I’m dying for a bath.
Sounds odd, I know, but I am. It just suddenly struck me.
I haven’t had one in, oh, at least nine months. That’s almost exactly how long I’ve been living in Costa Rica, a tropical paradise smack in the middle of Central America.
And I could use one. Not because I stink (I shower daily), but because it’s cold tonight, about 21C. Seems strange to be cold at this temperature, when back home I’m used to enduring -21C, during the day, for half the year.
Must be the humidity, and the rainy season coming on here in the highlands of the central valley. Atenas proper is situated 698 metres above sea level and where we sit, high up on the side of a mountain it’s probably closer to 1,000 metres, not far off from my home town of Calgary, which is 1048 metres above sea level and at the same time of writing sits at 19C.
I love a hot bath, especially when it’s cold. There’s nothing like a good soak and a magazine. It’s both a physical escape (from kids and rigours of daily life) and a mental one.
Most houses here don’t have tubs. We didn’t have one until we moved to our “American” style home in Atenas. But even though we technically have one, we really don’t because we can’t get enough hot water to fill it completely. A hot water tank is a rarity here. Those who have hot water (it’s not typical) usually have an instant heater, which lasts a good five minutes or so but certainly not long enough to fill a tub.
On the upside, it’s very energy efficient and cuts down on both waster electricity and water.
Still, it’s one of those “takes getting used to” kind of things about Costa Rica.
I realize after nine months of blogging I have never really properly described this odd yet beautiful place that we have come to love and hate on varying occasions.
I’ve continually called it a developing country, which technically it is, according to official sources such as the World Bank, United Nations and other global agencies who like to collect data but do nothing with it. Most use economic means to measure progress using complicated formulas involving GDP and GNP although there are other indicators that are used to classify countries, such as infant birth and mortality rates.
The connotation of the word “developing”, like “Third World”, conjures up all kinds of images. It makes me think of little African children and bulging bellies, you know, the kind you see in the World Vision infomercials on TV designed to make us open our pocketbooks and feed off our collective capitalist guilt.
TV is often our only view into foreign lands and it’s amazing how much of our conceptions are shaped by what we see.
I had never been to Costa Rica and knew very little about the country before I came. All I knew was that it was a so-called developing country renown for eco-tourism.
After living here for almost a year, neither is the case, in my view.
Costa Rica is very well-developed, although perhaps not quite to North American standards. Most people are content to live in small houses without a tub, or even hot water for that matter.
It boasts the largest middle-class in the region and land ownership is widespread. Although there are many poor here in Costa Rica, about 20 per cent, according to some sources, there are plenty of people with brand new cars who spend their weekends at the mall.
To me, “developing” isn’t the appropriate word to described this country, although there are certainly aspects to life here that reveal Costa Rica to be behind other countries, like Canada.
The country has for years built a reputation as an eco-haven, a place where the environment is protected and pristine. Indeed it is bio-diverse with 25 per cent of its land protected. But the reality is that it is a long way from from being green, in an environmental sense.
Recycling is a rarity and people still throw their trash out car windows and on the ground without thought. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that signs were posted on public buses, encouraging people to throw their garbage out the window rather than leave it on the bus.
Waste disposal and sewage treatment is an ongoing problem all over the country and some popular tourist beaches are so polluted you’d be crazy to swim in them — although many unwittingly do.
But in other ways this country is no different than my own, just with a few quirks.
We can go the movies at the mall, or rent the latest DVDs from the video store, although they are always pirated copies burned onto blank discs. Or, I can buy those same movies in the streets, but these ones come with the laughs of the folks watching them along with the person who videotaped the screen where it played.
We can drive into the city and go one-stop shopping at Hipermas, the WalMart of Costa Rica. Everything that exists in a North American store can also be bought here, although usually of a lesser quality. The factory rejects are sent here along with the made-in-China toys and crap that doesn’t stand up rigorous product quality standards in North America.
All this is apparently relatively new. To those who’ve been coming here for the last 10 years, Costa Rica is a different world today.
Our Spanish teacher, Odie, a well-educated and fully bilingual Tica, says they didn’t even have TVs 15 years ago.
If Costa Rica is a developing country, the only question is what is it developing into?