Radio silence from moregreenmoms these past few weeks. I should say radio silencio as I have been hiding out in Costa Rica with my kids, learning all about la pura vida, or the pure life that is the hallmark phrase for that gorgeous and rapidly maturing country in Central America.
My watch stopped working the day after we arrived. We had only a walkie talkie in our house for communication with the nearest hotel and the Internet was an electric golf cart ride away, often in the rain or under the cover of a deep dark sky lit only by fireflies. The local market was the size of our kitchen in San Francisco, and needless to say, my request for organic milk was met with a puzzled, “No hay, Senora.” But we never worried about the food we ate and no one in my family was sick during our entire trip (if you don’t count the vicious stinkbug that crawled across my son’s face as he slept and left a red trail of seared skin in its wake).
I selected Costa Rica for our family this summer because I love the beach and I wanted my kids to hear a foreign tongue. I was also curious to experience their much-lauded eco-tourism. And I wanted to find a spot where our days could be guided by nothing more than whimsy and carefree exploration.
I have to say, I absolutely nailed it on all counts.
Even though we chose to visit during their “green season,” we wore our raincoats only once and never sported a sweater in 21 days, which for San Franciscans in July is a royal treat. In fact, we spent all but the dinner hour in bare feet and bathing suits, reveling in the freedom to be sandy and salty from sunup to sundown.
So why is my vacation report relevant to anyone reading moregreenmoms? First because I believe that finding a place, whether it is your own backyard, or a lake your family loves to visit, or a distant foreign country, where you can spend time doing absolutely nothing is the ultimate holiday. And it is as green as it gets.
When our homespun noise pollution died down army ants replaced the Disney channel, sticks became architectural wonders and scattered shells served as precious buried treasure for a band of mini pirates and mermaids to discover.
By actively unplugging ourselves from our friends, our commitments and our favorite “things,” we reconnected as a family and found our way to an existence where the days melted away more quickly than we imagined possible. La pura vida enveloped us completely.
Also, by choosing a destination where the environment was so well respected, we provided our kids with wonderful evidence of how humans can responsibly exist within the wild context of nature.
We were endlessly intrigued to learn how a country where the roads are nothing short of torture and the bridges are made from Lincoln Logs, has become such a leader in the hugely growing category of eco-tourism. After a few weeks of getting to know some of the locals, I would describe the Costa Rican environmental allegiance as a state of mind. This highly educated culture (where there is a school, a soccer field and a Catholic church in every town, no matter the size and the literacy rate is an astounding 95%) fully embraces the value of its precious resources and seems to understand that their pristine status is their country’s world currency.
As further reference to these cultural values, I found this paragraph in the guest information guide from our hotel, Arenas del Mar, just outside the famous Manuel Antonio State Park:
“The term ‘sustainability’ as a model for development establishes the need to satisfy the requirements of today’s society without making it impossible for future generations to satisfy their own. The development of a country cannot be achieved by the unrestrained exploitation of its resources – natural, cultural, social – to the point of eradicating or destroying them while at the same time seeking to fulfill the needs of the present population with food, housing, health and work. These existing resources are the potential assets that future generations depend on to meet their needs.”
With that belief intact, everywhere we stayed in Costa Rica we encountered: low flow showers and toilets; multi-material recycling mini-centers throughout the properties; solar energy panels; on-site composting; laundry suggestions for linens and towels; organic beauty products; minimal electrical gadgets; fluorescent light bulbs; indigenous gardens; locally produced art; educational programs for employees; electric vehicles; environmental information for guests; and abundant wild life.
Literally every detail that could be controlled to minimize human impact was in place at the properties we visited, as well as the state parks, the beaches and even in the poorest neighborhoods where trash was separated into black bags, and recyclables were evident in green ones.
Many hotels and other businesses proudly showcase various green seals of operation that have been created as a countrywide standard. The most stringent of these awards is the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST), which is based on four categories of criteria:
1. Biological /Physical: How does a property impact and/or protect its surrounding environment?
2. Services and Infrastructure: How do the property’s operations (including product use and disposal, water and energy management) affect the environment?
3. Social-Economic Environment: What impact does the property have on nearby communities to promote/provide education to its staff and community and to work with community service providers?
4. External Client: How does the property promote and teach responsible tourism to guests who visit?
I definitely believe that we as Americans can learn from the Costa Ricans who are now welcoming 2 million tourists a year now to their small country, and attempting to do so without destroying la pura vida in the process. Whether in developing a new resort, building a museum or constructing a mall the criteria above offer a universal guideline for anyone who is committed to protecting our environment.
The Costa Ricans are serious about conservation. So serious that when we went through security at the airport on our way back to the US, the seashells we had so happily spent hours finding for our collection were confiscated. No one bothered with the nail clippers, computers or too-large sunscreen tubes in our carry-ons. But the precious natural resources of Costa Rica were labeled as contraband and despite my daughter’s tears there was no negotiating to regain them.
In fact, we were assured that they would be placed back on a beach where they rightfully belonged. And if I learned anything during our vacation, I had to believe that these uniformed officers were telling us the truth.
We are home now and the computer is plugged in again. The Blackberry is buzzing. Our calendar is filling months in advance. As the inevitable obligations and responsibilities take center stage, I pause to remember those deserted beaches, quiet evenings spent lost in a great book and unbridled joy of my children who basked in my undivided attention.
And I try to remind myself that those security agents did not require us to leave behind la pura vida. That’s one treasure the Costa Ricans are more than happy to share.