Crazy From the HeatMatt Casseday

Getting Tough with Tourism

By Matt Casseday

This current situation with Nicaragua makes me feel like I am witnessing some mean, underfed yet frightening school bully stealing lunch money from the timid, studious kid the next barrio over. The powerless one—Costa Rica– offers no resistance, hands over his change, and looks about pleadingly for help, for some authority figure or big brother/mentor to step in and make things right but no help is forthcoming. Meanwhile, the dull bully –Nicaragua– flexes his angry anemic muscle as Costa Rica waits and waits patiently for someone to come and put the meanie in his place. I love this country, but I don’t love the wimpiness, the “turn the other cheek for we are a trembling but proud people of peace” image we seem to be cultivating. Our answer to this illegal occupation of a small piece of Costa Rica has been to….wave flags. We lack toughness. It’s a brutal world out there and too often the Costa Rican response to turmoil is to seek immediate refuge. And while I have no solution to aggressive neighbors, I do have an idea how Costa Rica can assert itself and show some huevos on the international stage.

Tourism is our number one moneymaker. Not only do we have more to offer the benignly adventurous vacationer, but we can wrap it in a package that simultaneously shows the drawbacks inherent in visiting any of the nearby countries competing for the tourist dollar—and that includes you, Nicaragua. They can punk us all they want in militaristic matters, if we’re halfway smart we would compose some kind of open letter to all people intersted in visiting this region of the world and it would go something like this:

Dear Tourist,

So you are thinking of taking a vacation to a new and exotic place, and on your last trip to Hawaii some 500-pound guy playing a ukelele fell on you when you went to tip him, causing a trauma so great that even the thought of the word “aloha” leads to a terrifying sensation of being crushed. The rest of the South Pacific you only know from magazine articles about pink-cheeked missionaries gone forever missing in remote areas populated by some of the earth’s last cannibals.  You hear about this funky place in the Mediterranean called Ibiza, but too many web searches reveal too many photos of too many pasty Euros of both sexes prancing about in thongs, and Bali sounds great until the moment that unemployed grade school dropout Abdullah al-Quilamal decides to blow himself up while seated on the barstool next to you in return for eternal bliss with 72 broken bleeding hymens and 1000 dollars in Indonesian coin for his impoverished family of 10 living on stilts in the distant rice paddies.

So now you have trained your eyes toward the tropical Americas. You’ve heard a lot about this part of the world, but have yet to discern between the countries, besides the fact that they all speak Spanish, and if you speak English slowly and loudly they might understand part of what you are saying. Your first thought might be to visit Mexico, your immediate neighbor because it is closer and there are many good deals to be had, which is to be expected, as you have a 10,000 times greater chance of being kidnapped, tortured and decapitated by drug cartel gangsters if you choose to vacation in Mexico. Ahhh, Mexico Lindo. ¿¿¿Mexico Lindo??? Is that an all-time oxymoron or what? The real national symbol of “Mexico Lindo”should be the smoldering garbage heap at the edge of every village. “Mexico Lindo”, a corrupt country of fixers, bribe-takers and bagmen at every economic strata. Yes dear tourist, Come to Mexico, where every highway roadblock is a life or death adventure!  Is it a federale soliciting a bribe, or is it a member of the Zetas killing random tourists for kicks?

Or you could come to Costa Rica and enjoy the beaches….enjoy the mountains….enjoy the rain forest….and most of all, enjoy the fact that there is virtually no chance that you will be gunned down in a murderous crossfire!

Thinking instead of a vacation to Guatemala? You’ve likely heard about the still prevalent influence of the indigenous cultures. But you likely have not heard that their murder rate is three times that of Mexico! Would you believe 25 murders a week in Guatemala City alone? How do you say “Yikes!” in Spanish?

Come instead to Costa Rica, where our murder rate is miniscule compared to the human carnage that is a way of life in Guatemala.

Or maybe you’ve heard that Nicaragua offers much of what Costa Rica has, only cheaper. This may be true, but it will be cheaper because half the workers in the country make less than three dollars a day. The country is led by a despicable little Castro wannabe, and the only monkeys you will likely see will be roasting over an open fire, the main course for any large campesino family unsure where tomorrow’s meal will come from.

Panama’s main attraction is a canal built by indentured servants who perished by the thousands from yellow fever, influenza, and overwork, thanks to the subhuman labor conditions. The most interesting fact I can think of offhand concerning Panama is that they still refer to their currency as the Balboa, even though the only place you will find a 20 Balboa bill is in a museum.

Colombia has recently entered the tourism market and I’ll admit, its a country whose national beauty may even trump that of Costa Rica, but try driving between cities through remote mountain and jungle regions that rife with ragtag paramiltary groups all to ready to kidnap you and hold you hostage for YEARS if necessary to prove some esoteric ideological point.

Thinking about visiting Venezuela? Two words: Hugo Chavez. Unless you’re some sort of collectivist sop you won’t be interested.

So dear tourist, when you are looking toward warmer climes for your next adventure, please come to Costa Rica, a country not run by commies or drug cartels and where the murder rate is the lowest in the region.

Costa Rica: Clearly the lesser of all evils.