Is Costa Rica really going to hell in a handbasket?

I hear people all of the time complaining about how bad Costa Rica has gotten, it seems in every way.  Of course, I hear the same things about the States as well. Since I’ve been here for 17 years, I want to shed a little light on changes that have actually occurred over the long run here in the land of Pura Vida.  Just as you should never determine the stock market in the short term, neither should one evaluate history based on a couple of years.  My comparison begins…

1)       In 1999, ICE was the only phone company.  The waiting list for a land-line phone in Atenas was 5 years. There were no prepaid cell phones and regular cell phones were few and far between with reception being near zero.  Now, you can get a land line in about 2 weeks, often less, and you can buy a prepaid line from at least three major companies instantly.

2)      Internet was dial up only and only available from Racsa, the sub-company of ICE.  Part of this is just a general advance in technology, but now there are multiple companies to choose from and at different speeds.  We may still be behind the US, but it’s way better than it used to be.

3)      My temporary residency took 3 ½ years to get, even while married to a Tico.  Now, residencies can take 90 days if you have all of the paperwork.  And forget anything being computerized.  You had to go and stand in line all day to make a reservation for a renewal of the residency. If you got to the front of the line by the time they closed, you could be given an appointment for six to eight months in the future.  Then you went back, stood in line for the appointment, all day, and when you got in would be given a date in the future, usually another 2 months when your residency renewal would be ready.  At which time, you would have to go back and stand in line, all day, to pick it up.  It would need to be renewed in about 6 months again (one year from the time of the first appointment) and it all would be started again.  Now, you can make an appointment at the bank, walk in and walk out with your renewal.  Whew!

4)      Tampons could not be found in any grocery stores, only in pharmacies and forget about having any options.  This was a HUGE one for me.

5)      The central park of Atenas was dark and now it is filled with beautiful lights as well as security cameras to keep everyone safe.

6)      Volunteer groups have made major progress in helping the community.  Dogs ran rampant around Atenas and now Animales Atenas has been able to help protect and castrate hundreds of animals.  Hogar de Vida was just beginning and now it is a steady, thriving center for children with a strong group which raises thousands of dollars to support the center.

7)      Transportation has improved.  It took eight hours to get from Atenas to Uvita (and eight tires as well).  Now, it takes about 3 hours.  Highway 27 was just a thought on a piece of paper.  Now, it isn’t perfect, but it allows for a 25 minute drive to the mall and the movies (although some may see that as a setback).  It’s true that the transportation planning has not kept up with the number of cars on the road.  Traffic jams are still prevalent in the city and coming back from the beach after the holidays.  I’m not claiming perfection.

8)      Required schooling was until 6th grade, now it is 9th, and the graduation rate from high school (11th grade here) has gone up tremendously (at the time it was only 50%).  (Personal note– I couldn’t find exact numbers on current graduation rates, so you have to take my observation only on this one as a mother of high schoolers.)  Night schools are also full with adults are going back and to get their high school diploma.  In 1999, it was common for me to hear, “She’s not very good in math, so we’re going to let her drop out and help around the house.”  Graduation rates from the university are actually higher now for women than men and I think having a female president (whether you liked her or not) has been a big  push for women recognition.

9)      Banking by internet.  Thank goodness!  Before, we received all of the bills at different times of the month and had to go and stand at the bank for hours (okay, yes, some things haven’t changed) and at the time, there were no chairs and no air conditioning in the banks.  Now, I can log in to my account and pay everything in five minutes.  Whew!

I may sound a little bit like those grandparents who talk about walking to school in snow, uphill, both ways and proclaiming how much easier we have it now.  However, this is not me declaring that all is perfect in paradise because it’s not, but these are exact experiences and in comparison to now, we’ve “come a long way, baby”.  It’s important to see what is not working in order to try to change it for the better or to keep it from getting worse, but it’s also important to keep a long-term perspective.

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You can contact Tina at or on Facebook with any questions.  Feel free to add your comments to the blog. Pura Vida!


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