Breakfast in Costa Rica; a typical restaurant is open air, serving the “tipico” breakfast of gallo pinto, fresh guanabana juice and very stout coffee. And of course the ever-present television. Yesterday was our first morning in the country and the news was on and we were reminded it was election day back home.
Miguel confirmed that Costa Ricans were “aware” that this year was a presidential election in the States, but he was quick to say that it has not been what everyone in Costa Rica spends their time talking about. And after a brief over-dubbed bit on Obama and Romney, the Costa Rican news went on about their own business.
Costa Rica became a democracy themselves with their independence in the 1800’s. But democracy did not stabilize until after a civil war that is generally known as the war between the powerful coffee plantation families of San Jose and Cartago. Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica at the time, but San Jose wanted that title. San Jose won.
With the closing of that chapter of history, Costa Rica disbanded their military and has since taken all that discretionary money to use for better health care and education. As far as elections go, it is a law that every citizen of eighteen years must participate in the election process. You do not go to jail if you do not vote, but it is known that it is your responsibility to participate. There is no early voting in Costa Rica. In a country of 4 million people, everyone votes on the day of. Identification is necessary and you head to your designated location (typically the school in your pueblo) to vote.
In order to help voters make sound decisions, the country closes down alcohol sales for 24 hours around the election – 6PM the night preceeding through 6PM the night of election day. Clear minds make clear decisions?
Our first day of paddling here in Costa Rica was an awesome day. Even after 20 years of paddling the rivers here, every year brings new surprises as far as the changes that have happened since we were gone. As a warm up we paddled three rivers, twenty miles of Class II through Class IV wonderful whitewater. We were ecstatic to find the San Lorenzo and the Balsa Rivers cleaned up and at their best we have seen in years. And even better news: the upper section of the Upper Sarapiqui is back in business after a devastating earthquake that wrecked havoc on the river several years ago. Finishing up the day, we sat down for a typical Costa Rican dinner and cold Imperials, not knowing what the outcome of the election was at home, but agreeing that we can all rest in peace knowing we will not have to suffer through another political advertisement for four more years!