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Alajuela to Tortuguero
The transfer from Alajuela to Tortugero took all morning – but what a lovely way to spend it. We drove past banana plantations, fields of papaya, coconuts and plantains learning a little about the beautiful country that is Costa Rica (Rich Coast) as we travelled.
Costa Rica is like the Switzerland of Central America. It has good health care and high standards of education, numeracy and literacy. The water is drinkable, the streets are safe to walk and there is a deep held belief here in pure vida (José’s translation was “everything is fine”). There is no army here. The National Park system was established back in the 1970s as a result of a relentless struggle against the natural inclination of humans to destroy their environment to meet basic economic needs. Conservationists battled against poachers, farmers, developers, loggers and the tourism business to create the system of 28 National Parks which between them preserve the full repository of this nation’s incredible diversity that we can enjoy today.
Tortugero lies on the Caribbean coast, close to the border with Nicaragua. The population mix differs from the rest of Costa Rica with a much higher proportion of Africans. The park was started to protect the sea turtles who breed here. If you really want to see them though, you need to come between June and October. Even then, you may not get that close as the beaches are closed between certain hours to protect them. Tortugero Village gives an interesting snapshot of afro-Caribbean culture. It lies right next to the Caribbean Ocean – always good to dip your toes into a new sea.
It takes the same amount of time to grow a baby banana as it does to grow a human baby – about 9 months.
Banana bunches are protected by biodegradable plastic bags which create a micro climate around the fruit making it grow fatter. They are also quite likely to contain spiders or snakes, feasting on the sweet sap that the flowers produce.
A bunch of fully grown bananas weighs about 50 kilos. Banana workers start early and work through high humidity (75%) and heat loading up o 25 bunches on a pulley transportation system. They are paid around $30 a day for this – about the same as the cost of the red snapper in the restaurant last night, which makes you think a bit …. Life on banana plantations in the early days of the United Fruit Company which started growing bananas on a commercial scale was very harsh indeed with little consideration given to working conditions or health and safety. Hopefully it has improved a bit today – but it’s still a tough way to make a living and a job for young people.
Gallo pinto – the national dish of Costa Rica. It is sometimes said that the Ticos eat bananas, rice and beans for breakfast and lunch and beans, rice and bananas for supper.
Gallo Pinto is a favourite for breakfast and usually also contains onions, red peppers and coriander (cilantro). We stopped at Hotel Suerre in Guaplies en route to Tortugero to sample ours and were offered it served with eggs, fried plantains and fresh cheese with natilla (sour cream) on the side. Very delicious.