This post originally appeared in a local publication in May 2014 in Verona, WI. It highlights the experiences and adventures of Costa Rica Frika founder Dustin, now living in Costa Rica.
If there is one thing that resists the times of change, it has to be a park. Grandparents can watch their grandchildren play just as their grandparents watched them play as children. For me, it is a capsule that brings time to a halt as the world races around it and nowhere is this phenomenon better observed than in San Ramon.
In Costa Rica, to be considered a “town”, an area must have the following: a park, a church, a school, a soccer field and a bar. The best designed towns use their park as the main gathering space and the rest of these amenities make an orbit around it, like the sun at the center of the solar system. Only at the center, no one is running around trying to complete their own world orbit. Here, you can find couples eating ice cream, the elderly playing chess, and families watching their kids play. In other words, everybody sits comfortably on their axis. This is where people go to get their entertainment: meeting up with friends, watching community performances, or just people watching. The park is where the laid back “pura vida” lifestyle really shines through.
Any day of the week you can go to the main park in downtown San Ramon and see people hanging out. My wife goes to the park just about everyday. It doesn’t matter if she has to run errands or not because it’s really her way of getting refreshed and socializing with whoever she might bump into.
I force myself to make it to the park a few times a week now I could never believe the amount of people I would find there. What are they all doing? Are they waiting for a bus? Is there going to be mass soon? Are they waiting for their kid to get done with school? Don’t they have anything better to be doing? Usually right after I get done asking myself those questions, I bump into somebody I know and we start to chat and before I know it we have been talking for 20 minutes. Didn’t they have to be somewhere? Weren’t they wondering if I had to be somewhere? What is so special about this park?
Finally, I concluded that being from the “land of opportunity” drives me away from the park everyday and into the office. I am a workaholic. It now makes sense to me why I rarely saw people at the park in Verona growing up and even less if the park didn’t have a playground or a soccer field (San Ramon’s park does not). Many of us are workaholics who are taught to continuously strive to improve our situation. Still more of us are just trying to get by. The majority of Costa Ricans fall into the latter category, they are trying to find make ends meet with the limited employment opportunities that their country offers.
A wise Costa Rican friend of mine once told me that there are rich people and poor people lying sick in hospital beds. What difference does it make should they both die? They both go to the next life as equals. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked when you can’t take any of that with you. He did mention the importance of having a good lifestyle, but quality of life takes precedence. (And while he has a good quality of life, he agreed that he wouldn’t mind having a little more lifestyle as well). That’s the choice I find myself having to make on a daily basis. Is a smart phone considered a lifestyle or life quality choice? Watch enough TV commercials and I’m sure you’ll be thoroughly convinced otherwise. Maybe that is what I miss when I stand there, perplexed, looking at the 60 year old man chatting with his buddies at 10am on a Tuesday at the park. He doesn’t have an iphone or a 60¨ flat screen, but he is emanating life quality in HD.
The park in San Ramon not only serves a purpose for the day crowd but it also provides a haven for nightlife. I used to joke with my friends that the only thing to do in San Ramon was to go the park, but this isn’t far from the reality. The highlight of a teenager’s weekend might be to go with their friends on a Saturday night to the park and watch everyone drive their cars around the park. After a long week of work, people like to display themselves and one way of doing that is to take a few laps around the park. If you can do it in a nice car, even better.
This is a scene that is repeated all over Costa Rica. Consumerism is alive and well throughout the country, but locals are willing to do it at their own pace. Even those with employment reason that if they work less now and have to wait a few more months for the gratification of having the latest gadget, then they’ll gladly take their time and do things at their own pace so as not sacrifice “park time” or “life quality.”
About a year ago, the city gave the park a face lift. It put in new sidewalks, re-landscaped and installed cool LED lights that allow the color of the park to change every few minutes. All this effort affirmed the great pride that the town takes in displaying its prime attraction. You see, without a park, a town looses its center of the universe. With nothing to orbit there is no base, no starting point, no common ground or identity to the town. All you have are cold concrete buildings, open for business.