Iris in Wonderland.


The author in Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica.
(Feb. 2014)
(photo credit: My Amazing Lover™.)

Last week I returned from an unannounced Top Secret Mission in Costa Rica.

Mission: vacation.
Mission status: Best. Vacation. EVAR.
New mission: move to Costa Rica.

Before I debrief, I must confess I was rather skeptical (I know—moi?) about the gushing reports from people who had visited the country. It also occurred to me that of the many people I’ve met of Central American ancestry, not a single one was Costa Rican.

Now it all makes sense. Because why the everloving fuck would anyone ever want to leave Costa Rica?

Before posting some pics, I’ll just give you some interesting factoids. You can go read more on Wikipedia, CIA World Factbook, or some hip new thing you may not have heard about yet called The Google Machine—this is just to whet your appetite.

Environment. Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any country in the world. This is attributed to its twelve climatic zones, its position relative to the North and South American continents, and a variety of ecosystems within the country, including tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, Atlantic and Pacific coastline, cloud forests, and Mangrove forests. What’s more, Costa Ricans appreciate and value what they have: over 27% percent of its land has protected status as national parks, wildlife refuges, and forest preserves. In 2012 Costa Rica became the first country on the American continent to pass a total ban on hunting. It’s also illegal to cut down wild trees without permission, and there is presently a country-wide effort to pay rural people to plant trees along every roadway. The reason: tree dwelling species like howler monkeys and sloths cannot cross roads without being endangered by human activity (or predators). The goal is to create continuous, connected canopies of trees, so as to mitigate the dangers to tree-dwelling wildlife. The is a five percent tax on gasoline, and the revenue is used to pay landowners to refrain from clear-cutting their land, in effect encouraging tree farming instead of cattle ranching. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranked Costa Rica number one in its 2009 Happy Planet Index, and again in 2012. The NEF has also ranked Costa Rica “the greenest country in the world.” In 2007, the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon-neutral country on the planet by 2021. BOOM.

No military. Just imagine for a moment living in a country that is not in a state of permanent war. The effects on Costa Rica’s culture cannot be overstated. No imperialist scheming to invade and brutally occupy foreign lands, no money spent spying on everyone in the world, no armies plundering the globe’s resources for the benefit of the richest elite, no glorifying war and violent patriarchy. Costa Rica abolished its military by constitutional amendment in 1949, and the budget previously dedicated to the military is now dedicated to security, education and culture. The country maintains small Police Guard forces for law enforcement actions and foreign peacekeeping to a limited extent, but it has no permanent standing army. About the only good thing I can say about the United States in this regard is that in the event of war in Costa Rica, the US has offered their military at Costa Rica’s disposal. (Although I wouldn’t exactly bank on that if I were them…)

Dearth of epic shitweasels. In the wake of the Iran-Contra affair—wherein the Reagan administration illegally sold weapons to Iran and funneled money, weapons and drugs through Costa Rica to supply Nicaraguan guerrillas waging war against the democratically elected Sandinista government—Oliver North and other American ringleaders were permanently banned from entering the country. Seems the Lieutenant Colonel enjoyed his very nice beach house while directing the construction of covert airstrips in the area so that illicit flights could land near the Nicaraguan border, among other nefarious activities. But that is at least one epic shitweasel I will never, ever run into in Costa Rica.

Health care. Costa Rica provides universal health care to all citizens and permanent residents. It offers some of the best quality health care in Latin America, and is a popular destination for medical tourism. Statistics from the World Health Organization frequently place Costa Rica in the top rankings in the world for life expectancy (other factors include the slower pace of living, access to healthy and non-preserved foods, and the climate). The UN ranks Costa Rica’s public health system in the top 20 worldwide, and number 1 in Latin America. Many pharmaceuticals (e.g. birth control pills, cholesterol medication, migraine medicine, etc.) are available over the counter without a prescription, and common ailments are routinely diagnosed and treated by pharmacists, not doctors.

Food. Costa Rica’s multicultural history is on vibrant display in both its traditional and modern dishes. The cuisine is a dynamic blend of influences from the Native American (Nahuatl and Chibcha) cultures the Spanish encountered in the 16th century, African and Afro-Caribbean in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and more recently Asian, while the Spaniards themselves brought with them many new staples and ingredients from other lands, including spices and domesticated animals. Fresh fruits, root vegetables and seafood are as ubiquitous as rice, beans and corn, harvested domestically. Coffee is a major export crop, and Costa Rican coffee is robust and smooth. Fresh fruit juices—well, more like purees—of tamarind, watermelon, mango or blackberry are as abundant as they are refreshing. Pineapple grown in Costa Rica is so sweet and flavorful it will make you weep. What I’m saying is, don’t knock the Caribbean-flavored sushi rolls until you try them.

Booze. Guaro, made from sugar cane, is the national liquor of Costa Rica. It is extremely inexpensive, and by all accounts extremely terrible. Costa Rica does produce some fine rums, as well as several beers I have no way of evaluating because I rarely drink beer. Interestingly, there are no major wine producers in Costa Rica, even thought the climate seems particularly well-suited for it. But what do I know about vineyards? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. Still, there was no shortage of imports from Europe, California and South American upstarts like Chile and Argentina. Try as I might, I simply could not drink the hotel bar out of a crisp, pale, dry French rosé from Provence.


liberiaweatherNow it is true, as everyone who knows me will attest, that I whine and complain endlessly and bitterly about the summer heat in New York. But! I must point out that what we are talking about here is actually winter heat. And if you’ve had access to news, then you know exactly what kind of New York winter weather I just dodged. Further, while the evenings in Costa Rica are glorious, the same cannot be said about summer evenings in New York, which typically suck only slightly less than summer days. And really, as I always say: if your Costa Rican infinity pool is partly in the shade, who cares about a few degrees Fahrenheit?

crinfinitypoolMy Costa Rican infinity pool, partly in the shade.

Costa Rica is not without problems. Despite enviable economic growth, a 20%+ poverty rate has remained stubbornly intractable for decades. Petty theft is rampant. Narco-trafficking from South America to the U.S. puts Costa Rica squarely in the cross hairs of our dumbassed drug “war.” Abortion is restricted to situations that preserve the “life or physical health of the mother,” and are illegal in cases of rape, incest, for economic reasons or when the fetus suffers from medical problems or birth defects—a legacy, no doubt, of the Catholic church’s influence in the region. On the other hand, the average number of children born per woman has fallen from about 7 in the 1960s to 3.5 in the early 1980s to below replacement levels today, a clear trend that points to Catholic dogma’s waning influence in the culture and public policy. So yes, there are big problems. But unsustainable growth, the NRA, fracking, crappy processed food, Oliver North, the world’s largest prison system, and an all-powerful Military-Industrial Complex are not among them.

Anyway, I just want to say adiós to my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™! I’m ditching you guys for my fabulous new friends!

capuchinmonkeycrWhite-headed capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus)
They’re found everywhere, including expertly navigating the thin railing of my balcony.

iguanacrGreen iguana (Iguana iguana)
(This one’s a male. And what an asshole, let me tell you. He stakes out the best tree he can find, and lets females come up to eat the leaves. Then they have to get past him to go back to the ground…at which point he…”fertilizes their eggs,” if you know what I mean. Asshole.)

crocodilecrOoh look! A kitteh!
(Crocodylus acutus)

blackbirdcrSome (apparently non-aquatic) bird that almost drowned in my
Costa Rican infinity pool (which FYI is partially shaded)
until My Amazing Lover™ heroically rescued it with a towel and a pole.


papagayocrThis is a picture of all my new tropical fish friends.
I don’t have an underwater camera. But since I snorkeled in these waters, I can tell you they are amazing.

crocodilescrLook! Moar kittehs!

howlermonkeycrMantled Howler Monkey (Alouatta palliata)
They make quite the vocal racket. Which is fair enough I guess, since the capuchin monkeys have been known to steal their babies—and eat them.

basilisklizardcrJesus Christ lizard (Basiliscus basiliscus)
It walks on water. Yep.

tourboatcr(I don’t know what these creatures are. Kitteh food?)

I can haz Palace in Costa Rica nao plz?

6 thoughts on “Iris in Wonderland.

  1. What a fantastic report – National Geographic worthy but with a Borowitzean humor elements and colorful (and rightfully) trademarked expressions. Loved the pics, too – and the segment on the dark side, if still bright by local (i.e., U.S.) standards. Now I know why my kids have gone on so about the pleasures of a holiday in Costa Rica.

  2. Ugh. I regularly visit a friend in FL (Gulf Coast), and hellhole is EXACTLY right. There’s a strip club called “Personalities,” ferchrissakes. I mean, I can enjoy Miami or the Keys for a couple days, but pretty soon I cannot wait to get the hell outta there.

    Then there’s this: (Florida) Cop Caught On Dashcam Framing A Woman For DUI.

    I’m thinking you got the better end of the deal compared with your friends. If we ever make it to Costa Rica, let’s have a drink and mock them. ;)

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