Update in Transit
Trip Start May 12, 2009
24Trip End Sep 29, 2009
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Where I stayed
I am writing to you now from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. To go to Monteverde, I had to come back through here to make my bus connection. San Jose is not my favorite city. Dirty, and reminds you around every corner when you are least expecting it that you are in a second world country. Walls are topped with coils of razor wire, the store clerk is smoking marijuana, and the parks are ruled by packs of dogs. I much prefer the smaller cities of Costa Rica where the charm of the people overrules any gaps in development.
Yesterday, I came from Boquete. It was a long travel day. I started with a car ride from Potreillos Arriba to David, then a 45 minutes bus ride through Concepcion to Paso Canoas, la frontera. Paso Canoas is by the far the most relaxed border I have ever seen. I know I said Sixaola- Guabito was loose, but at least that bridge demarcated some kind of boundary. The Paso Canoas border is just like a bunch of buildings in the middle of a city. It would be very easy to leave without getting stamps of any kind. I had to flounder around to find offices to stamp my passport. It is very quick and efficient when you do find them, and the clerks smiled at me as if I was a regular customer at a supermarket or something. It lacked official airs of every kind.
Right after my passport was stamped by the Costa Rican official (who inquired if I had any symptoms of flu, avian, human, swine, or other), I glanced around for the bus station. I saw a bus driving by which read "Neily- Canoas" and thought this looked like a good thing. Neily is the next city north of the border. I took off at a sprint and caught the bus, leaping aboard before the driver latched the doors. The drive to Neily was pleasant enough. At the Neily bus station, I found that the last bus San Jose left at 11:30, just 15 minutes prior. The next one was at 5pm, the man proudly announced.
At that time, I realized my plans for the day would include a lot of people watching. I settled in at the bus station for my day. We had a variety of acts going on: in center stage were a few teenage boys rough housing and popping their gum. Off to the side, a traditionally dressed Ngobe Bugle woman was nursing her three year old (yes, three). A beggar with bloodshot eyes asked me for change, which I declined, since he seemed to be high on something at the moment. Out front, a couple was dressed like American Indians and playing the flute to Peruvian music. (Peru is popular here. Peruvian food, alpacas, llamas, ect.) The woman looked incredibly sad, selling cds of the flute of music. From her face, she looked like she might be from the Ngobe Bugle tribe.
The Ngobe Bugle were aggresively exploited by banana producers and coffee growers. Their culture dictates that they are the lowest on the totem pole. Throughout their history, they have deferred to the other 4 tribes of the political area of Panama and Costa Rica whenever challenged. Their survival strategy has been deference.
I was told in Boquete that whenever there is a parade, the Ngobe Bugle will gather at the back of the crowd, leaning against buildings, to watch the parade. The children often don't attend school. When the banana growers, such as United Fruit, came to the area around World War I, the culture of the Ngobe Bugle made them ideal laborers for the faceless mega-corporation.
On the note of tribal differences, I have learned that several nonprofits have tried and failed to promote economic self sufficiency through women's cooperatives. Especially in northern Panama, the cooperatives only succeed if the women involved all come from the same tribe. Otherwise, they have found that 2-3 years into the deal, the partnerships dissolve over accusations of unfairly divided profits or responsibility. There is mistrust between the tribes.
The related topic of racism is on the common consciousness in Costa Rica and Panama. In Panama, I saw posters made my school children stating that "fairness, diversity, and acceptance give us all better opportunities". In Panama, the land of co-existing ideals and realities, this means that people respect each other in day to day life, but economic realities remain unchanged. Compared to many places, Panama is in a great position. There are few racially motivated violent incidents, and no in-fighting. The reality that power goes to "white" Panamenan officials from a small group of families is just accepted.
A short time ago in Costa Rica's past, getting a job was substantially more difficult for the Garifuna and Bribri. A lot of progress has been made in the last decade, and now minorities in Costa Rica seem to be on the same slippery economic footing that anyone else is. Drug abuse is very common, owing to the position of these countries between Columbia and Mexico.
Back to my trip: The bus did indeed arrive at 5pm. I was impressed. I have learned to be impressed when a bus actually arrives at the time that is printed on your ticket.
The trip back to San Jose was 7 hours long. We wound around slippery curves in the forests, and past ponds and valleys. The jungle grew thicker and thicker the farther we went from the Panama border. I took pleasure in watching the full moon follow us. The tall trees were strung with vines, like garland on Christmas tree, which glinted in the moonlight. The full moon means that the sea turtles are probably nesting at this time on beaches around Costa Rica.
If you've done that math, then you realize I arrived in San Jose at midnight. This is never my favorite thing, to arrive in a capital city at midnight. I took a cab to a downtown hostel and threw my bag onto the top bunk in the dorm. I paused just tuck my Chacos under the bag, then collapsed into sleep.