Dear Tico Times:
Ah, Costa Rica – the little green country that’s exploding at the seams. After 16 years of visiting here, I’ve seen so many changes I’ve stopped keeping track. It still abounds with natural beauty – in the forests, on the beaches, across the campo, within the hearts of the people, and throughout the incredible music that’s created. So I don’t want to talk trash about Costa Rica – that is, until it comes to talking trash.
I remember that during my first visit in 1990, I was shocked at the amount of garbage littering the ditches along the main highway. However, when I went back to Canada – thinking we northerners were somehow keeping our roadsides cleaner – I saw with fresh eyes that we too were not nearly as vigilant as I’d thought. I’d simply stopped noticing the garbage that was being blown against our fences.
Some Canadian communities have developed better garbage and recycling programs, but there’s still plenty of McDonald’s wrappers and Tim Horton coffee cups growing like weeds in the fields of my home country. The creation and disposal of garbage remains a huge problem that must be dealt with before we’re completely smothered by it.
I was in two Caribbean communities last week. It was my first trip to Tortuguero and I loved it. But from the moment that Bony Scott, our guide, apologized for the state of his village, the garbage that was laying everywhere became a topic of many of our conversations. Every other aspect of our time in the canal country and in this friendly little town was wonderful, but the scourge of litter was disheartening. We can only hope the townsfolk will find a way to deal with it before it fills the sea.
I then returned to one of my favorite places in Costa Rica – Cahuita. This little beach community has always been maligned, yet I’ve spent a lot of time there and have always appreciated its inner beauty.
I hadn’t been there in five years and didn’t know what to expect. Unlike Puerto Viejo, which has grown into a small busy city, Cahuita fortunately remains a laid-back village. There are a few more businesses and many of the buildings have been repainted or renovated. To me, Cahuita has never looked so good.
The most noticeable thing about Cahuita, however, was the lack of garbage. After the trashy paths of Tortuguero, it was a great pleasure to be in such a tidy town and to walk along the beach where only natural debris was deposited. The only time we saw any litter was the morning after the party, in the park across from the bars, where people had left beer bottles and plastic glasses. Someone must have picked them up, because the garbage wasn’t there later.
Perhaps Cahuita’s bad reputation has forced the community to deal with its public relations problems by cleaning up town.
I’m writing this from Monteverde, a place with a very green image, where I’m noticing more garbage blowing about than I remember seeing in other years. The community’s recycling and garbage pick-up program was dismantled a year ago. Here, there and everywhere, the proper collection and disposal of garbage has become as essential as the protection and fair distribution of clean water.
After two weeks of traveling through parts of Costa Rica, I must give Cahuita the prize this year for cleanliness. Perhaps other communities could be looking at Cahuita as a good example rather than so often trashing it.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada