Friday, November 27, 2009

Rafting Through the Past...

Visiting Costa Rica offers a valuable lesson in globalization. The lessons here, unlike in America, are learned very personally. They mean the difference between being able to get a cell phone or not. The centralized government is loathe to give up control of its land, but the decision means that the people here, mostly opportunistic service providers, are often stuck in their rustic open-air homes waiting for phone calls instead of out and about, plying their trade or drumming up business. They are severely limited by their government's decision, by the monopoly it holds over the bulk of major infrastructure. But, our rafting guide pointed out to us in the van across bumpy roads, the electricity might be spotty, but everyone gets it, everyone. With competition would come better service but, as in America, it would come at a price. It would create a set of haves and have-nots. It is what most of the world aspires to, but it is sometimes sad.

We passed a palm tree plantation, which we were told replaced bananas as a cash crop a while back. The palm oil expressed from the little fruits is exported for soaps, makeup and foods, though McDonald's use of it for fries was a debacle, exposed in Supersize Me as not such a healthy thing.

On the way to the rafting, we walked with a friendly Rotweiler through a spice farm, smelling local varieties of cinnamon and mint, vanilla beans, clove. Even our pit stop was exciting, open as the third wall was to the jungle.

We made it to our launch spot and got suited up for our rafting adventure, complete with helmets, clearly to protect us from the large boulders should we fly out of our little rubber raft. The kids started to get slightly nervous as we were instructed on survival tactics including how to grab the rope or how not to panic should we get stuck underneath the boat. Hmmm. Was this too risky an endeavor, we all began to wonder?

The minute we hit the water, though, we knew it was worth it, whatever the risk.

"This is awesome!" Oscar yelled from the back.

"Woo hoo!" Eli yelled as we hit the rapids, got drenched with the whitecaps as he ducked down for safety.

None of us fell out, though we did stop along the way to take a little float down the rapids. It was the only time the rope was necessary. Our navigator, Nacho, was expert at avoiding rocks, guiding us when exactly to paddle out of harm's way. Amazing. A cow watched us from the side of the river and we glided along, flying almost as freely as the baby blue heron we followed.

Eli shook his head at one point, as we compared it to a now-closed water ride at Coney Island. "No," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity..."

I smiled. Hopefully we will have more opportunities to do this but maybe not. It is certainly very special.

Finishing up with the rapids portion, we glided down the river toward the sunny skies ahead, the rains having held off for the first afternoon in months, Nacho told us. We were lucky.

The surrounding setting was spectacular.

"It looks like prehistoric times," Oscar said. And, though we laughed, it seemed almost true. We had heard, in fact, that the sound of the Howler Monkeys, in reverse, was the sound used for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and, looking around, all of a sudden, it seemed we had been placed on the set of Land of the Lost.

I felt sad suddenly, imagining a McDonald's on the corner, a Starbucks where only tin-roofed huts now stand. Globalization, hopefully, will be kept at bay, the economy here kept afloat by catering to those of us enmeshed in the muck of modernity, offering us a bit of the simplicity of the past in the present.

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