Costa Rica—Small Country, Abundant Variety
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN COSTA RICA
THAT Costa Rica is a small country is soon evident when you fly in to the San José Airport, a few miles outside the capital. One minute you are over the Caribbean Sea, and minutes later you are swooping over the Pacific, preparing to land. Costa Rica, a country of some three million inhabitants, is a narrow strip of mountainous and volcanic terrain separating Nicaragua from Panama. It is one of the seven nations that form Central America, including the Isthmus of Panama, the land link between Mexico in North America and Colombia in South America.—See map, page 17.
Once you get your bearings, you are struck by the lush, green beauty of the countryside. It seems that everywhere you look, you see palm trees, banana plants, and sugarcane as well as coffee plantations and many kinds of exotic plants, bushes, and flowers. Costa Rica is a botanist’s paradise. But before we get enthralled by this fascinating country, let’s find out a little of its history.
Another Columbus Discovery
In 1502, Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage, was caught with his fleet in a storm off the coast of what is today known as Honduras. Seeking shelter, he made his way along the part of Nicaragua now called the Mosquito Coast and landed at a small native village called Cariari. He was impressed by the warmth of the people and by the luxuriant vegetation. He was even more impressed by the gold ornaments that some of the natives wore. Columbus, in his lust for gold, assumed that this would be a coast rich in valuable minerals. As it turned out, his hopes were dashed, but not before the Spanish explorers had called the land Costa Rica, or Rich Coast.
In the course of history, Costa Rica broke away from Spain and achieved its independence. In 1949, after a brief civil war, the country became unique in modern history—the interim president, José Figueres, drafted a constitution that abolished the army! This radical move encouraged some American Quakers to move to Costa Rica, where they established a cheese factory, in Santa Elena. In the context of some of the troubled countries of Central America, Costa Rica has truly been an oasis of peace.
Land of Lush Variety
Traveling through a small area of the country to visit the Poás and Arenal volcanoes, we were impressed by the lush variety of plants and trees, the tropical flowers, the cultivated flower nurseries protected by black netting, and the intensive strawberry farming. We felt small beside the huge leaves of the sombrilla del pobre (poor person’s parasol) plant. The hillsides were covered with dark green coffee bushes loaded with their reddish berries.
In Costa Rica, butterflies are everywhere. Within easy reach of San José, there are a couple of butterfly farms where you can see and photograph butterflies in a natural setting. One guidebook says that “there are more butterflies in this tiny country than in the entire United States.” It also states that “scientists now know that Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.” Little wonder that botanists and biologists flock to study the variety of life in compact Costa Rica.—See accompanying box.
Another example of variety in the wild is the birdlife of Costa Rica. You have to be alert to see some of the birds and even faster to photograph them! Flocks of green parakeets make noisy entries and exits wherever they go. Soaring above were the zopilotes, or black vultures, searching keen-eyed for their next meal. In the forest canopy, you might get a glimpse of the ungainly toucans, with their huge beaks. We saw the yellow thigh finch and the yellow-breasted kiskadee flycatcher flitting through the trees. We also caught a fleeting glimpse of a hummingbird hovering over nearby flowers for its next taste of nectar. At the ZooAve (Bird Zoo), we feasted our eyes on every kind of Costa Rican bird. There were the multicolored, raucous macaws making their presence known. Alas, too many other birds had to be kept in cages, including a family of four owls, sitting side by side, looking so sage.
Costa Rica is famous for its wide variety of national and private parks, Indian reserves, and wildlife refuges. In fact, almost 27 percent of the land is protected, the largest proportion of any country in the world. So if you are willing to travel, you can take your choice of terrain and ecological setting.
If you do go to Costa Rica, there is at least one small warning worth noting. If you drive a vehicle there, you might be excused for thinking that many drivers in front of you are inebriated. Why? Because they will often wind and twist without warning. What are they doing? They are avoiding the large potholes that plague the road system of the country. Thus, one tourist brochure stated regarding the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: “[It] can only be reached by suffering through several hours of dreadful road conditions; a visit of several days is recommended rather than a quick trip in and out.” Of course, if you travel in a vehicle with good suspension and tough tires, you may be less affected by these cavities.
Really, there is so much to see and absorb in Costa Rica that a two-week vacation will allow you to scratch only the surface of the beauty and variety of that fascinating land. One hotel had a few exhibits in a minizoo. The guard kindly allowed us into the cages to photograph a toucan and a lithe ocelot. Variety also applies to Costa Rica’s hospitable people.
A Unique Gathering of Ticos
What are ticos? That is the familiar name given to the people of Costa Rica. It comes from the custom of using the diminutive suffix -ico in the Spanish language. For example, chiquitico for small, bonitico for cute or pretty, and jovencitico for young. Out in the country town of Sarchí, the tico artisans are famous for their original hand-painted carretas, or ox carts. Each one is a distinctive work of art. Tourists buy the small replicas by the hundreds.
At the end of 1994, the ticos had the opportunity to see something very special in their Catholic land. December 30 to January 1, 1995, were the dates for a religious convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that took place in the national soccer stadium in Sabana Park, San José. It was held under the Biblical theme of Temor Piadoso (Godly Fear), and Witnesses came from all over the land, while small delegations arrived from other Central and South American countries. Costa Rica has over 15,000 active Witnesses. What would be the attendance on this special occasion? On Friday 21,726 people came—young, old, parents, children, all were neatly and modestly dressed. Saturday the crowd grew to 25,539, and 681 were baptized in three large pools set up at one end of the field. On Sunday the attendance figure grew to 27,149! What a thrill for the missionaries, the pioneers (full-time evangelizers), and the humble men, women, and children who work so hard to cover Costa Rica’s territory from house to house. And how encouraging to see so many families in the open-air stadium, sheltered from the sun under their multicolored umbrellas!
When the program ended, thousands took out their handkerchiefs and waved good-bye to one another. It was a touching moment.
Costa Rica Needs God’s New World
Even though there is much in this land to remind one of a paradise—its varied flora and fauna and its pleasant climate—the ticos, just like the people of any other country, need the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ that Jehovah has promised through Christ Jesus. (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4) Even as seen worldwide, there are signs of poverty, with families living in inadequate housing. Then too there are sickness and death, which afflict all humankind. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses are zealously preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom rulership, the Kingdom that all sincere Christians request in the famous Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer. Under that promised righteous rulership, Costa Rica’s abundant variety will shine even more brightly, to God’s everlasting praise.
[Box on page 19]
Costa Rica’s Rich Diversity
The book Costa Rica—A Natural Destination states: “Costa Rica is species rich. This small country that covers less than three ten-thousandths [0.03%] of the earth’s surface is home to 5 percent of all the plant and animal species known to exist.” There are, for example:
A minimum of 830 bird species, including toucans and quetzals
A minimum of 35,000 insect species
A minimum of 9,000 vascular plant species
A minimum of 208 mammalian species, including ocelots
A minimum of 220 reptile species, including large iguanas
A minimum of 160 amphibian species, including poison arrow frogs
A minimum of 130 freshwater-fish species
Some scientists speculate that there could be one million species in Costa Rica.
[Box on page 19]
There are known to be 112 craters that range from extinct to active. Impressive Arenal volcano, which rises to over 5,000 feet [1,500 m] is one of the most active in the world. If you want to see it, you had better check the weather forecast before you make the arduous journey over potholed roads. Arenal is often covered with clouds.
Irazú volcano rises to over 11,200 feet [3,400 m]. It was active from 1963 to 1965.
Poás volcano, rising to over 8,800 feet [2,700 m], is a mountain with two eyes—one white and boiling in the active crater and the other, a blue lake surrounded by luxuriant jungle.
[Map on page 17]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
Toucan and Arenal volcano
1. Crater of Poás volcano
3. Folklore dancing
5. Parasol plant
[Pictures on page 18]
“Godly Fear” Convention in San José; 681 were baptized, including Digna (far right)