THE OTHER SWITZERLAND

In a few days we’ll be traveling out of the country and I am filled with anticipation. I can’t help myself, we haven’t had a vacation since July when we traveled to Mexico City but we were there just for three days…I hardly can call it a vacation.This time is a real vacation, we are visiting two countries for the first time and we’ll be gone for two weeks, but no worries I will be blogging all about our trip and I’ll keep you posted.

I am excited and nervous. I think about how close it is and I inevitably get butterflies in my stomach. It has always been electrifying for me to plunge into the unknown. I wanted to travel to a different country but it wasn’t possible this time, so we’ll end up in Costa Rica and Panama. I am more familiar with Panama than with Costa Rica. I have met many wonderful people from Panama. I have heard stories about their country, the places, the people, I’ve tried their delicious food and  I am familiar with how they speak spanish. Costa Rica, on the other hand is a different story. The first person I met from Costa Rica was a boy when I was in high school, that’s when I learned that their nickname is “Ticos”. He hardly ever talked during lunch hour, I never found out why he was here in the first place. It’s unusual to find Ticos in the USA. He looked different from the Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and all other Central Americans.  The second person I met from Costa Rica was a teacher assistant when I was in college. She was again, very quiet and pale skin. She was working on her Ph.D while she was here in the USA, I hardly ever talked to her about other things besides school work.

When Central America won its independence from Spain in 1821, there were 5 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Panama was part of Bolivar’s Republic of Colombia and the British Empire had control of Belize.  Once all five countries won their independence from Spain, they became the Federal Republic of Central America, but this didn’t last long. After many bloody wars, the Republic was broken off into the five countries we now know. It still remains as one region, sharing the same language, religion, culture. However, Costa Rica makes the extra effort to separate themselves from the other four Central American nations from the very beginning. Their flag is different, below are the flags of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  There are similarities between them, notice the use of mostly two colors: blue and white, the national emblem is situated in the middle of the flags.

4 flags

Now, here’s Costa Rica’s flag…..big strip of red and national emblem is not centered.

flag

The national emblem of Guatemala has the independence date of all five nations. In the Salvadorean and Nicaragua emblem there’s five volcanoes representing each of the 5 Central American nations. And Honduras has five stars, one per country. Yet Costa Rica, doesn’t include the other four countries in their emblem. They have always tried to disconnect themselves from the rest of Central America; I am not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, but rather I am trying to explain why I have been apathetic about traveling there. Who likes the conceited cousin who thinks is better than everybody else in the family?

I read that in the 1930s, a Nicaraguan wrote that Costa Rica was so beautiful it was “the Switzerland of Central America”. This simile is of global domain nowadays. I personally think that such a comparison is pretentious and that it may be a bit of a stretch. Some Swiss have said that both countries are pretty similar, in that Switzerland’s cheese has holes while Costa Rica has potholes. Some say that Costa Rica is no longer the Switzerland of Central America because poverty is growing at a fast pace, and the country is becoming a paradise for drug traffickers. I am not going to comment on the Ticos, because as I mentioned earlier I have met few of them. I wish they’ll welcome us just like they do in other parts of Central America. For example, while I was backpacking in Guatemala back in 2011 people often asked me where I was from and as soon as they heard that I was from El Salvador they enthusiastically said: “Oh you’re from the sister Republic of El Salvador” everybody repeated this every time. It was a corny and funny statement, but above all it was a warm fraternal embrace like no other.

Costa Ricans are coffee growers and exporters just like the other 4 countries, and the fluctuations on coffee’s price affected their economy. In order to generate revenue, and  thanks to their natural beauty they were able to turn over to tourism. Today, tourism is the third largest source of income for Costa Rica. Most of the tourism comes from USA.  I believe there has been a stupendous marketing strategy behind Costa Rica, and I admire them for that. El Salvador just recently turned to Tourism but its campaigns haven’t been as successful due to the wave of violence.

I don’t want anybody to think that I don’t like Costa Ricans or their country. Like I said before, I met very few Ticos to have an opinion. I am just commenting on things that I have observed. At the same time, I ask myself who will want to resemble those four countries? Military coups, revolutions, humans that disappeared without a trace, civil wars, corruption, drug traffickers, gangs, murders, so much non sense death. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua breathe this violence and poverty that has plagued many generations, so much that sometimes I wonder if it has become ingrained in our DNA; and who will want to follow the steps of that cousin sitting in a jail cell?

Anyhow, we are looking forward to having this experience. To meet and greet our brothers and sisters in Costa Rica. I am looking forward to writing about this one in lifetime experience, and I said one in a life time experience not because we don’t plan to go back but because first impressions are the ones that lasts.

As you can see we are all packed up and ready to go!! 🙂 🙂

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