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The International Writers Magazine - Hacktreks World - From Our Archives

Keeping It Rich - A Costa Rican Paradise
Kimberly Johnston

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 Rica’s prosperity turned from mangos to dollars; 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 15 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 $250,000 a hectare depending on its proximity to the ocean. Century 21 signs decorate the highway and new developments paint the coast line. Guanacaste’s 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.

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.

home for sale for only $1.4 Million in 2016

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 10 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 with conscience.

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 Rica’s 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 don’t 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…we want 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 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.
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.

Some Unknown Facts:
Fact: It costs $15-$20 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-$20 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 -

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