Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Solda! Solda! Solda!: Are Costa Rican's Outselling Their Own Country's Tourist Appeal?

It was our second day in Costa Rica.  Luis, our zip-lining guide, had convinced us to go horseback-riding with his buddy, Alexander, who we could find, “fifteen minutes up the mountain, just past the sign for the waterfall, then make a right after a wooden gate.”

Fifty minutes, three iffy wooden fences, six waterfall signs, two sore coxsix, and one broken Spanish conversation with another waterfall tour operator later, we arrived at Alexander’s.  An efficient exchange of apologies and fees put us into the hands of Miguel, a kind-faced, gray-mustached, Spanish-only speaking mountain horseman, who lifted us on to Serreno and Camarillo, two horses Miguel would guide with a light whip, two whistles and a “Ooooohh,” all day long.

Considering the remoteness of our departure point, we were quite surprised when, around the first bend, Miguel grabbed Serreno and Camarillo’s reigns, so that they wouldn’t be spooked by the rev of a chainsaw. 

“Hotel?” we asked Miguel, knowing this was one English word he would understand.  

Si, et restaurantes,” he replied.  

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  The only painted signs more frequent than those offering calamari or frutas, along the coastal mountain roads we drove to reach Punta Leona, were those declaring “Solda!”  This shout was followed by hectars, price and brief location of the property, in Spanish and English.

"Wow," I had thought to myself.  "The Costa Ricans certainly know their audience."

By this I mean, unless there was an American demand, would the country that so proudly seems to carry the banner of  "#1 in Eco-Tourism" allow acres of trees to be slashed, in an area already littered with B&Bs and a mere hour drive from land-gobbling coastal resorts? 

Perhaps Costa Ricans themselves do understand this contradiction.  Because, somewhere around San Ramon, property sale signs were replaced by those promoting "Eco-Art, Local Artisan, 100% Recycled Materials."  Yet, as we approached Arenal Volcano, the Solda signs reappeared. 

In my opinion, it seems Costa Rica has a crucial decision to make.  Do we do our best to meet the increasing tourism demand with our current resorts?  Or, do we risk destroying what tourists (and potential second-home owners) find so appealing in our land: the adventure sports, clear waters, and lush rainforest flora, fauna and air?  That's a choice, Costa Rica, that you will have to make.  And, you still can.  Because, until someone signs on the dotted line, your Solda of precious land is not final.