International Writers Magazine:
Travel with Hacktreks
It Rich - A Costa Rican Paradise
The English translation
of Costa Rica, "rich coast," has become a rendition of
double meanings. Undoubtedly, this rich coast was named for its
abundant wildlife and endless vacant beaches. Its wealth stemmed
from a profusion of natural resources that extended from the Pacific
to the Caribbean coast. Almost overnight, Costa Ricas prosperity
turned from mangos to dollars; monkeys to condos; seamless beaches
to aspiring high rises. The name Costa Rica now proves itself to
be ironic; a country that was once so naturally rich, threatens
to impoverish itself.
There is no question, Costa Rica is for sale. It would be easy to blame
the foreigners; who have amassed a tremendous amount of land in the last
10 years; but the problem started with rich Costa Rican landowners, long
before it became trendy to own property in Costa Rica. Costa Rican farmers,
campesinos, used to have ocean views and waterfront properties. Seeing
that the campesinos were uneducated and unassuming, wealthy Costa Ricans
offered them minimal amounts for their land. Happy to trade land for cash,
as is still the case, the farmers turned their land over to its new owners.
Land was flipped and before farmers even had time to enjoy their profits,
$5,000 properties were being sold for $25,000. One of the jokes in Costa
Rica centers on this phenomenon: where once a man sat on a gold mine,
now he either cleans the toilets or does grounds-work for the new condo
that is built on his former property.
Nowhere is this reality truer than on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste.
Here, dry and arid land sells for $100,000 to $150,000 a hectare depending
on its proximity to the ocean. Century 21 signs decorate the highway and
new developments paint the coast line. Guanacastes main city Tamarindo
has changed considerably in the last five years. It was once a quirky
little beach town whereas now it is likened to towns like Cabo San Lucas
in Baja, Mexico. It once boasted an abundance of trees and wildlife but
now offers wall to wall restaurants and shops. With low governmental restrictions
on development, there is little to stop charming surf villages from turning
into to kitschy tourist towns. The plan regulator, set out by the Costa
Rican government, restricts properties, within 50-150 meters from the
high tide line, from being over three stories tall. The plan does not,
as of yet, put limitations on developments further inland.
strict government restrictions the only way to discourage over-development
is through community pressure. The pre-requisite for this is, of
course, a mutual concern for the environment as well as a selfless
attitude towards development. Avellanas, a quiet beach town only
20km from Tamarindo, has all the right ingredients for being an
example for sustainable development on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Without strict government restrictions the only way to discourage over-development
is through community pressure. The pre-requisite for this is, of course,
a mutual concern for the environment as well as a selfless attitude towards
development. Avellanas, a quiet beach town only 20km from Tamarindo, has
all the right ingredients for being an example for sustainable development
on the Nicoya Peninsula. There is a uniform concern in Avellanas to safeguard
nature and above all, not to become "another Tamarindo." The
town of Avellanas consists of a couple of dirt roads, a store, a hostel,
few villas, and the most magnificent beach, in my opinion, on the Nicoya.
Here, the wind whips through the trees and stirs the blood-red earth.
It shakes the branches, disturbing the howler monkeys who respond with
low-pitched shrieks. The dogs, incited by the monkeys hollers, begin
a chorus of barking. The wind passes and all at once, everything returns
to calm. The same phenomenon occurs at the beach. Waves serendipitously
roll in and rise to a crescendo, half moon shape, before they crash on
the beach. In between sets, the sea returns to a peaceful state. Avellanas
is a place where chaos and calm are inextricably linked and the tenuous
balance of nature can always be observed.
The majestic estuary in Avellanas, home to crocodiles, turtles, birds,
iguanas, and monkeys, is protected by the government and is the reason
why sustainable growth is on the minds of many business owners in the
area. The plan regulador in Avellanas prohibits any construction in the
estuary. This is fortuitous as the estuary occupies the beachfront and
will prevent beachfront expansion. There is, however, no stopping over-development
inland and this is where the Avellanas Association comes into play. The
board, started by Roger Jaeggli, owner of Las Olas Cabinas, was formed
5 years ago. Roger is an avid environmentalist and hopes to sustain Avellanas
natural charm. The board meets whenever necessary to discuss community
issues. The board discourages construction of large hotels and stores
and would like to maintain a uniform vision of Avellanas.
Other than Roger, who has lived in Costa Rica since he was three and says
that his "heart is Tico," there are only two Costa Ricans who
can afford to own land in Avellanas. Isabel and Alejandro Amador own Las
Avellanas Villas, four contemporary and immaculately kept cabins at the
entrance of town. The brother and sister team have built their business
The architecture of the villas mirrors the philosophy of the brother and
sister team: remaining close to nature. The furniture is made with the
left over wood used to build the villas; nothing is wasted. The open-concept
shower is lined with river rocks. Alejandro claims that the rocks, "link
us to our hometown Turrialba;" a town of rivers and lush vegetation.
The river rocks, which also line the entrance way, remind guests of Costa
Ricas natural beauty.
Alejandro and Isabel are in the midst of designing a biological corridor
which will contain all plants and flowers indigenous to Costa Rica. Presently,
vast open space borders the villas, but this empty space is temporary
and will soon be filled with lush vegetation. When I asked Isabel about
the vacant area she responded, "I know what it looks like, that we
cut all the trees and that we dont care about the environment,"
but the opposite is true. Melina, a type of tree which used to surround
the villas, once grew in abundance on the property. The Melinas are unstable
trees which tumble at the first signs of heavy winds. Not only are they
dangerous, but they also are parasitic to the earth. They soak up all
the nutrients and water without providing either of these two elements
for birds or monkeys. "We want to have birds and monkeys living on
our property," says Isabel. The corridor, an exorbitant undertaking,
is a testament to their devotion to the environment. Alejandro explains
the design as asymmetrical, "We want this place to stand out as an
environmental business. We will have different species of trees all indigenous
to Costa Rica. They will not be perfectly spaced in rows
to do it like if nature did it." Both Alejandro and Isabel acknowledge
that sustainable development can only be realized when the appropriate
laws are passed by their government. Until that time, however, they have
decided to take matters into their own hands. "I am concerned about
global warming," says Alejandro, "and I cannot imagine living
off something that would harm the earth. I want to be successful, but
with a conscience tranquillo."
Avellanas is not for
every traveler. If you are looking for a party you should stop in Tamarindo
and stay there. But if you are looking for a place where the sunset marks
the end of a day and the only lights at night emanate from the sky, then
this is your place. Though the future of development is uncertain in this
country, I hope Avellanas will do justice to the name "Costa Rica"
by representing itself as a town more interested in the natural world
than the world of concrete.
is an oasis and it is possible to witness all types of sentient
life here. You may be lucky enough to surf with sea turtles at the
river mouth, or see howler monkeys at sunrise. In addition, all
people are welcome on Avellanas immaculate beach: midday,
the footprints of babies run side by side, and look as though they
are trying to keep up with the bigger prints; swimmers do laps outside
the same waves that surfers ride into shore; and as the sun sinks,
surf boards rest on the sand, the ocean turns to gold and all beings
retreat until there is silence.
Fact: It costs $10-$15 to take a taxi from Tamarindo to Avellanas. Do
not pay more.
Fact: Use Tamarindo Shuttle from Liberia airport to Tamarindo, they
offer the best deals-$15 for the service.
Fact: Isabelle and Alejandro offer special prices for long term stays
and in the low season. Visit their website for more information:
ph: 506.652.9212 or 506.357.2181
© Kimberly Johnston - August 2007
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