6/16/19 – 6/23/19
“How many vehicles would you guess are in the average rental fleet?”
“Dunno, maybe two hundred. Why?”
“Well just look at all the sand in this car.”
“So there is at least a cup of sand in this car. All these vacationers dragging sand in from the beach. One cup of sand per car, per week, fifty two weeks per year.”
“That’s a lot of sand.”
“It’s three point two five gallons of sand per car per year. That means a fleet of two hundred cars is removing six hundred and fifty gallons of sand. At point one three four cubic feet per gallon, we’re talking about eighty seven cubic feet. That’s a pile of sand the size of a Volkswagen.”
“Maybe a Volkswagen Rabbit, but not a Passat.”
“The garbage dump is not where we should be putting the beach.”
I was certain that it all was simply vacuumed out along with old french fries and the occasional hash ball, all of which could have been composted and reintroduced to the food chain had they not been tossed in a landfill next to a leaking car battery. Still, I thought that perhaps there is a little man who pours the vacuum bag into a sifter to separate the granules of weathered black igneous rock mixed with colorful particles of broken shell and coral and returns them to the beaches in a perfect little circle of life.
My brother Nick and our former roommate, Vader, had flown down to meet us for a week. Nick is like one of those stuffed bears that talks when you pull the cord except that he is full of off color jokes and strange references to David Lee Roth. Vader is the kind of guy that if he were to find you drunk on the front porch at three in the morning trying to burn a box of pictures of a girl that recently broke your heart; he would casually, through first-hand experience, explain that for some reason photos don’t burn so well.
“You can try gasoline,” he’d offer, “but one day you’ll probably wish you hadn’t done that.”
I realized that I was a bit jaded in terms of seeing monkeys, iguanas, and remote tropical rivers, but truly enjoyed our discussions of geopolitical chess games and how, by throwing its weight around, the United states can pressure OPEC to stipulate oil contracts in dollars thereby creating an opportunity to severely increase the cost of energy imports of competing countries through tariffs which ultimately cause a depreciation of their currency relative to ours.
“And that’s why Bitcoin doesn’t have a chance. There’s too much at stake when you control the benchmark currency.”
“Sure there’s a great deal at stake for the US, but if you’re another country or a trading block then surely you’re thinking about those loose pocketed modern monetary theorists and the seemingly imminent threat of the US printing its way out of debt. A decentralized global currency would level the playing field.”
“What do you guys think of AI managed investment portfolios?”
“It’s a tossup. On one hand they give us the opportunity to employ techniques such as modern portfolio theory as it was intended. At the same time the efficient market hypothesis would tell us that efficacy is lost anytime a successful technique becomes pervasive throughout the market.”
We zigzagged around the country like this for a week. Costa Rica is different from other Latin American countries. They’ve done a stupendous job of caring for their natural resources; although you’re not allowed to touch anything without paying for it. It would seem that at some point a visionary leader must have ordered a new deal style nationwide public works project in which every view point, waterfall, and monkey habitat was canvassed and GPS catalogued and a kiosk dropped on the road in front of it. The few places that were missed have since been annexed by malefactors who ask for a five dollar “donation” for parking and strongly warn that your windows will probably get smashed if you don’t produce the ransom.
They appear to have instituted a corporate culture style marketing campaign in which they’ve proclaimed the national slogan to be “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life.” The phrase is used in place of the standard greetings of “hola” or “adios” and often to punctuate a well-made point or to signal agreement with somebody else. Buy a coffee, say “gracias,” and the cashier will respond “Pura Vida.” It’s the same when you get out of a cab or smile at a stranger in the street.
The driving is notably haphazard. I hadn’t been behind the wheel in close to eight months and it had been several years since driving a stick. The city was the usual mess of Latin American roads with drivers making their own rules. In the mountains on the way to Tortuguero we watched a truck flip as it took a curve too fast on the wet foggy roads. It slid against the guard rail on the edge of a cliff for several hundred meters before coming to rest in the middle of its lane. Tourists of course offer their own degree of folly. One tried to pass a septic truck around a hair pin curve while it was making a left turn. The truck had to pull back into the lane so quickly that it teetered and nearly rolled. Others would stop on the back side of blind corners to get out and take photos of iguanas. Outside Tamarindo we passed the scene of a motorcycle crash. A man was laying on the ground with bystanders directing traffic and pouring sips of water into his lips.
After a late flight arrival and an evening spent in a strange love motel catching up at the bar watching Nick and Vader struggle to read the menu and order beers, we arrived at a parking lot which the map told us was a town called La Pavona. Here you can pay ten dollars a day to leave your car with a man that sleeps in the toll booth. You can also catch the boats down the Rio la Suerte (The Lucky River) to Tortuguero. The tourism board has placed native people along the banks of the silty chocolate colored waters to mimic the authenticity of the Rio San Juan de Nicaragua. As you float by, they smile and wave and yell “Pura Vida.”
There is a National park in Tortuguero. You can pay twenty dollars to walk along a trail that, once on, you will notice is accessible for free from the beach. The start of this trail is guarded by what appears to be an endless moat and it is insisted that you must rent boots because there is endless trudging through foot deep mud and standing water. The moat disappears after the first bend in the trail and so your feet sort of marinate in the boots the rest of the day and you feel like a jackass as the locals, who entered from the beach, walk by in sandals. The forest smells like an Asian grocery store though and has been well stocked with monkeys, spiders, butterflies, toucans, snakes, and basilisks.
La Fortuna is the epicenter of mountain and jungle “exploration.” Want to see a sloth in a tree? Twenty dollars at the sloth sanctuary. Looking for views of canyons from a suspension bridge slung over the canopy of a mountainside forest? Twenty six dollars. For an even hundred you can sit in a thermal hot spring while a Tony Robins clone whispers encouraging words to you as you watch a panther lick its paws. Ziplines through narrow corridors cut into the forest, skydiving, mountain biking, dirtbiking…. With each of these experiences is the option to tie a GoPro to your forehead for five dollars extra.
In Tamarindo we went scuba diving and saw 15 sharks, 5 massive eels, sea turtles, thermoclines, and vibrant corals. I exclaim to our dive master, Luis, that I’d never seen so many sharks and he replied, “Pura Vida.”
Costa Rica is the Latino love child of Walt Disney and Salma Hayek. They build little rope bridges over the roads so monkeys can safely cross. Everyone smiles. Nobody spits. The dogs are all on leashes so you never have to worry about them jumping from the bushes to scare the shit out of you when you’re deeply engaged in a podcast about the tax implications of investing in Opportunity Zones. The Nicaraguans jokingly refer to it as Suiza, Switzerland. Only in this place have I seen a book exchange in which the hostel expects you to pay for a book. At the same time, for all of the absurdities stemming from the country’s relentless pursuit to brand itself as the best tourism destination in the region, Costa Rica does a remarkable job of preserving its natural resources. They know what they’ve got and they understand the necessity to preserve as their economy and livelihoods depend on it. The rivers are the cleanest we’ve seen in all of Latin America. The beaches are spotless. The residents take recycling and even composting seriously, and you will often find yourself in conversations with Ticans (the name for Costa Ricans) about the importance of preserving the planet for generations to come.
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