In our first trek into the third world my family left for Costa Rica during the winter of 2010. What I had envisioned to be a tropical paradise with expansive sailboat harbors and multi-million dollar beachfront homes much like the Cayman Islands was disproved by our five hour drive from the airport to the resort. My family landed in Juan Santamaria International Airport and from there we set off on a road trip that would lead us throughout the countryside and throughout the parts of Costa Rica that usually remain unseen by tourists.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Within the first few miles we hit our first dirt road. The side street led us away from the city and into a residential area of native Costa Ricans. Most of the houses we saw looked more like poorly constructed sheds with dust coated glass windows, rotting wood, and chipped paint. It was clear that the people in this area lived off of hardly any money at all. We drove past not a single other car but people walking the streets. Their clothes hung on lines that networked around each house and even over the street. As we drove by, the people stopped and stared as if we were the only car that has driven their street in weeks. These were the most obvious sights into the life of a third world country and as we continued living conditions rarely improved. Through more subtle indications I learned even more about the people of Costa Rica and the Third World.
The dirt roads would give way to pavement and then again return a number of times on our drive. On the large paved roads we would see more industrialized businesses such as malls and supermarkets, although none of them were quite the same as those in the USA. These roads were also lined with billboards. The majority of these boards were political campaign advertisements. Soon I noticed that every single politician in these advertisements looked nothing like the Costa Ricans we had encountered so far. They wore glasses, watches, and expensive suits. Also, the advertisements were mostly in English. It was clear that these political campaigns weren’t targeting the average citizens of Costa Rica. It was the first time I was in a place where the political system was severely flawed and undoubtedly corrupt. The politicians in Costa Rica seemed completely out of touch and care little about the condition of their nation because even in the most bustling metropolitan area, crucial components of basic urban infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks were in poor condition and obviously not properly maintained. The people of Costa Rica are forced to utilize whatever’s there because they lack government efforts to keep their cities standing.
On the resort side of Costa Rica, everything I had observed on that drive had disappeared. What I had seen and thought about hindered my ability to fully enjoy the vacation because I couldn’t refrain from thinking about how in the resort I was only able to see an extremely narrow aspect of a nation with a broken people. I knew that the housekeepers that labored to keep our rooms clean and the servers that would smile and strike friendly conversation probably resented the fact that us travelers were too far out of touch. Tourists use some of the nicest amenities the country has to offer while an overwhelming number of residents lived in true poverty. Being a tourist in a third world country is incredibly isolating.
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