January 23, 2022
As Carlos Santana so perfectly stated in the lyrics to Smooth, “Man, it’s a hot one. Like seven inches from the midday sun.” The temperatures on the coast today here in Costa Rica reached 91°F/33°C. Fortunately, it was pleasantly cooler at higher elevations.
Ted and I went our separate ways today, as we’d done 2 years ago in this same port, for two very different tour experiences. Ted headed off on a half day jungle boat crocodile safari in the Guacalillo Estuary near Carara National Park, known for its mangrove forests, while I took a full day tour into Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, about 90 minutes inland by bus from the port. Ted’s day will follow in the next post, once he’s selected his favourite photos.
My tour into San José had to be done in reverse order to what was planned, since on Sunday afternoons the 2 lane highway between Puntarenas and San José only operates in one direction, and that’s not the direction we needed! As a result, instead of ending with souvenir shopping, we started our morning with a visit to the El Jardin market for some local tropical fruit (OMG the pineapple is sweet when allowed to ripen before harvesting) and a quick walk around the manicured gardens. There was an opportunity to peruse the gift shop, but we no longer collect “stuff”, so…
After an incredibly informative ride, during which our guide Leonardo shared a wealth of information about Costa Rican politics, infrastructure, and flora and fauna, we arrived at Blue Morpho for a lovely group lunch. The blue morpho is one of Costa Rico’s most iconic butterflies.
Among the many new things I learned about Costa Rica:
1. The top 3 industries, in order, are high tech (hardware,software, and medical apparatus), agriculture (in order, bananas, pineapple, and coffee), and tourism (regular and medical tourism)
2. There are 300 volcanoes, 130 of which are active (with the last eruption 2 days ago!). The volcanoes do not spew regular molten red lava, though. Some emit steam, and others have a pyroclastic flow, which is heavy and black and full of basalt.
3. There are earthquakes EVERY DAY in Costa Rica, although most measure less than 3 on the Richter scale (considered “micro” earthquakes) and do no damage.
4. Much of the soil in Costa Rica is stratovolcanic, made up of layers of lava and ash, which means it is very easily shifted by water. The river valleys here are incredibly deep because, as Leo explained, hard rains can “cut through the mountains like a hot knife through butter”.
5. The reason that construction is single story, adobe, tin roofs, and no basements is due to points 2,3 and 4, plus the fact that Costa Rica has rain “400 days of the year”. Leo called the 2 seasons here the rainy season and the really, really rainy season.
6. Costa Rica has nationalized education, health care, communications, fuel, alcohol production, and energy, much of which is funded by the fact that the country has had no military since 1948. Even the poorest people have potable tap water, electricity, and satellite dishes. That’s not to say there are no problems; Leo was very honest about issues like homelessness, illegal immigration, and drugs.
7. Costa Rica’s energy is 100% green: 90% hydroelectric , 5% geothermal volcanic, 3% wind, 1.5% solar, and the 0.5% balance biomass from the sugar cane refining process.
The two biggest highlights of the tour (and the reasons that I booked it) were the tour of the Teatro Nacional, and the more than 1600 pre-Columbian gold artifacts, dating back to the 6th century AD, in the Gold Museum.
The wood, concrete and marble construction of the Gold Museum reminded me of the clean lines of Canada’s Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, although without the natural light of that museum, since this is Costa Rica’s only subterranean construction.
Until today, the only 2 things I really knew about pre-Columbian art were (1) that it pre-dated Columbus’ arrival, and (2) that Annabel Reed, one of the duo of sleuths in Margaret Truman’s Washington D.C.-based mystery series, was an expert in it. One of the interesting facts I learned today was that Columbus believed Costa Rica was the “rich coast” based on the gold worn by the indigenous people – not knowing that the gold was not mined here, but in Colombia and Peru.
We learned at the museum that Costa Rican pre-Columbian pottery from the central region was monochromatic, but that pottery influenced in the north by the Mayans and in the south by the Inca was polychromatic. There were many beautiful examples of both on display.
After leaving the museum, we walked next door to the beautiful Teatro Nacional (National Theatre), built over the 7 years between 1890 and 1897. The theatre was funded by coffee and sugar cane barons wanting to bring European culture to Costa Rica. Believing that all the best artisans were in Europe, they imported not only painters and sculptors, but also commissioned works to be completed in Italy and France and shipped from there. Sadly, in close quarters and with my phone, I couldn’t get a good picture of the full exterior, but did get most of the entrance.
Three kinds of marble were used in the theatre; all of it imported from Italy and France. Here are just a few of the gorgeous marble statues and embellishments.
26 kinds of wood native to Costa Rica were used in the floors. Sadly, 10 of those tree species are now extinct, and another 8 endangered (along with all of the insects, birds, and mammals that were dependent upon them).
There was extensive gilding throughout the building, as well as gorgeously etched glass, rich leather and velvet seating, and fabulous ceiling murals. Unfortunately, none of my ceiling pictures worked.
Intricate patterns in marble created beautiful floors. The 3D effect was particularly interesting.
After a rocky start (the first event in the new theatre was the opera Faust in French, which most of the audience didn’t understand and subsequently didn’t attend), the theatre gained renown as host to world-class music and dance events. In keeping with Costa Rica’s focus on education, ticket prices today are kept extremely low, in the $20-30 range, helped by the fact that theatres are not taxed, and a portion of tourism revenues are channeled to the arts.
We ended our day at The Chef’s Table with a father and son duo we’d interacted with in the world cruise Facebook group. Getting to know new folks is one of the cruise bonuses we’re trying to take advantage of as often as possible. Interestingly, tonight’s menu was the same one we enjoyed so much on our last stop in Costa Rica, so I won’t post new pictures. If you’re interested, they’re all in Episode 154
I’m going to try to convince/cajole Ted into writing tomorrow’s post, but if that doesn’t work I’ll do my best to describe his pictures.