Refreshed image!

To all our followers, fans, and friends:

You may have noticed a new and improved logo appearing on our web and social media sites.  In addition to a new webpage design we thought it was time after almost 3 years in business to change things up a bit.  Now you’ll see a clean fresh image to go along with our same mission:  Providing travelers with immersion experiences in Costa Rica.  Thanks to all who participated in our previous poll, ¡Pura vida!

Costa Rica Frika – Eyes Wild Open

What a difference Guatemala makes Part 1

Antigua view from hills

This blog typically is directed at all things Costa Rica however I had the unique opportunity to spend a week in Guatemala (a neighboring central american country to the north of Costa Rica).  This is part one of a series of posts that will cover my week long trip.

A lot of people assume all countries in this part of the world are all alike: poor, underdeveloped, politically unstable, hurricane prone etc. Having lived in Costa Rica awhile now I would like to share some differences I noticed between the two countries.  (note: In Guatemala I spent half my time as a tourist and the other half as part of a mission team working in rural impoverished communities).

Only $15!!
Only $15!!

1.  Guatemala has cheap tours (compared to Costa Rica).  I wanted to cry.  I spent two nights in Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO heritage site and probably the most touristy city in Guatemala yet I felt like everything was a steal in comparison to Costa Rica.  They had many tours that were outrageously cheap.  Volcano hikes, boat trips, bungee jumping, and just plain old market shopping where you could find prices half of what they would be in Costa Rica.  I looked dumbfounded at the price sheet and not in a million years could I offer tours that cheap.  We went to hike a volcano and had round trip transfer (1hr each way), park entrance, and tour guide all for about $15 a person.  A tour like that runs about $30 in Costa Rica not including transportation.

2.  Costa Rica I think has better bang for its buck than Guatemala.  Sure you pay a little more but you get friendly, outgoing, English speaking drivers/guides.  I’m not saying that Guatemalans are mean or unfriendly but they are more timid in nature.  You as the tourist have to initiate conversations with them and once they feel comfortable with you they will start to open up and tell you all about their country.  You should also know a little bit of Spanish as the English is not as good as it is in Costa Rica.  Our guide gave a huge sigh of relief when she found out everyone in our volcano hike group spoke some Spanish.  I don’t think the tour would have been as engaging if they would have had to speak English.    I also wasn’t that impressed with some of the nicer restaurants I went to in Antigua.

I complain a lot sometimes about restaurant food in Costa Rica being expensive however I have a theory.  Despite being expensive the portion sizes are enormous.  I think restaurants raise their prices and then justify it by serving more food which I think is fair so really my gripe is not with the price but rather with how they are encouraging an obesity epidemic.  I didn’t feel the same in Antigua.

One nice restaurant that I went to and ordered a cheeseburger that was about the size of a typical kid’s meal burger and I got some french fries that were good but I only got about half that I would get at any Costa Rican restaurant.  On top of that the rum and coke I got tasted quite watered down and was served in a glass slightly larger than a shot glass.  For full disclosure purposes I should note that we received a 10% discount to eat at this restaurant because it was owned by the hotel we were staying at.  So technically we were “recommended” this restaurant, however it may have been a desperation tactic to get people just to eat at their restaurant.

The best overall meal price-for-quality had to have been a pizza that I got at a fast food joint in Antigua.  It was pretty decent pizza that I got for about half of what I would normally pay in Costa Rica.  Actually, I got a medium supreme pizza and 2 pepsis for the same price as my kid’s burger and half fries from the previous restaurant.

These were some observations from the tourist part of my trip and are not meant to be generalizations about the country as a whole, just my little piece of Antigua and the surrounding area.  Stay tuned for upcoming posts comparing the culture, economy, weather, sanitation/health, infrastructure etc of Guatemala and Costa Rica!

Now some pic comparisons:

Water Volcano - Antigua, Guatemala
Water Volcano – Antigua, Guatemala
Arenal Volcano- Fortuna, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano- Fortuna, Costa Rica
Antigua, Guatemala with active volcano in background
Antigua, Guatemala with active volcano in background

 

San Ramon, Costa Rica sans active volcano
San Ramon, Costa Rica sans active volcano
My adopted Guatemalan dog
My adopted Guatemalan dog
My Costa Rican dog
My Costa Rican dog

Costa Rica Frika provides technical expertise and funding for classroom project in Piedades Norte

19 February 2014

PN- The community of Piedades Norte is in a difficult situation.  They have computers, but no place to use them.  With their previous place having been demolished and an offer on the table from INA (National Learning Institute) to teach free computer courses, the community is now in scrambling to build an adequate classroom.  That’s where Costa Rica Frika and the University of Minnesota Construction Management class got involved.

Dustin with Association President Alejos
Dustin with Association President Alejos

The construction management class from the Northern U.S. university came down for two weeks in January and worked tirelessly to provide the community with some building solutions to house their computers.  In the end, they were able to budget and estimate three different solutions for the community, two of them which utilized an existing community structure.

The community was overjoyed to receive the proposals. Now armed with construction ideas,  they have moved on to fundraising for the project.

With estimated costs projected to be around 25 million colones (approx. 50,000USD), the community is actively looking to raise money to make this project a reality.  Costa Rica Frika began the drive by donating 350 thousand colones (approx 700USD) to help support the engineering and architectural costs of the project.  If you would like to donate or get involved in the project please contact dustin@costaricafrika.com for more information.

All that revolves around the park…

CR Dustin
At the park

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.

San Ramon Park
San Ramon Park

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.