Thursday, November 23, 2006

El Culo del Mundo

Directly translated from Spanish, it means "ass of the world". But the interpreted meaning is "the middle of nowhere". I live in a place that in many respects is el culo del mundo. Very rural, far away from the "big city" of San Jose. But because of its beautiful coastline, beaches, great fishing, volcanoes, warm people, and fantastic weather, it is rapidly being bought up and developed by wealthy North Americans into hotels, condos and large single family homes. Ticos call it 'Hollywood', and it seems so on the surface with all of the wealth and luxury being created. But scratch the veneer, and beneath the surface it's more like 'Deadwood' - that 19th century, frontier gold rush town featured in the HBO series, with the same places and characters, but at a different latitude. Substitute the word 'real estate' for 'gold' and you start to get more of the picture. This place is booming! And with the boom come many people from other places looking to prospect and profit, in addition to those who are already here and have been here for a long time. And with an influx of people and money come many benefits, but also many problems. The world ain't perfect, even here in Paradise.

I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I've profited from the boom. But I'm a little different than most gringos in that I actually live here and am part of the community. I live here year-round. I have learned Spanish and assume you know it too. I am married to a tica, and love her and her family very much. We are planning a family of our own. I will educate my children here. My ashes will be sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean off the beach near which I live. I'm here for the long term, not just for a 5-year 100% R.O.I. I'm idealistic.

I came to Costa Rica on vacation some years back, and after repeating the trip several times, I decided that I preferred the lifestyle here more than the one I had in the US. I despised the cold weather and short Winter days in the place where I'm from. I was just enduring the Winter for the two-and-a-half glorious months of Summer. Astrologically speaking, I'm a Sun sign. And if I had to 'prairie dog' out of an office cubicle one more time I would surely go insane, dash through the 20th floor office window and plummet to my death on the pavement below. I've always been very comfortable in the jungle - whether concrete ghetto or steamy rain forest. I despise the suburbs, where I grew up - the 'burbs are for copouts. The 'burbs are for people who want to Disney-fy the world. I took a risk, sold my condo, my Mercedes-Benz and almost everything else that I own, gave up a great career, my friends there, and baseball games. How I miss baseball. And I've never looked back. Tourists ask me almost every day how I did it because they're thinking of doing it too. I reply politely, "If you have to ask, you'll never do it, so why waste our time? Wanna beer?"

I love this culo del mundo. But as for how long it will remain so, I cannot foresee. My wife was born here and barely recognizes the place anymore. It's now a relatively expensive place to live, which is pricing out ticos who used to come to the beach with the family on the weekend for an inexpensive day of rest and relaxation. Neighbors are turning on neighbors, family members against family members in their lust for "gold".

Clearly, I'm not afraid of change. But I'm conflicted with the reality that change is not always for the better. People are laying waste to exactly the things that draw people here to Guanacaste in the first place. Not a month passes without a howler monkey electrocuting itself on an electrical wire or getting hit by a car because the trees that made "their road" have all been cut down - for some gringo's vista del mar and a pool with an infinity edge (and you MUST have an infinity edge!). The white-faced monkeys are all gone now - they don't do well with people, bulldozers and dump trucks around. The once lush mountains have been carved up and are denuded of vegetation to allow for houses and that all-important gringo vista del mar. Developers blast rock from the hillsides to eek out 100 more buildable square meters. They do it without permits. They've already bribed the municipality officials - chorizo, to look the other way. The rocks fall on the neighbors below. Uncontrolled growth is the mentality of the cancer cell.

The vista del mar is, indeed, incredibly beautiful. But go out on a boat and look back at Hollywood. Hollywood looks like a mining town, like Deadwood. In spite of it, I remain optimistic. I imagine this place after the construction boom, when the dust settles, the landscape recovers, the detritus that have moved here to work construction have left, when someone has figured out a way to manage storm and waste water, and it's a beautiful place. It has to be. I mean, you gotta get your 100% minimum R.O.I., and no one's gonna let that slide. Right?

1 comment:

  1. Time for W to weigh in.

    To find a place where we feel connected is a rare and precious feeling. At least it has been for me. I felt this way when I visited Mexico in 1960. The population was 1/3 of what it is today and the rhythem of life was as beautiful as it can be in Guanacaste today. Southern Italy in 1963 had much the same feeling. Part of this feeling is that there wasn't so much damn information hitting us from all sides. People's authentic self seems to come through when we are not totally consumed by a gold rush pursuit. Mini "celebrations of life" can occur at a moments notice. The richest people I know are the ones that are continually restored by the beauty around them. They may be of modest means but they are energised by...fill in the blanks here...something that speaks to them.

    Your comments about the suburbs and "Disney-fying" seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon. From my perspective it has been the last 20 years when "teardowns" began and McMansions replaced them. The whole character of our suburb changed. Homes became castles with moats around them. Teachers at the community schools found themselves talking the lawyer representing little Johnny, instead of little Johnny's parents. Suddenly personal rights trumpted personal responsibilities. Until then, most had a sense of obligation to serve the community when called upon. A new neighbor sparked a ritual of friendly cookouts or dinners. Can't get baby sitters on New Year's Eve? No problem, we had an "outdoor" New Year's Eve party on the corner where we could keep an eye on our homes and children.

    It was 100 years ago that Upton Sinclair wrote his novel, "The Jungle." It focused on workers in Chicago's meatpacking industry and painted a very bleak picture of urban life. I read this book in high school and it sensitized me to the traps that people get caught in. It also convinced me that the government needs to intervene in a capitalistic society when the scales of fairness and decency are tipped over and broken. (Sorry, Milton Freidman, the free market does not always bring out the best in us.) At the end of his novel, Sinclair speaks of the clean air outside the city and holds out escaping to these 1906 "pre-suburbs" as a solution.

    Born on the south side of Chicago where the sidewalks routinely had a red iron ore hue, I can relate to what Sinclair expressed. Just after WWII the cities were beginning to fall apart. Schools were crowded, crime was rising and there wasn't much new being built. The suburbs were different, everything was new or newer, schools were good and crime was diminished. And there was a sense of connectiveness. Ben Stein recently wrote a column about growing up in this era. His parents built a swimming pool in the back yard and the first thing they did is work out a schedule for all the kids in the neighborhood to use the pool at designated times during the week. This would never happen today.

    So we take life as it comes. Thanks for the opportunity to share these thoughts!