ve become acutely aware of just how “good” Americans have it. Below are 5 facets of American life I’ve definitely been taking for granted.
1. Hot Showers
Every morning when you turn on the faucet and are greeted by that consistent soothing hot flow of water, just remember in global terms, you are in the vast minority. Most people in Costa Rica do not have hot water of any kind, and while there are “hot” water showers to be found– you will be risking your life to enjoy them. I say this because in Costa Rica many hot showers rely on a fairly dangerous electric device, affectionately called a suicide shower. This is basically an electric heater attached to the shower head.
In one hostel I stayed at in La Fortuna the shower had two electric wires, probably not grounded, precariously tacked to the ceiling and connected via duct tape to the shower head. Above it was a warning in Spanish I couldn’t decipher and a diagram of a man obviously being electrocuted. Despite the fact that you were playing electric roulette with your life, the water only comes out lukewarm. Regardless, after showering for a few days in ice cold mountain water, you learn to enjoy only mildly freezing in the morning.
2. High Speed Internet
In the US my Internet is amazing. I can download a 700MB full length movie in about 90 seconds over Verizon’s Quantum fiber optic lines. In Costa Rica, you are one of the few lucky ones if you have a modest DSL connection. Most of the country just doesn’t have home Internet or is still using dialup.
The fiber lines at my house are buried, and at least once every three months my idiotic landlord decides to randomly dig around in my front yard thus severing my Internet and cable connection. I usually end up on the phone with Verizon for about an hour and have to wait a day or two to get new fiber lines installed. I bitch the entire time and seek comfort from my grieving friends who can’t imagine going a day or two without Internet.
In Costa Rica, a government monopoly known as ICE controls all power, Cable, and Internet. With no competition, you can just imagine how wonderful the service must be. In the last couple weeks, I’ve heard some ICE stories that make my Verizon issues sound like a day at Disney World. If your Internet goes out in Costa Rica you can call ICE and maybe they will answer. Maybe they will put in a service order. Maybe someone will eventually show up. Maybe it will be in a week. Maybe in six weeks. Maybe in six months… Lets just say, I won’t be finding any sympathy in CR because Verizon gives me the ridiculous window of “tomorrow between 8 and Noon.”
3. Addresses and Street Signs
San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city by far might as well not have a name at all, because that’s exactly how it feels when one arrives from the US. There are no streets signs, buildings have no numerical address, and taxi drivers often can’t even tell you what the name of the street they are currently on is.
Instead, address consist of landmarks, that may or may not still exist, and some general navigational directions from said landmarks. An average address might read something like:
200 meters south of the mango tree, across from the old post office, on the 4th floor.
Concepcion de Tres Rios, Cartago, Costa Rica
In truth the old post office is now a flea market, and the mango tree was cut down five years ago. I’ve asked some locals about this, and they tell me it’s because civil engineers never got around to laying out the cities and making addresses. I’m pretty sure this is just another way for Costa Ricans to enjoy their favorite pastime– confusing the hell out of gringos. Pura Vida
While most Americans have no idea what Publix is, in the south Publix is king– their slogan, “Where Shopping is a Pleasure,” couldn’t be more true. The food is high quality. The staff is typically young, sexy, and full of southern hospitality. Despite the fact that I’m a 27 year old male in good shape, they always offer to help me out to my car with my groceries. The packaged meat is perfectly sealed and looks good enough to walk down a catwalk during fashion week in the city. I can go on and on, but you get the picture.
Last night I made dinner for my couch surfing host and another backpacker guest from Spain. My goal was to prepare chicken parmesan with a caesar salad. Nice and simple, right? That’s until I get to the grocery store where there was no romaine lettuce, no perfectly packaged boneless/skinless chicken breast, no salad dressing, no garlic salt, no croutons, no spaghetti sauce… I improvised with lettuce that turned out to be cabbage, concentrated tomato paste, ranch dressing which also turned out to be concentrated tomato paste called Ranch… Despite being a relatively proficient cook, I can’t say I was offended when my victims didn’t clean their plates. :/
5. A Complete Lack of Fashion Sense
This is another one that might just be true for Florida and the southern United States… In Florida no one seems to have any sense of style and in San Jose everyone seems to have a “style”. My style is basically a lack thereof approach. I like plain Adidas gym shorts, plain Hanes T-shirts, and generic flip flops. This is my work outfit, my restaurant outfit, my gym outfit, and my bar outfit; in Florida it works.
In San Jose however. everyone seems to take a special interest in standing out. Everyone wears skinny jeans– skinny or not, male or female. Accessories that match your shoes seem to be a must. For women, everything must be coordinated from eye shadow to underwear to shoes– usually a hot pink or turquoise I don’t think I would call it good fashion sense, but it is definitely a style of its own.
However, I must admit that I consistently felt under dressed A few nights ago, I was invited out by a native Costa Rica to a strip club followed by a night club, and without asking he gave me clothes to wear– skinny pants and a tight fitting tank top. I was even offered matching accessories by his friend. Apparently they too know that gringos have no style, and as someone who prides themselves on not buying into the whole, “dress to impress” BS, I will be happy to flop around Sarasota tomorrow in my staple generic $20 outfit.