Costa Rica Modernizes, And Its People Benefit

Thirty years ago there was no passable road to the town of Bijagua de Upala in northern Costa Rica. Twenty years ago there were no public telephones. Ten years ago there was no Internet access.

Today there are at least two Internet cafe along a paved road with street lights. People drive past chatting on their cell phones. (My friend Andres answered his while we were horseback riding.) A string of windmills whirls away up on the ridges leading into town. There are several small hotels and cabinas, and a pizzeria.

It would be fashionable of me to decry the modernization of Bijagua, but I won’t.

Cell phone tower, Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

I noticed not only that Bijagua had grown but that its houses looked bigger, nicer and more prosperous than they did even 10 years ago. The people have certainly welcomed the changes, which also include satellite television and a supermarket.

Signs of earlier traditions exist. The occasional horseback rider still passes by on the road. Farming is still the main business, even if our friends now use an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy of a mare. Our friend Doña Margarita still makes the world’s best tortillas.

Up in the villages in the hills, life has changed less precipitously, but overall the pace of change has been stunning. Technology has leapfrogged so that people whose only electricity came from car batteries a decade ago now comes from windmills. People who never had a land line have cell phones. This is a boon to most of the people who live here, and they are making conscious efforts to embrace clean technology.

Improvements in infrastructure have brought more tourists, and that has been good for the economy. The struggle between serving the needs of tourists and the needs of the local people is by no means settled, but the businesses (as opposed to the hotels) that have grown up along the lovely beaches seem to be largely owned by locals.

So while a tourist like myself might feel a pang for the way it was, I don’t feel I have any right to wish this country or its people back to a poorer and more difficult past. How can I mourn the loss of authenticity if I’m seeing the way people really live in a modernizing country? What could be more authentic than that?


One thought on “Costa Rica Modernizes, And Its People Benefit

  1. John French

    The balance between modernity and tradition is always difficult. In Costa Rica, a symbol of the merger of past and present is the tortilla. Packages of 25 abound in supermercados. But in some homes, the domestica can be heard at 6 in the morning, rhythmically slapping cornmeal into compliance, as she hand-makes them for immediate consumption by family members. When eaten with eggs and gallopinto (a rice and bean dish that supports the ribs all day), they make one of the most delicious breakfasts in the world, the desayuno tipico of Costa Rica.


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