By Joe Baur
One of the perks of moving to Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica was knowing that we would not need a car for our year abroad. Without knowing much of anything about life in Costa Rica, we at least could see that the small town 20 kilometers west of capital San José is constructed in a walkable grid.
Thanks, Google Earth.
We also knew our apartment would be just a couple blocks away from the grocery store. Our year without a car was set in stone.
Now three weeks into our move, I can honestly say without reservation that we have not missed a car. Buses are plenty frequent to San José if there’s a major event going on, such as last weekend’s Feria del Libro.
Otherwise, Ciudad Colón has everything we need.
In fact, our lack of access to wheels didn’t even cross my mind until a recent discussion on developed and developing countries. This being the idea that countries like the United States are “developed,” while others like Costa Rica are “developing.”
But what does it say about the United States’ status in terms of development that having a car is seen as a necessity? Y’know, on par with food, shelter and car. This of course ignores the millions of Americans who either cannot afford a car or simply do not want one.
“But how do they live!?”
Somehow, I guess.
Granted this is not true everywhere in the United States, but it certainly is the perception in Cleveland. Even before my wife Melanie could sell her car, we were told that purchasing one immediately upon our return is a necessity.
Why? Are we not more developed than a Costa Rica? Wouldn’t the status of a “developed nation” come with having options in life, such as choosing to own or not own a personal vehicle?
Ironically, Costa Rica is a car country. If 10 minutes go by without hearing a motorcycle or truck roaring their engine up the hill outside, then it must be the middle of the night. In fact to my dismay, pedestrians are far from taken care of here. Several Ticos have explained that if a car hits a pedestrian, they think it’s the pedestrian’s fault for not getting out of the way.
Sure, there are plenty in Cleveland who likely feel this way. But that attitude is very much integrated into the infrastructure here, more so than Cleveland. It would make a Solon driver jealous.
Granted this is merely a generalization from the locals, but our anecdotal evidence supports their conclusion. We’ve wondered time and time again why oncoming cars cannot simply move over just a little to at least give us pedestrians the illusion of safety. Or, God forbid, slow down.
I share this not to chastise our hosts. To the contrary, we love life in our adopted home. So much so that Melanie and myself have greatly toned down our pedestrian rage. What I mean by that is; we will not yell obscenities at close-encounter drivers as we would with ironic glee in Cleveland. Mostly because we feel we are a guest here, so we have to live by their rules. Even if that means testing my patience as a bit of an urban snob.
Still, a big check in Costa Rica’s plus column is the fact that you do not need to own a car. It might be seen as a positive or a status symbol, but it does not seem to be frowned upon like back home. Nobody, including our incredible Tico landlords, has asked us in horror how we plan to get around without a vehicle. The attitude is simply, “pura vida,” a common Tico saying plastered all over gaudy tourism merchandise.
Our Spanish teacher Roxanna says the phrase is “a blessing and a curse.” If something good happens, “pura vida.” If you step on a pile of dog turds, “pura vida.”
So when someone in Cleveland asks how we’ll manage to get around without a car upon our return, now I know what to say.
“My legs, you imbecile!”
Oh, and pura vida.
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at http://JoeBaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe.