Day 70: San José

San Jose Travel Blog

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Teatro Nacional
 

We took it easy our first day travelling together. Arnaud was somewhat jetlagged and my climb up to the volcán Maderas had left me somewhat stiff and sore.


Like most Latin American capitals, the city doesn't have a whole lot of sights to offer. But it was nice spending a day in a modern city again. Hey, they had a Taco Bell - we don't have those at home! What more could I want? It was also nice to have some proper coffee again.


Of the few touristic sights that this city holds, the most interesting was the Theatro Nacional, the national theatre. A nice building to see from the outside, and absolutely stunning on the inside. The entire theatre is filled with beautiful paintings and frescoes, the most famous of which, a 19th century depiction of coffee harvest which has been reproduced on the 5 cólon bank note.

Teatro Nacional
Once we knew about this fact we spent the next two weeks looking everywhere to find one of these now obsolete bank notes. We did eventually.


We met a Costa Rican named Juan at the theatre who told us some of the history of the city and country. He was pleasant company and unlike most locals I'd met in this region so far he wasn't holding his political views back at all. We had a nice chat about Costa Rica and its neighbours.

All the countries I had visited between Guatemala and Costa Rica had two things in common: a history of civil war and a shaky love/hate relationship with the USA. And it had become obvious to me that the two were very closely related, and mostly the violence was at least partially instigated by dubious American economical interests in the region.

inside the Teatro Nacional
Our next destination, Panama, is probably the most obvious and most recent example of that 'relationship' (in 1989 a CIA-installed dictator went rogue and the country was subsequently 'saved' by a US military intervention).

All this is also reflected in American tourism in the region. Since leaving Mexico I hadn't met more than a handful of Americans travelling.

And now we were here in this country smack in the middle of the Northern and Southern American continents, which is so different from its surroundings. The government has been a stable democracy for decades, Costa Rica doesn't even have a national army anymore! And yes, you see American tourists on every street corner. In fact, not just tourists, there are many retirees who have bought a house and a piece of land in Costa Rica as well

So what makes this country so different from the other five? What happened that allowed this country to flourish so well, while its neighbours were enraged in civil wars for decades?

I asked Juan and his answer was very plain and simple: “Costa Rica has no coffee, bananas or canals!”

I beg your pardon?

No coffee, no bananas, no canals - I thought about it for a while.

5 cólon bank note
It made sense though. Many of the issues in the region in the 20th century originated from events the century before, when it was common practice for any superpower to take whatever natural resource they could take from weaker countries. Most of the arable land in Honduras and Guatemala is in the hands of American banana and coffee companies. For years Nicaragua was the chosen location to build a trans-continental canal, before it was shifted to Panama.

An American filibuster by the name of William Walker had conquered most of Honduras and Nicaragua in the mid 1800s, but for some miraculous reason the army-less Costa Ricans were able to fight him off. This indirectly resulted in Costa Rica flourishing with a nationalised coffee trade, eventually becoming the wealthiest and most stable nation in Central America.


We spent a good two hours talking with Juan on a sidewalk terrace, and I must say his views were quite an eye opener to me.

inside the teatro nacional
Sure, he was a communist, or at least he was heavily biased. It would be odd if he wasn't. But biased or not, he did have a point.


In the evening we went to the suburb of San Pedro, which is the student area which Juan had recommended as a great place to go out.

Well, he was right. After a little searching we ended up in a street lined with pubs, and had a great evening meeting great people and drinking beer and cocktails (not necessarily in that order).

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Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional
Teatro Nacional
inside the Teatro Nacional
inside the Teatro Nacional
5 cólon bank note
5 cólon bank note
inside the teatro nacional
inside the teatro nacional
San Jose
photo by: Isoinspira