Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

As mentioned earlier, I spent a couple of days last week on a business trip to San Jose, Costa Rica. My stay in Costa Rica was a short (very) one and I had little chance to experience much of the country or the city of San Jose other that what was in the immediate vicinity of the hotel or office: no zip lines through the jungle, volcano climbing, or lounging on the beach.

The little time I did spend there was pleasant. The weather was mild (cooler than Minnesota at the same time), the people I encountered were friendly, and in general things seemed to work. The infrastructure in San Jose is good. Getting in and out of the country through the airport was relatively painless. In some ways, San Jose reminded me of cities in Mexico except it was cleaner and more organized (sorry Mexico, but you got some straightening up to do).

Americans visiting San Jose need not worry about being cut off from the consumer comforts of home. You can find many of the same chain restaurants, fast food joints, and stores that you do in the United States. I'm not going to bemoan this as a tragedy of globalization or hail it as a triumph of capitalism. It's just the way it is.

One thing that I've discovered over the years--usually when browsing in toy stores--is that it's easier than ever to find big name products anywhere in the world. You can buy the same Toy Story 3 figures or Playmobil toys that you can at home in China, the Philippines, Amsterdam, Taiwan, Mexico, or Dubai. But it's harder than ever to find products (especially toys) that are unique to that country. Both of these observations hold true for Costa Rica. The one exception to this trend that I've noticed is in some of the smaller towns in Western Europe that have been able to preserve more of a local flavor. Again, I'm not making a judgment about whether this is good or bad, it's just reality.

Outside of business, there were also faces familiar to Americans in San Jose.

This next one is a little hard to see. It was a mural on the side of building and the lighting and shadows did not make for a good quality photo.

The guy on the left is Lincoln once again. Third from the left is Mother Teresa. And I'm not sure who the chap on the right. Closer inspection helps identify the second fellow from the left.

Those teeth can only belong to one person: Jimmy Carter. I know that Costa Rica regards itself as a center for human rights and I imagine this mural has something to do with that. Still, it was a little startling to see his mug included with the others.

There are also educational opportunities for the children of Americans who might want to relocate to Costa Rica.

When I think of American schools, the first thing that comes to mind might not be "growth with honor."

Costa Rica is noted for its commitment to the environment so it wasn't surprising to see a sign at the hotel reminding me to reuse my towel so as to conserve nature. What was surprising was to see the creature pictured in this particular appeal. So if I don't reuse my towel, the famous Costa Rican snow owl will suffer? Is it really that hard to ask that you employ local critters as you try to guilt trip me into saving your business money?

The environment is also an important part of the Costa Rican economy as evidenced by all the earnest, pony-tailed youngsters at the airport toting backpacks and sporting shorts to better display their well-tanned legs. I would guess that most of these high-school and college age youths are travelling on their parents' dime as they jet thousands of miles to show their commitment to preserving the environment. I have to admire the initiative that Costa Rica has shown in promoting this trade and sucking every possible penny out of the pockets of these kids who care. Mommas don't let your children grow up to be eco-tourists.