Costa Rica

I lived in Costa Rica for 25 years and have now lived in Panama for four. During that time, I have obviously gained insights into the contrasts between the two countries. Though neighbors, the topography did much to keep them apart and their historical development – economic, social and cultural – could not have been more different.

Panama City was one of Spain’s first beachheads in the Americas. Its strategic geographic importance was immediately obvious to the conquistadores. Costa Rica, on the other hand, remained largely uninhabited because the mountainous terrain made access difficult. Around the time of independence, nearly two hundred years ago, there were still only about 30,000 people in the whole of Costa Rica and the population was slow to grow


According to an article in today’s Guardian, Costa Rica “tops index ranking countries by ecological footprint and happiness of their citizens”


A rainbow over San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica

“Costa Ricans top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world, they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size. The country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of what NEF calls “one-planet living”: consuming its fair share of the Earth’s natural resources.”

PS: the BBC now has a deeper analysis/explanation of this index. You can read it here.

This year’s Global Peace Index has just been published. Not surprisingly, perhaps, New Zealand tops the list as the most peaceful country in the world, while Iraq brings up the rear (the Web page includes an explanation of the methodology used). Despite a sharp increase in crime over the past ten years or so, Costa Rica is at number 29. The UK only makes 35th place, while Panama is 59th on the list. Food for thought…


A postage stamp showing an ox cart still in use.

Ox carts are an important part of Costa Rica’s cultural history. Each year, in March, there is a large parade of ox carts in Escazú, on the outskirts of San José. Last Sunday was Ox Driver’s Day and I was able to watch the parade for the first time in quite a few years. There must have been around 250 carts, some very old, some very ornate. I think I enjoy the bullocks more than the carts themselves; some are huge and very beautiful.



“That night, or the next morning rather, at about 2 A.M., we reached a wayside inn called San Mateo, and there rested for five or six hours. That we should obtain any such accommodation along the road astonished me, and of such as we got we were very glad. But it must not be supposed that it was of a very excellent quality. We found three bedsteads in the front room into which the door of the house opened. On these there were no mattresses, not even a palliasse. They consisted of flat boards sloping away a little towards the feet, with some hard substance prepared for a pillow. In the morning we got a cup of coffee without milk. For these luxuries and for pasturage for the mules we paid about ten shillings a head. Indeed, everything of this kind in Costa Rica is excessively dear.


The other day a Panamanian friend asked me why convenience stores are called pulperías in Costa Rica. I realized I didn’t know the answer. After doing some research on the Internet, I’m none the wiser.

This is the kind of thing to which I’m referring.


(I found the photo here)

The Real Academia (Spain’s equivalent of the OED) says the word originated in the Americas. I did find out that the term is used in several other Latin American countries. The most logical (?) theory put forward is that the word derives from pulpo (octopus in Spanish), the idea being that an octopus has many tentacles and pulperías sell a wide variety of items (albeit in very small quantities).

This is a very artistic photo of the interior of a rural pulpería.pulperia(I found the photo here)


My granddaughter Laura just graduated from sixth grade. Costa Rica uses the baccalaureate system for primary and second education. There is a kindergarten year (entry age: six), followed by six years of primary school. The school year runs from February to November. Laura will now be moving on to high school, which lasts five years.. Congratulations, Laura!

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