End of a Chapter

Ladies and Gentlemen, I write this with a penetrating, stinging sadness as I announce, the official ending of our adventures with YamaKataGo.com.

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What started as nothing more than a sightseeing hobby of mine, hiking through Japan equipped with only two boots and a camera, has miraculously turned into one of the greatest projects of my life. Topped perhaps, only by my 5th grade Presidential Campaign popup book that I somehow managed to complete the night before it was due after a 6 week trip to Bogota, Colombia. Jokes aside, YamaKataGo was what kept me sane my last few months in the Navy. A creative outlet, a platform to tell me story, and a way to connect with you.

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I can honestly say that I challenged myself to bring you a side of Japan and Costa Rica that is not often captured by your typical Japan Blogger or Costa Rican travel book. We journeyed together to the Mountaintops of Hokkaido, found ourselves face to face with a Bear Cub in Western Japan, traversed through Costa Rican jungles, and traveled through a Coastal City in Eastern Costa Rica that resembles Jamaica more than it does a Central American country.

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Alas, that has all, much to my regret, come to a termination. I am by no means a writer, but I’ve heard (read) many writers say many times, that the best way to reflect, is always, through travel. And, fortunately for me, the last three months has given me that time to figure things out.

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I ventured through the capital of Colombia, Bogota, and saw her historic beauty.

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“Woman in Red”

This photo above looks like a really simple photo, but this is, by far, my favorite picture that I have ever taken. I can close my eyes and remember the exact scenario, the entire feeling in all its contrast, the intense mixture of warmth and coldness, love and isolation, vibrancy and dullness, that was the moment this picture was taken.

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View of Bogota from Monserrate 

I got to see a small Colombian River town and go white water rafting through it. First time rafting, first and last time cliff jumping.

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The moment before my first and last cliff jump

I checked out the Caribbean Santa Marta of Colombia where singer Carlos Vives is from (whose album “El Amor de Mi Tierra” was my entire childhood).

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I then took a small detour to Richmond, Virginia and checked out the Civil War Museum.

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Followed by a much overdue visit to my Alma Mater, The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

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And finally, thanks to much luck and fortunate timing, have found myself back in the exciting world that is Tokyo, Japan.

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What has that extensive traveling taught me? What has it allowed me to reflect on? Well, primarily, my reasoning for shutting down the project, YamaKataGo.com. In travel, I have realized, that rarely does anyone ever get to choose how they go or when they go, only what they do before they go. Excuse the somber drawback, but dwelling on that exact thought has pushed me more than ever, to spend my time living, chasing, doing what it is that gets my heart, my soul, racing. And in the pursuit of such happiness, I’m afraid I cannot commit enough time to YamaKataGo.com AND provide quality content.

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Tokyo Living

As such, this will be my last post on YamaKataGo.com. But…..Ladies and Gentleman, I am more than thrilled to officially announce the creation of Yugen International as Creative Director and Coffee Roaster. Our content here at YamaKata will be shifting over to YugenInternational.com, as will my time and dedication. I really am sad to see YamaKata go, but thrilled to see what lies ahead for Yugen International.

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What is Yugen International? Well, some of you may have seen snippets of it during our development phase or heard rumors of us on Reddit, but, in the last three months, we have found a much sharper, more refined direction for Yugen and are thrilled about where we’re headed. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the website! And since YamaKataGo.com is migrating to YugenInternational.com, there will be a lot of admin and maintenance to take care of, so please bear with us and with the change. As always guys, thanks for reading, look forward to seeing you over at Yugen!

 

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On Costa Rica

When you think of Costa Rica, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Beautiful beaches? Wild, dense jungles filled with exotic animals? Or simply, an adventurous escape from the mundane 9-5 with your best mate or soon to be wife or husband?

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I can’t deny that Costa Rica is all of this. It is captivating nature that will fill you with regret as you prepare to board your departing plane back home. It is spectacular wildlife that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world. And of course, it is the adventure of a lifetime that will be told to coworkers for years to come when they ask for recommendations on where to vacation to. But, tucked away in a seemingly neglected capital filled with over 300,000 residents, lies a Costa Rican reality that is nearly the complete opposite of everything mentioned above.

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Farmer selling his produce at the weekly Feria

(Author’s note: Allow me to apologize upfront. During my time in Costa Rica, as with anywhere, if something caught my eye, I took a picture of it. For me, that normally (read, almost always) consists of something nature related, the unspoken beauty of Earth. And, while Costa Rica is a country filled to the brim with nature, this article tackles the inverted reality that is Costa Rica for its average citizen. Of that polarized reality, the partially disheveled, sometimes disheartening Costa Rica, I have very few photos. In fact, yesterday, knowing that I wanted to write this article, I went to a part of town that always saddened me just so that I would have a photo to convince you, the reader, that I’m not making all of this up. As you read, the pictures above and beneath words will be in high contrast to the words I have written. I hope you, as the reader, take this opportunity to experience just how much of a contrast there is between the Costa Rica that the tourist experiences and the Costa Rica its citizens know.)

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Monkey outside my hotel window. I accidentally left my bad outside full of bananas and fruit the night before. Heard a screech in the early morning. Needless to say my bananas were long gone.

Costa Rica, a former Spanish colony, gained independence from Spain in 1821. Due to the sudden power vacuum, a civil war erupted between Imperialists who wanted to join the Mexican Empire, and Republicans who wanted full independence. Republicans won a decisive victory at the battle of Ochomogo in 1823 and the capital was moved from Cartago to San Jose; however, Costa Rica was still a part of the Federal Republic of Central America. In 1838, due to the inefficiency of La República Federal de Centroamérica, Costa Rica withdrew and became fully independent.

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In the early 19th Century, Costa Rica experienced significant economic growth due to the export of coffee, along with tabaco and cacao. (For a more in depth history of Costa Rican coffee, be sure to check out my “History of Coffee in Costa Rica” post). In order to provide a faster, more efficient transportation of coffee from farm to shipping port, Minor Keith, a United States businessman, was contracted to build a railroad to Limon in exchange for land and a lease on the train route. Keith, being a shrewd (read: exploitive) business man, used this lease to produce a “Banana route” for exportation. As banana exports grew and competed with coffee as the major export, foreign investment also grew and foreign corporations began to hold a lot of power in the direction of Costa Rica’s national economy. Some of its historic symptoms (read: exploitations) can still be seen in Costa Rica’s economy today.

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Compared to the rest of Central America, Costa Rica enjoyed an extremely peaceful 20th century. The only exception was a 44 day Civil war in 1948 that left 2,000 Ticos (Costa Rican’s) dead. Following the civil war, a new constitution was drafted, true democratic elections were held, and the military was disbanded, making Costa Rica one of the few nations without an armed force (alongside Kiribati, Grenada, Andorra, and Iceland).

And that brings us to present day Costa Rica. Since 1953, Costa Rica has held 15 presidential elections and is deemed, rightfully so, the region’s most stable country.

[If you’re not interested in Mexican history that is more or less not directly related to this article, skip this paragraph] Ok, I’m going to derail a bit here, but I think you’ll enjoy it. I initially began writing “Just to provide some perspective, here are the internal conflicts other Latin American countries have had since gaining independence with Spain.” I began my research and, I found that in 1926, Mexico experienced a Cristero Rebellion, a battle against the secularist (think Separation of Church and State) and anti-Catholic policies of the Mexican government at the time. Then President Plutarco Elias Calles enacted a statute that would place restrictions on the Catholic Church. It would require all churches to register with the state, priests and ministers could no longer hold public office, nor could they “inherit property from persons other than close blood relatives.” In this reform, which came to be known as “Calles Law,”  penalties were places specifically on members of the church. Wearing a clerical garb in public was punishable by a fine of 500 pesos ($250 at the time, or $4,250 now). Any religious figure that criticized the government would be imprisoned for 5 years. And lastly, church property was seized, foreign priests expelled, and religious schools permanently closed. As a result, a rural uprising, supported by the church of course, temporarily tore the country apart. The rebels called themselves Cristeros (Of Christ). Peaceful resistance quickly turned to violent uprising, government troops were killed in raids and priests were tortured and murdered in public. In 1929, US ambassador to Mexico Dwight W. Morrow was able to draft, and have signed, a peace pact that would allow worship in Mexico to resume; however, the church would be held to some secular law (only some priests would have to register with the government and religious instruction could only resume in churches, not schools). The interesting part, perhaps more trivia factoid, as if the above wasn’t interesting enough, is that in the mid 1920s, high ranking members belonging to, none other than the Ku Klux Klan, offered Mexican President Calles $10,000 to aid in fighting the Catholic Church. They appeared to share his sentiments that “The Catholic Church…must be eliminated in order to proceed with a Socialist government free of religious hypnotism which fools the people.” I find it incredible that the KKK, an organization that believes in the success of the white race, and only the white race, would support the Mexican government, but I digress. [End tangent]

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As I was saying, compared to countries such as Mexico, that have had 5 internal conflicts since independence from Spain, Guatemala with a bloody 36 year Civil War, El Salvador with a Civil War that left 80,000 dead and 8,000 disappeared, a CIA backed army unit in Honduras that was responsible for the torture, murder, and disappearance of 184 students, professors, and journalists, Nicaragua with its infamous Banana War along with its Civil War and Revolution that left over 40,000 dead, and lastly Panama with its US invasion that resulted in over 300 dead in the span of one month. Relatively, Costa Rica has been a place of political paradise in the region.

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Young Nicaraguan FSLN rebel soldiers

Today, Costa Rica continues to enjoy a stable democracy as well as, for the most part, economy. In 2017, the estimated GDP for Costa Rica was at $57 billion, ranking 76th in the World. The country also has  a high level of quality health care as well as one of the highest literacy rates in Central America at 97%.

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Well, with all of this, how is Costa Rica not the perfect country to live in from any perspective? Well, for starters, even though GDP has increased significantly over the last 20 years, the national debt has been steadily increasing as well. In 2015, it accounted for 41% of the national GDP. In June of 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expressed concern over increasing deficits and public debts, as the proposed 2017 budget was $16 billion, 33% of which accounted for debt payments. In August of 2017, President Luis Guillermo Solis stated that the country was facing a “liquidity crisis” and declared that higher income taxes were desperately needed in order to pay debts AND keep government services operational.

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Former President Guillermo with Former President Obama

Compared to other Latin American nations, Costa Rica is easily the most expensive country to live in. A tax is placed on every imported good (as seen here), which in turn drives retail prices up, costing citizens more money. Things that are found for reasonable prices in The States such as clothing, electronics, and automobiles, are rather expensive in Costa Rica, sometimes double the price.

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Manuel Antonio

Where does all of this tax money go? I truly have no idea. The cost of living in Costa Rica is extremely high, while salaries remain low, with the average salary being $730. A good portion of that is taxed, either directly or indirectly. And yet, you cannot drive down any road in Costa Rica for more than five minutes without having to swerve just to avoid a tire flattening pot hole. Still, trash litters the streets of downtown San Jose, as well as the highways, and even parks. Still, there is a soul numbing rush hour that could easily be avoided if major “roundabouts” were done away with. And while crime rates are relatively low for the region, they have also increased significantly in the last ten years. Ticos are investing heavily into their government and country, be it willingly or not, but the return on investment may be taking longer than expected.

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Whats more, Costa Rica is hailed as a country with one of the best health care systems in the world, but if you ask a Tico, would he rather go to the public hospital on insurance, or a private one, I can guarantee that all would say private. The wait time for the public hospital is, all jokes aside, sometimes life-threatening, taking weeks, sometimes months just to get an appointment. And the treatment by staff at a public clinic lacks hospitality in comparison. At a private clinic, you can be seen within a couple of days if not hours and are treated like the money you spend. Of course, not everyone can afford this exclusive attention.

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Hospital Calderon

To make matters even worse, a base salary for a nurse in a public hospital in Costa Rica is a mere $550 a month, which is under the national average for salaries. It’s a bit difficult to compare directly, but the average nurse in The United States makes $5,660 a month, ten times as much as here, and still, the cost of food in both countries is the same, and the cost of clothing, electronics, and automobiles is much more expensive in Costa Rica. Everyone pays for health insurance and everyone can get it, and while I’m sure it has helped, saved, cured many poor workers, homeless, or those that just wouldn’t be able to afford health care, it has left many middle class Costa Ricans frustrated and disappointed.

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Typical road in San Jose. Passed by this every morning on my way to work.

This frustration and disappointment is not just felt in health care. On any street in Costa Rica, along with 2-3 foot potholes, you will easily find brand new BMWs, Porsches, Audis, mixed with beat up used cars from the 90s, even the 80s, that your average Costa Rican drives. The class disparity in Costa Rica is unbelievable, seriously, ridiculously unbelievable. The middle class seems to be shrinking dramatically, almost to the point of non-existence. Upper class Ticos, enjoy a relaxed life, as they should having earned their wealth; however, the rest of Costa Rica, struggles simply to get by, trying to emulate the wealthy in whatever way possible so that they too, may escape financial stress. But, with 20% of the country below the poverty line, a ridiculous amount of imposed taxes, and a laughable salary in comparison to the cost of living, escaping a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle for the majority of Costa Ricans does not seem plausible, not any time soon at least. And without a strong middle class, consumer spending plummets and takes the Costa Rican economy with it. Luckily, the country’s saving grace is, still, foreign investments, due to Free Trade Zone which brings American companies seeking tax breaks along with their investments.

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Coffee Expo with Cafe Doga at the beginning of the year.

Costa Rica, is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world filled with beautiful people. Its nature, beaches, and world class resorts make it a prime destination for travelers world-wide. However, if the country continues on the path its headed, there may be little that separates it from one of its less politically stable neighbors to the North.

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Irazu Volcano

For those of you who’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you disagreed with anything I’ve said, feel free to send me a message, would love to discuss. If you have any questions, feel free to ask away.

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Bonus treat for reading. Me 300 miles deep in the humid, exotic rainforest with my unkempt survival beard. Jk, I was at a nature walk 5 minutes from my car….

 

 

 

Catarata Del Toro

Just two hours North of San Jose, Costa Rica (much less if you’re able to leave before 7 AM, much more if you leave after 8 AM) lies a spectacular waterfall by the name of Catarata del Toro (Waterfall of the Bull). The waterfalls are situated in a National Park, which is open from 7 AM to 5 PM everyday except Sunday. $10 for Nationals and Residents and $14 for foreigners.

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Getting there from San Jose (if you have a car) is simple enough (Just type Cataratas del Toro into Google Maps); however, I would highly recommend something equipped with 4×4. On the way there this morning, we passed a sedan that must have been FWD spending a good 10 minutes trying to get up one of the inclines. After they had burned enough rubber, filling the air with smoke, and making my car smell like an industrial plant, they decided to turn around and return home. Or at least get enough speed on the downhill in order to physics their way up.

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I had never actually seen one of these signs in person before. I do believe that the incline shown here was in fact drawn to scale.
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The photo does not do the incline justice.

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As we continued to push through the beautiful winding roads and near vertical inclines, we came across a bull (ironically enough). In an attempt to capture everything that was Cataratas del Toro through my camera, I decided it would be a good idea to get out of my car, approach the bull, and take a picture of it. The first snap of my camera went off, no problem. Seeing that the bull was on a bit of a ledge and could not immediately charge at me without falling and breaking a leg first, I imagined that my Factor of Safety was at least doubled. As I approached and took the second photo, the bull looked directly at my from the side (if that makes any sense). I inched a bit closer, took a third photo, and the bull snorted. My feet were telling me to turn around, but my curiosity and desire to take the perfect picture got the best of me.

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I pushed even closer. Click. Fourth photo. Now, the bull, never taking his eyes off of me, let out another snort, and stood up. I thought “Ok, he probably doesn’t want me to come any closer, but I can still get a picture or two before he rushes down the cliff. I take the fifth picture (seen above) and my stupidity tells me to get just A LITTLE bit closer to get a better picture. I shuffle my feet forward, heart beat accelerating a bit as it nervously chuckles at my stupidity. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am not a farmer. I did not grow up on a farm, have never really been to a farm, and can count the number of times I have seen a bull in real life. I know bulls, and any wild animal can be rather dangerous, but I don’t know what behaviors to look out for that indicate aggressive behavior. Keep all of this in mind. Now, as I went to put the camera to my face, for what I had already determined would be the last picture, regardless of quality, I realized. The bull, had, a full on erection. I had…obviously, never been quite been in that situation before. Confused, startled, and a bit unsure as to how events in my life had led me face to face with an aroused bull, I decided, regardless of the outcome, further interaction with this beast would not be life-enriching. I put the camera down, accepted where I was currently at in the universe, out of all of the possible options, and continued on what I would hope to be a more life-enriching journey.

After another 20 minutes of scenic driving, I finally arrived to the park, parked my car, and eagerly began a hike I had been long overdue for. Unfortunately, the hike through the park is a BIT disappointing if you’re looking for more traditional hikes. The initial trails are covered in what appeared to be Basalt.

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Never seen this guy before in my life.

Once you pass all of the Basalt, which feels great on your feet, but takes away (in my opinion) the connection with the trail and the hike, you reach a set of at least 300 stairs (estimating).

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Endless Stairs

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Finally, after a short, 30 minute hike, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Cataratas del Toro. You can continue your descent, which I highly recommend, but unfortunately, due to the acidity of the water, you cannot swim in the water.

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Continuing down you will find that moss is covering just about everything. If you misplace your step and put your hand on the mountain-face for support, your hand will  actually “fall into” the moss. A slightly disturbing experience that quickly made me pay more attention to my foot placement.

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Miniature Waterfalls

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There was a Howler Monkey somewhere here that I assume was heckling at us.

As we departed the park and started our journey back to San Jose, there were plenty of animals along the way. Having learned my lesson previously, I neither got out of my car, nor approached any of the wild beasts.

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Being an easy two hours away from San Jose, I would highly recommend checking out Cataratas del Toro as a day trip (even closer if you’re coming from the airport). If you would like to stay overnight, or use the area as a layover on your way North, there are a few lodges that you can book in the area.

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Hope you enjoyed reading and the pictures. Don’t approach bulls or stuff could happen!

Limón, Costa Rica

My first time back in Costa Rica, I sat down with my fairer skinned family members from Costa Rica and asked them all about this beautiful country. I asked them where the best beaches were, where the most exotic wild animals lived, and of course where I could find the best hikes. As they explained to an eager 20 year old adventurer the history and geography of Costa Rica, I followed their stories with my finger on a map. Instantly I was taken to the paradise beaches of Guanacaste in the Northwest. I imagined the lush rainforests surrounding Arenal, filled with species I had only ever seen on National Geographic. I envisioned the tourist frequented cabins and lodges to the Southwest in Manuel Antonio surrounded by Nature. And of course, the national treasure of coffee fields spread throughout the eight coffee growing regions of Costa Rica. As my finger traced the destinations on my small map of Costa Rica, I noticed that no one was mentioning anything about a small section of land to the East. My curiosity took charge and the question was delivered. “What about this Limón?” I asked. “Oh, even we don’t go there, its just too dangerous,” they replied. In fact, everyone said that.

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I decided to see for myself, just how dangerous Limón really was. With a population of 60,000 people, 14,000 of which are black (the largest percentage in Costa Rica), the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the amount of racial diversity compared to San Jose. I mean, it would be hard for anyone who has spent anytime anywhere else in Costa Rica (no matter how progressive they claim to be) to not quickly realize the difference in racial diversity. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, boasts a population of just over 330,000 people, but only 3% of that population, just shy of 10,000 people, are black. Fortunately enough, Costa Rica is not (currently of course) a backwards country plagued with racial tension, in your face racial discrimination, and burdening stereotypes. Compared to other Latin American countries (especially Panama), Costa Rica is one of the least diverse countries; however, Costa Ricans still have a wide mix of Amerindian, European, and African ancestry, and in the last century a growing Asian population. 

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So why then, and more importantly how, did all of Costa Rica’s black population end up in Limón?

The first Africans arrived to Costa Rica with the Spaniards via the early slave trade. (I’m about to go on a crazy tangent so hold on) In fact, on his fourth and final voyage in March of 1502, Christopher Columbus, onboard Capitana, was under orders by the Spanish King to sail past Hispaniola, and instead search for a passage to the Indian Ocean. Amidst the search for a way West past Central America, a rather violent storm forced Columbus and his crew to drop anchor off the coast of Cariay, what is now Limón. Impressed by the gold and jewels that the native Bribri adorned themselves with, he sent word back to Spain that he had found an untapped, limitless amount of treasure. In 1506 King Ferdinand ordered a voyage to Costa Rica in order to colonize this “Rich Coast.” The attempt was an absolute disaster. Exotic predators, native tribe defenses, and unbearable jungles significantly delayed colonization.

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It wasn’t until 1561, over 50 years of relentless attempts to colonize this wild land, that the “Rich Coast” fell under Spanish hand and the town of Cartago was established. Due to the previously mentioned fierce resistance to colonization by the native tribes, large plantations were never able to take hold and run successfully. This, along with fewer immediate cash crops like neighbors in what is now Panama and Nicaragua, led to less investment in Costa Rica from the crown, resulting in fewer slaves shipped to Costa Rica.

However, today’s black Costa Ricans are not descended from the few slaves brought by the early Spanish settlers. These Spanish colonization/slave trade descendants were nearly completely assimilated by the end of the colonial era. Their roots, remnants of their culture and facial features, are still strongest in Guanacaste where black slaves would work on colonial haciendas.

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Most of today’s blacks in Costa Rica are descendants of Jamaican recruited immigrants Towards the late 1800s, coffee became the main export of Costa Rica. In order to be taken to Europe, the crops had to travel down through South America due to in-traversable jungles, which significantly increased the cost of export. In order to overcome this unnecessary journey South, a railway and the port of Limón were constructed in 1871. Due to the the lack of available local labor, workers were imported from China, Italy, and the Caribbean. In 1872, the first boat from Jamaica arrived at the port of Limón with 123 workers. Over the next year, Limón saw an increase of over 1,000 Jamaican workers in the port. Many expected to work, save enough money, and return to Jamaica, since they wanted nothing more to live apart from the Latinos, whose “language, religion, hygiene, and easygoing work habits they despised.”

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In the early 1900s, work was much more scarce in Central Costa Rica than it was on the East coast, due largely to the United Fruit Company. Many highlanders (central Costa Ricans who were of European descent) went to work in Puerto Limón in search of higher wages. This immediate clash of West-Indians and Latin Americans caused significant racial tension. Ticos resented the blacks, believing that they “monopolized the high paid technical and clerical jobs just because they spoke English.”

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In 1930, the United Fruit Company abandoned its Caribbean plantations and transferred its operations to the Pacific coast. It offered to resettle its workers there, but President Ricardo Jimenez, in a 1934 decree, forbade the company to transfer “colored” employees, arguing that it would “upset the country’s racial balance and could cause a civil commotion.”

Interestingly enough, the first generation of Antillean blacks born in Costa Rica, were not recognized as British subjects and Costa Rica denied them citizenship, leaving them with no country of citizenship. Forbidden to own land, they often lost their subsistence farms to Ticos with bogus documents in Spanish, a language they could not read. Finally in 1948, following the civil war, President Pepe Figueres decreed that anyone born in Costa Rica had all the rights of Citizenship. (What. A. Ride)

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The vestiges of Jamaican immigrants can still clearly be seen today in Limón, with most of its residents, of black and white descent, speaking perfect Spanish, Limón creole, and English. Most restaurants that I visited played nothing but reggae music and have an Irie vibe to them. Unfortunately, due to the removal of major investments in the area in the last century, mainly the United Fruit Company, Limón has seen in increase in crime with poverty and unemployment on the rise. However, this increase in crime is no greater than that of San Jose. Any smart traveler, who does not flaunt money, stay out late, or go looking for trouble will have a great time enjoying the amazing beaches, wildlife, and caribbean food that Limón has to offer.

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Just South of Limón lies the beautiful Cahuita National Park. You can walk or run down the shoreline, and if you get there early enough, won’t find another soul. If you have a car, you can drive further south and find beaches such as Playa Negra, Punta Uva, and Playa Grande.

 

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Sloth Sanctuary

Just North of Cahuita lies a sloth sanctuary. Its rather difficult to miss as there is a Giant Sloth Crossing sign in front. Once you pull into the parking lot, a Giant prehistoric sloth that is said to have weighed over 4 tons welcomes you in. At the sanctuary, they take in sloths, injured from electrocution, predators, or car accidents and are rehabilitated back to health. Tour guide is super knowledgable and I realized sloths can actually move pretty fast, not that fast, but faster than I had imagined. Did you know sloths are great swimmers? I most certainly did not.

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We had a moment

 

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Sanitorio Duran (デュラン療養所)

This past Thursday, my sister and I were finally able to check out this pretty cool, “Off The Beaten Path” spot in Costa Rica I had been wanting to see for a while.

Located just 7km North of Cartago, and under an hour drive away from San Jose, El Sanitorio Duran was constructed in 1918 by Dr. Carlos Duran Cartin to treat Tuberculosis patients as well as an asylum for the mentally ill. The location was chosen due to its high altitude, intermittent winds, cool temperatures, and of course, its isolation. At its peak, Sanitorio Duran had 300 beds available for patients, different sections for men, women, and children, and a Religious Convent where Nuns came to bless and pray for the patients.

Unfortunately, well, rather fortunately, treatment for Tuberculosis worldwide saw great improvement during the mid 20th century. Due to a lack of patients, the sanitorium was shut down in 1963, and fully abandoned in 1970.

As a push to promote tourism in the area, the Sanitorium was opened for public touring in 2010 and the once abandoned building gets hundreds of visitors each month for a small fee of 1200 colones (roughly $2.50). My sister and I hand the gate attendant, who looks absolutely thrilled to be working this day (heavy sarcasm), our money and proceed to drive into the parking lot.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetBeing a Thursday, we didn’t expect too many people; however, only seeing one other car in the dirt parking lot was a bit unnerving. With a smile on my face, I looked over at my sister who was wearing the “I can’t believe I’m going inside” face a bit too loudly.

At the base of the steps to enter The Sanitorium, there was a tour guide, standing, waiting for what appears to be her only visitors for the day. She is dressed in all black business casual attire with a wooden rosary worn around her neck. She asks us our names, where we are from, and if we’ve ever been here before. Being the jokester that I am, I always like to give a very ethnic name when I’m asked that by strangers I’ll probably never see again. “Alejandro Fernandez, I’m Tico but I live in Canada.” My sister, having heard this one too many times simply shakes her head and just says, “Really Alejandro?”

Processed with VSCO with a8 presetThe lady then asks us to leave all smart phones and iPads in the car so we don’t deface property. “How can we deface property with an iPhone?” my sister rightfully asks. “Well, we’ve had a serious problem with graffiti ever since we opened to the public for tours. Kids will “tag” the walls with spray and put it on facebook live as some sort of bet. They do worse things, but unfortunately, graffiti is much more permanent.” “Ah, I understand,” replies my sister, as she turns her head to me, “Ok, A-Le-Han-Dro, would you mind taking my phone to the car along with yours?” A bit embarrassed that my sister may have just informed the tour guide that Alejandro isn’t my real name I smartly reply, ” Ok. Herrrr-Maahhhh-Nahhhh (“sister” for the Spanish troubled)….”

Walking back to the steps after dropping our phones off in the car, a couple walks out of the exit to The Sanitorio. Of course, Costa Rica being as small of a country as it is, my sister just happens to the know the girl in the group. “OMG!!! Hey!!!!How crazy is it running into you here!? How was it!? Scary?! How are the kids!? Yada yada yada….”

After patiently waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I politely ask if we can see the sanitorium any time soon. My sister, scowling, tells me to just go in by myself and she’ll catch up later. “Yeah, but then the tour guide is going to have to explain everything twice, and I’m going to have to see everything twice, and….wait, are you just trying to get out of going inside? We drove all this way.” “Absolutely not,” she replies, “I havent seen Jennifer in months. I’ll be quick, I promise. Just start without me.” I look at the tour guide who gently shakes her head, pressing her lips up “It wont be a problem, we’re not that busy today.”

The tour guide hands me an electronic scanner card to use to get in and out of the building, I’m assuming to combat the graffiti issue when the tours are closed. She explains that after she gives me a tour of the main building, I’m free to walk around to the adjacent buildings and take pictures as I please with my camera or just stroll around.

We walk in and the first thing you notice is the graffiti. Different names in spanish fill the walls, robbing the place of some of its natural beauty. There are a few Carlos, David, even a few Alejandros, my borrowed name for the day. The next thing you notice is the paint peeling on every single wall and the breeze that blows through the windowless building definitely calling for a sweater, something I did not bring with me.

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The tour guide, who I just now realized never introduced herself, begins explaining the history of the building. How Dr. Duran’s daughter contracted tuberculosis in the early 1900s, inspiring him to build the estate. She explained how construction began in 1915, and was scheduled to finish in 1917; however, a death on the property delayed work for an entire year.

According to her, (and believe me, I was skeptical), one of the construction workers building the Sanitorium was in a ridiculous amount of debt back in San Jose due to his gambling and drinking problems. In order to pay off his debt, he agreed to “sell” his wife to his creditors whenever they requested it in exchange for reducing some of the debt he owed. Apparently, he was laughing, telling one of his construction-mates about his easy method for getting out of payments and one of the nuns that was helping to prepare the Convent, overheard, and demanded that he bring his wife to the site for her safety, or else she threatened to tell Dr. Duran, an upstanding man by all accounts, of his sins. The man, being the upstanding man that HE was, spat in her face and told her “Some secrets are better kept between God and his devils.”

The Nun stormed off, determined to have this man fired, jailed, and perhaps excommunicated from the church. The next day, everyone came to work and noticed that this guy never showed up to work. The Nun, normally seen blessing everyone for doing God’s work, never arrived on site either. The weeks went on with no signs of either, and everyone kept asking questions, but no one had a definitive answer. It was everyone’s assumption that the man had killed the nun, but no news of it ever came. That was until construction called for a new well to be drilled, just outside the proposed entrance to The Sanitorium. A handful of innocent, unexpecting shovels started penetrating the dirt. Slowly and suddenly, a rancid smell swept through the entire construction site. The local priest, San Jose Police, and Dr. Duran were called to the scene. It was, of course, the nurse that was found, buried, strangled to death, with her ears cut off and jammed into her teeth in a most gruesome fashion.

Construction was put on an immediate halt until the City of San Jose Police could conduct an official investigation. After a year of searching, all of the evidence pointed back to the man in debt, but, he and his family were never seen or heard of again. According to the tour guide, ever since then, a woman has appeared various times in The Sanitorium. Interns reported hearing a women that would appear on cold and windy nights to bless the patients. During especially dark nights, patients would believe they saw a figure at the corner of their room that would whisper, “Believe.” Even today, during the later hours of the afternoon, on cloudier days, visitors report seeing shadows at the end of hallways that disappear after a few seconds.

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I didn’t believe ANY of it, and I think the tour guide could see it on my face. “Do you believe in the supernatural Alejandro?” “Not. At. All. I’ll watch a good scary movie and be a bit shaken afterwards, but I’m not one to believe in non-scientific,un-proven things.” “Well Alejandro, do you believe in God?” she impolitely asks. I let out a half chuckle to convey my slight irritation, “No, I went to Catholic school, but no.” “I see,” she responds, clearly offended. I knew I was in a Latin American country with less tolerance for agnostic beliefs, but….she asked….

“Well, that’s the end of the tour, feel free to see anything else you like,” she said with a smile on her face. I thanked her sincerely for the tour and the attempted spook as I walked off. The rest of the building looks interesting enough. You can see what used to be showers and sleeping areas, as well as what used to be nice garden areas outside. I use my electronic scanner card to gain access to the stairs that lead to the second floor. I look back at the tour guide to make sure I’m not trespassing on any off limit areas, and she simply smiles and waves.

I get to the top of the stairs and I realize that my sister, is still, not, in, the damn building. I poke my head out of the second floor window, and what do you know, still, talking. I yell, “That better be an important conversation, you’re missing out on quality family time.” She looks up and says “I knowwww I knowww, I’m almost finished, I’m sorry!” As I start to pull my head back from the window, I see the tour guide walk outside and join the conversation with my sister and her friend. “They obviously aren’t that concerned with graffiti,” I mumble to myself.

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I continue to explore the rest of the paint peeled, graffiti filled Sanitorium and I realize that I’m actually a bit spooked out. I wasnt sure if it was the gaps in the murder/haunting story that I was filling in for myself, or if it was the fact that I was the only one in the building that was spooking me out more, but I knew I was ready to get out. The only problem was, I hadn’t really taken that many pictures since I felt rude taking them while the tour guide was talking, and I wanted to get some before leaving.

I pick up the pace a bit, and start looking for interesting rooms to take pictures of down this long hallway on the second floor. The wind continues its howl through the building, at times shaking the wooden frame. I hear a door close and I KNOW it’s the wind, but I would be lying if I didn’t picture the Nun in my head closing doors behind me. I check back outside, hoping to ease my mind by not being able to see my sister and the tour guide, but nope, everyone is still outside. I try to yell, but I have no idea what I would say. Nothing needs to be said, and I’m afraid a small tremble in my voice would betray my attempt to not be afraid. I decide I’m going to take two more pictures and get the hell out of there.

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I see two pictures that I want to take. I take the first picture, then quickly take the second picture. As I pull my face away from my camera, I see the tour guide standing in the room across the hall in her black business attire with her wooden rosary clenched in her hand. I greet her, partially relieved that I’m not alone anymore, partially creeped out that I didn’t hear her come in. “How’d you get in without making any noise?” I nervously ask her. She smiles and calmly replies, “I don’t recognize you Mario.”

Mario? Well, I guess my sister somehow mentioned my real name while she was outside. I laugh “I guess you found out my real name huh?” ……No response. Her eyes dig into mine as she lowers her chin and moves closer to the doorway. I look around awkwardly, thinking this is pretty corny to try to take the spook factor this far. “Okay, well, I think I’m going to head out now. Thanks for everything, really.” Again…..No reply.

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My palms are beginning to sweat a little. I can feel my breathes shortening as I try to rationalize this crazy woman standing in front of me. I for damn sure know it’s not a ghost, but who’s to say I’m not about to be murdered at a tourist attraction by some psycho woman who needs entertainment. As to be expected from a crazy woman, she suddenly throws her wooden rosary down the hall. What. The. Fuck. My skin begins to get prickly, I rush back towards the window in fear, heart about to explode out of my chest and yell out my sisters name. Three people look up. My sister, her friend, and the god, damn, tour guide. I turn back around and see no one.

At this point I’m sweating, I poke my head out into the hallway. The wooden rosary is on the floor, broken into little pieces. I sprint down the hallway. Out of the corner of my right eye, I can see a shadow in the corner of every room I pass on the right. I slam into the door leading to the stairs. It won’t open. I try to swipe my card. It won’t work. I can’t control the shaking in my hands. I start slamming my body into the door. I feel a presence on the back of my neck. I wipe the sweat away. I can feel her watching me when I’m not looking. Every second or third slam, I turn around to see if anything is there. I don’t see anything but I can feel her getting closer. I try to swipe my card again. Nothing. I slam my body into the door.

I can feel her standing right behind me and I dare not look. I start pounding on the door. I hear a whisper “I don’t recognize you Mario.” Tears fill my eyes. The hairs on my neck stand up and I feel a hand on my shoulder. I bang on the door harder, screaming for help in between breathes. Suddenly, finally, the tour guide opens the door, looks right past me. She allows her eyes to widen momentarily in shock before catching herself. She looks at me with concern and asks , “Alejandro, Is everything ok?” Tears in my eyes, I start to stammer, “I..” but I can only get one word out at a time in between breaths. I inch myself towards the exit and slowly turn my head around. Nothing. No woman. No broken rosary. Nothing.

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I walk downstairs and exit the Sanitorium. Sweat all over my shirt and face, and hands still shaking, my sister asks “Dude are you ok?” “Lets just get out of here,” I tersely reply. My sister says bye to the tour guide and her friend and we get in the car and head back towards the city. It wasn’t until I got home that I looked through my pictures and I saw her, in my last picture, standing at the end of the hallway.

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Costa Rica (コスタリカ)

Since I was about…6 years old, I dreamed about what it would be like to live in Costa Rica, my place of birth. Did the people live in tree houses alongside the spider monkeys? Was there a never ending supply of fresh fruit that tasted so delicious it would remind you what it felt like to be alive? Were the beaches and jungles as beautiful as the magazines made them seem?

私が6歳だった頃コスタリカに住むことを夢見ていた。ヤシの木がしげるビーチの家に、スパイダーモンキーが時折遊びに訪れるような、南国のフルーツや動物達と共に生き、雄大な自然に、人間としての”生”を思い出されるような、そんな経験をした事があるだろうか。

ー私の出生の地、コスタリカ。

 

Well, after completing a quick 5 year tour in The United States Navy, I finally decided to take the plunge and see what life was like in the country I spent so many nights dreaming about. And I can say without a doubt, everything I imagined as a kid, turned out to be true (even the spider monkey bit).

幼少期からアメリカで育ち、大学を出てからは、5年間の過酷な海軍生活を経て、本当の意味でこの先の人生をどう生きていくのか、考えていた。
そして思い描いていた通り、ここ、コスタリカに戻る決意をした。

The first few weeks here took quite a bit of adjusting naturally. Not even 30 days ago, I was in Japan, one of the safest countries in the world that had the most convenient public transportation system. Now I found myself in a beautiful third world country, where the buses are rarely on time and time is rarely a concern (seriously, it can be pretty frustrating when you need to get things done).

移住して来て、数週間。全てが順調で何事もスムーズに受け入れられた。
ーーわけではもちろん、ない。
たった何週間か前までは、日本に居たのだ。最も交通機関が正確で、最も治安の良いとされる国ー。
しかし、今となっては、バスが時間通りに来ることのない、美しい、美しい、もう一つの母国にいる。イライラすることが全く無いとは、お世辞でも言いづらい。真剣な事程、特に。

In this slightly expensive Latin American country, you’d be a fool to walk around downtown after sunset with your phone out. Hell, you’d be a fool to walk around downtown after sunset….In my humble opinion at least. Compare that with Japan where phones are left on trains for hours, and returned to the owner by the end of the day. On top of that…slight safety concern…. I had to figure out how to make the Spanish I had been speaking since birth (which apparently had somehow transformed to Mexican Spanish with a splash of Gringo during my time in America) sound more Tico.

ラテンアメリカの中では、物価が高く、中米の中では、比較的安全と言われるこの国でも、日没後にダウンタウンをスマホ歩きするなんてことは、本当にバカげている。少なくとも私の意見としては。
昼間でさえ携帯をいじりながら歩いている人は中々いない。
電車に携帯を置き忘れても、何時間後には持ち主の元へ戻って来るような、平和な国とは、わけが違うのだ。
私の中に確かにある、安全に対する懸念ー。そして、メキシコ訛りだと言われるスペイン語もどうにかしなくてはー。

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La Feria

Even with those negatives, there are so many more positives to this small country that make it a no brainer anyone that has a hint of wanderlust. Every weekend there is a Feria, or a Farmer’s Market, where you can buy any kind of fresh produce imaginable for dirt cheap. I’ve recently found out that I have a small addiction to papaya, and I’m able to satisfy that craving weekly, for two dollars (sometimes a dollar!) a papaya. Along with papaya, there’s pineapple, bananas, mango, guayabana, avocado, cilantro, lettuce, broccoli, you name it, its there.

そんな思考に浸りながらも、この小さな国には、ネガティヴな事を忘れさせてくれるような、心躍ることもある。
週末に開催される市場もその一つ。フレッシュで美味しい野菜や果物を安く買うことが出来る。
最近ではもっぱらパパイヤにハマっている。1つ2$、安い時は1$程度で食べられる!!!
パパイヤの他にもパイナップル、バナナ、マンゴー、グァナバナなど南国フルーツが目白押し、野菜もアボカドやレタス、ブロッコリーなどいろいろある。

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Playa Ballena in Manuel Antonio

What’s even better than the abundance of fresh produce in this country is the nature. Living in the capital, San Jose, you are a quick 2 to 3, sometimes 4, hour drive to countless beaches like Playa Ballena seen above that will be almost impossible to forget. If you are more of a hiking/jungle person, Costa Rica has that as well. It seems like besides fast internet and easy to understand cell phone plans, Costa Rica has it all (including of course coffee beans but we’ll get to that later).

この国で何より満喫できるのは、自然の富だろう。首都、サンホセから2〜4時間のドライブで数え切れないほどの美しいビーチがあり、毎週でも遊びに行くことができる。もし、ハイキングやキャンプが好きなら、山に登ったり、森林浴にも気軽に行けるのだ。

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Spider Monkey outside my hotel

I’m not sure how long I will be here, perhaps as long as it keeps me out of Corporate America. But I am sure, that I’ll enjoy my time here and share what I can with you guys. If you have any questions about the country, travel ideas, or need some recommendations, don’t hesitate to send me an email and I’ll get that information to you. Look forward to hearing from you guys. Pura Vida mae.

まだここにどれ程滞在するかはわからない。ただ、私がアメリカで働きたいと思わない限りは、自分の人生を楽しみながら、ここでのことを共有していくつもりでいる。

もしこの国のことや、旅行のアドバイスなど聞きたいことがあれば、いつでも気軽にメッセージしてください。みなさんからのご意見、お待ちしています。

Pura Vida mae.

Survival Podcast

A good buddy of mine had been telling me for days, “You gotta check out this podcast man, you’ll love it.” Now…nothing against Ryan, I wasn’t doubting his taste in podcast, but I had been given podcast recommendations COUNTLESS times by COUNTLESS individuals claiming that a particular podcast was the next best thing. I don’t doubt that shows like Pod Save America, Planet Money, and How I Built This are amazing shows, with five star ratings, loyal listeners, and thought provoking episodes; however, that wasn’t enough for me. In order for a podcast to take me away from my daily routine of  listening to Josh and Chuck discuss the working of life on Stuff You Should Know, a podcast really had to stand out.

After Ryan’s third recommendation, I decided I should stop being a terrible friend and at least give the podcast a chance. I found the podcast, downloaded the first two episodes, and gave it a go. This was at 5:45 PM on 25 July 2017… It is now 8:30 AM on 26 July 2017, and except for a short 8 hour sleep break, I have not been able to stop listening to this podcast. I type this with this most seriousness of thought, it is the most captivating podcast I have listened to yet.

If you are into outdoor activities, great narration, and/or survival strategies, I cannot recommend Outside Podcast enough. With binge-worthy story-telling, outstanding presentation, and informative science, I cannot imagine ANYONE, even avid-indoors people, not loving this show. The first episode, a recreation of Peter Stark’s 2001 classic “Last Breath,” with an excerpt below, starts the Podcast series out strong. Give it a listen, let us know if you agree.

“An hour passes. at one point, a stray thought says you should start being scared, but fear is a concept that floats somewhere beyond your immediate reach, like that numb hand lying naked in the snow. You’ve slid into the temperature range at which cold renders the enzymes in your brain less efficient. With every one-degree drop in body temperature below 95, your cerebral metabolic rate falls off by 3 to 5 percent. When your core temperature reaches 93, amnesia nibbles at your consciousness. You check your watch: 12:58. Maybe someone will come looking for you soon. Moments later, you check again. You can’t keep the numbers in your head. You’ll remember little of what happens next.

Your head drops back. The snow crunches softly in your ear. In the minus-35-degree air, your core temperature falls about one degree every 30 to 40 minutes, your body heat leaching out into the soft, enveloping snow. Apathy at 91 degrees. Stupor at 90.

You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.”