Karen and I traveled in Costa Rica with our 11-year-old grandchildren, Maysee and Christoph, who requested a cross-country tour to see turtles, a volcano and monkeys. We loved experiencing Costa Rica’s radically different culture, climate, agriculture and wildlife and were inspired that they continuously overcome the same universal issues we do to build vibrant successful communities in North Central Washington.
We traveled through national parks, private farmland and private and public hydroelectric power that Costa Rica allocated for public good like we do.
Their mild climate soothed by trade winds and rain creates marvelous eco-systems. Costa Rica reserved 25 percent of their land for park conservation, more than the U.S. reserves.
Those parks attract two million eco-tourists annually hosted by 4.7 million Costa Ricans. They host growing streams of eco-tourists like our rural residents are.
In Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast we rode in long boats to marvel at wildlife such as two rare caimans, small crocodiles blending into green foliage.
Tortuguero has a fence-less border with Nicaragua, allowing undocumented immigrants escaping violence and poverty to become a major part of the seasonal workforce in agricultural and service at low wages Costa Ricans avoid.
Costa Rica’s poor immigrants with darker skins and less education than the highly literate Costa Ricans create the same kind of discriminatory experiences that need to be resolved just like we are doing.
Nicaraguan workers wrap bunches of bananas in blue plastic bags to prevent insect infestations and reduce pesticides that increasingly accumulating in caimans. They also have to balance trade-offs between agricultural exports and eco-tourism like we do.
We visited a hearts of palm small farm. We sat under a thatched roof in an outdoor kitchen with a wood-fired grill on a dirt floor surrounded by clucking chickens. The farmer held the plant with a leather glove while he wielded his machete to quickly slash off the leaves and peel off a sheath protecting the white heart of palm the size of a tennis racket handle. He chopped it into bite-size pieces with the moist texture of a radish but less taste. His wife boiled those pieces with seasonings to treat us to home-made tortillas.
The farmer said he sold 500 hearts of palm per month to buyers from processing plants to earn an income I estimated to be at Costa Rica’s poverty level. Our hosts didn’t have a fruit stand, but they had a large jar for tips we gladly filled.
Their small farmers work with processing operations as distant economic forces squeeze their incomes like small wheat farmers and orchardists do.
Our next visit was 45 minutes away over crumbling highway infrastructure to a 28,000-acre organic pineapple plantation certified for Fair Trade. It is owned by Collins Street Bakery in Texas which ships fruitcakes to 195 countries.
We toured underneath a canopy that sheltered 39 of us on a flatbed pulled by a John Deere. A marketing representative sliced off leaves and skin to dice a freshly picked pineapple for us as he humorously explained pineapple particulars.
They jam 22,000 plants per acre in squares as large as a baseball infield. They spray one application of ethylene, the natural gas from ripening fruit, to regulate pineapple maturity at the same time. After 14 months workers harvest a pineapple and a young shoot for a new plant. Nine months later they harvest a second pineapple and till the field under for a year.
We watched nine workers paid on a group incentive harvesting pineapples as a team. Workers handled a pineapple in each hand to load them on conveyors or toss both to teammates who caught one in each hand to carefully store them in bins.
Their special technologies and skills enable efficiencies on large operations just like efficiencies on large scale wheat farms and high-yield orchards.
Our adventure in Costa Rica verified why it’s considered the most politically stable and economically competitive country in Central America.
Hiking in downpours during the driest month of Costa Rica’s rainy-season, we loved sharing with our grandchildren another foreign land overcoming universal issues to build better communities.