Notes From Costa Rica

A Marxist Travelogue

Like many cities in the mountainous central region of Costa Rica, Palmares sits in a valley.  A valley of many valleys extending like an unbroken emerald necklace in ever increasing altitudes from the temperate southeast to the higher northwest elevations.

Cities, proudly distinct yet unmistakably interwoven with deep senses of community and the shared being of a people who know their own history, their place in it and each other’s interdependent role in life’s unfolding.  This is the foundational energy grounding a nation, unique in a region beset with the horrors of colonialism, neocolonialism and the resource extraction and human immiseration endemic to both.

There is a mountain surrounding a portion of this city that 20 years ago was a privately held ecological disaster, a livestock ranch, whose business had eaten and trampled the lush tropical slopes to a hard scrabble moonscape in the dry season and the torrential sheet runoff of topsoil erosion in the rainy season.

A deal was forged between a coalition of engaged private citizens who raised a lot of money and the owners of the ranch.  They bought this desert and went about the only rational course of action – a radical reforestation of the entire mountain to repatriate the land to its former vital role as an essential life sustaining cloud forest watershed for all life within it, as well as all below.

The Foundation Madre Verde, or Green Mother, was formed as the educational and ongoing support and maintenance organization for this massive hydrological ecosystem.  The cloud forest stretches like a giant collar around the city of Palmares, linking with other large parcels dedicated to the same purpose, to a high ridge overlooking the residential neighborhood of her closest neighbor, Rincon.

Entering through the Foundation grounds to access a path at the lower spine of Madre Verde, the first steep vertical ascent is made easier by occasional steps carved into the slope, framed with bamboo.  But soon the informational signage on interesting fauna and the steps for ecotourists end and the path narrows to six or seven inches in width – rutted, rocky, slick with mud and heavy undergrowth. Ascending the ridge of Madre Verde’s cloud forest, the air is always cool, moist and incredibly fresh inside the dim micro-climate so radically different from the dryer, hotter climate prevailing just yards to the right and left on the slopes below.

Perilous footing forces the mind and breath into single pointed nowness.  There’s no tour guide; no powder room.  You get hurt up here, no one’s coming.  So embracing silence, you breathe and get mindful of everything; thinking about every step you take; trying not to get thwapped.  Birds converse.  The most beautiful butterflies appear, disappear and reappear in narrow shafts of sunlight penetrating the thick jungle canopy.

Clouds slamming into the forest, absorbed by every square centimeter of leaf space, vapor condensing into a billion little streams of water beading down the stems of leaves to branches to trunks to where it leeches into the fertile ground – the permanently wet sponge at the top of a verdant, living, breathing lung.  Gravity drawing the water down the mountainsides in a life sustaining migration for the finest shade grown mountain arabica coffee in the world – whose root structures hold the rich topsoil of the mountainsides intact.  Finally, nature’s abundant gift serves to bathe and hydrate tens of thousands of people in the cities below.

This isn’t some left wing psychic colon cleanse.  This is reality, difficult to understand only for those who buy art by the square foot to fill a wall.  This profoundly dynamic, inter-dependent, inter-reliant, inter-related engine of life is just this simple.  Hack down all the trees and three guys get rich and everyone else dies – that’s capitalism.  Keep the trees in the ground and everybody gets what they need – people smell good, have clean clothing, get to boil their beans and steam their rice – and make coffee.  Everybody wins.  Except those three sociopathic shitbags, who can go fuck themselves anyway.  Now that’s socialism.  To privatize, commodify, commercialize and sell this resource for short term profit is now, here, in this place, finally a criminal stupidity that even the most obdurate, extractive, exploitative one percenter sitting in his multi million dollar Costa Rican mountainside compound understands.

And yet the critiques, some harsh, by U.S. residents and ex-pats alike, who literally – or illiterately, write me graphs of nothing but sentence fragments where verbs reside in far off outposts bearing no relationship to assumptive objects.  Some want to be FaceySpace friends or share how amazing it was coming from the U.S. to work in Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast between ’08 and 2013.  Ooooo, solidarity.  How do I break it to these “progressives” that the reason they had such a great time in Guanacaste is because they surfed the first titanic wave of ex-pat one percenters down here who landed in this canton, bought everything in sight for nothing, built $125 million dollar medical facilities to take state of the art care of their golf injuries and their third wives’s tits, built mansions, condos, golf courses, four and five star hotels while bidding up the prices of land, housing, labor and food so fucking high the children of real Costa Ricans can no longer dream of affording to live in their own god damned country!

And yet, it seems all one reads or hears about these days through the presstitute media is the “migrant crisis” hitting Europe.  “Migrant”, sounding so much like “vagrant”.  The poor, dirty, smelly brown hoards washing up on the milky white skinned vampiric shoulders of countries that sunk their teeth into their homelands, sucking out everything of value and then bombing whatever is left out of existence.  Instead of “migrant”, why not “normal people like you and me”.  Yeah, “normal people like you and me that have been bombed and raped into flights of terror and desperation by Western imperialism”.  Or is that too long?

What about clean shaven, well dressed “migrants” in designer acetates who fly private, take over and colonize entire pristine northwest corridors of poor socialist democracies with the collusion of local – and not so local – politicians too short sighted, selfish and greedy to say no to all that money.  The cognitive dissonance is mind numbing.

You could carve out Guanacaste and drop it on top of fucking Phoenix and no one would know the difference.  I’m critiqued by those who had a great time in Costa Rica, but complain about everything Costa Rican because they never really left the United States!  My BFF’s, please read anything by Chris Hedges soon.  Pura vida, please stay home.  Besties4Ever :)  Muah!

Or what about the “migrant crisis” in the U.S. where that inverted totalitarian state practices austerity on its own people across massive sacrifice zones – ethnic cleansing by any other name – where millions of families first kicked out of their houses by banks, now work – if they can find employment at all – making less than half what they did pre-2007.  Unable to qualify for loans from the same “too big to jail” banks, people are now evicted for being unable to pay extortionate rents to petit bourgeois shithead landlords and hedge funds that now control the secondary market for housing in the United States.   But nobody’s talking about that diaspora either.

The differences between the United States and Costa Rica are vast and numerous, but maybe it’s down to this.  In America, everything is saturated in the manure of money.  All relationships are dollar denominated in increasing transactional velocity.  Market driven consumption and getting paid permeates every pore of America’s cultural identity and motivation to do virtually anything and everything – from marriage and hip hop to education and mistressing.  And no one is really happy.  In Costa Rica, corporate monopolies are not yet a prevalent cancer; there’s been no army since 1948, so education, not war, is the nationally mandated priority; everything happens in slow motion; the vast majority have no money to speak of and honestly don’t care as long as there’s enough to make ends meet – and everyone is really happy.

Unlike the United States, Costa Rica is a culturally literate nation of fully awakened citizens, or at least in sufficient numbers to throw their collective shoulders to the barricades when they have to – which is often – to make a change or two for the common good.  May the hegemon and its trade delegations never again come to privatize her water,  rape her in open pits of what mineral wealth she has or, God forbid, bring democracy to her shores.  It’s bad enough seeing a Starbucks selling bitter overamp’d grind in a nation that sells sweeter coffee out of vending machines across the street from a soccer stadium funded and built by the Chinese in downtown San Jose.

Next week: Destination Wow!!  Thermal baths in the dormant slumber of Volcano Arenal at a super secret boutique hotel offering poolside deep tissue detox massages with warm stones to free up those stressed out chakras.  Stay tuned.

Anthony Tarrant no longer toils for healthcare in retail fashion's corporate mills. He lives and writes in Costa Rica, a poor country filled with incredibly happy people with no standing army since 1948. He can be reached at: anthonytarrant2@gmail.com. Read other articles by Anthony.