Performing Tourism Notes and Reflections

Note for new readers: This summer I’m collecting data for a research project I began last semester called Performing Tourism: Authenticity, identity, and mobility among youth travelers. To find out more about the project, scroll through earlier posts or check the Performing Tourism category. 
Wow, where to begin?

There is so many more dimensions to tourism than I thought there would be. Vaguely, I knew that the travel industry was big and influential. But now I’m beginning to see how the act of just one person moving from their home territory can have repercussions around the world. Tourism is more than just a business. It creates lifestyles that entire families will live for generations (think running a hotel or hostel in a small town). It puts value on skill sets that would otherwise be arbitrary (like the ability to create tens of mostly identical small wooden monkeys in a few days). It has the power to change the way famers do their business (we visited a coffee farm that went organic to set themselves apart and now make a large percent of their income from paying foreign volunteers). 


Agriculture Eco Tourism. I’ve seen this word in a few places, most recently as a sign on a fence of a local farm we passed. Since coming on this trip, I’ve realized that almost anything can be turned into a type of tourism and be given a name. There’s drug tourism, resort tourism, surfing tourism. (Remember, I define “tourism” as just the act of leaving your home environment for more than 24 hours voluntarily and for pleasure.)
My interviewees are here for a variety of reasons. Some are taking a gap year before university. Some are taking their kids traveling for the first time, and come to Costa Rica because it’s said to be an easier place to travel with children and will work their way up. (Security is a mass tourism trait, by the way.) Others just want to see a sloth once in their lifetime. They come on their own, they come with friends, they come with family. They come for the national parks, for the drug therapy camps, for the Segway tours.

(Really. In Quepos, the town we’re in right now, you can take a Segway tour of the beach.)

“I personally believe ecotourism is an incredibly powerful tool for conservation.”

Mark Wainwright

I’ve been curious about how tourism has affected conservation efforts. I think a good way to see the possible effect of tourism on environmental protection is to look at the difference between Costa Rica and Panama. They’re very similar geographically and I think similar politically, but the difference between the two countries when it comes to conservation is striking. 
In Costa Rica, there are signs all over the place asking people to watch and take care of the environment, not to throw trash, to respect the place. In Panama, I don’t remember any such efforts. On the contrary, trash litters the streets and it’s hard to find biodiversity because it’s been over hunted or otherwise destroyed. 
How much of the push to conserve Costa Rica has been due to 1. Locals recognizing the value of conservation, 2. Locals recognizing that the tourism-dependent economy relies on tourists who like to see signs of conservation, 3. Foreigners who who notice the same as locals in 2 and come to run hostels and research field stations, and 4. Foreigners who value conservation for conservation’s sake and come to one of the most biodiverse places in the world to protect it?
One thing I’ve realized since arriving here is that the push for ‘progress,’ development, and unsustainable production (mostly agriculturally) was due almost entirely to the actions and influences of “first world” nations like the US, Spain, and presumably England. The push for conservation is said to have started also with activists from these nations, in the 50s and 60s by foreign couples and groups who did things like buy huge tracts of land and keep it undeveloped. For example, the watershed of Monteverde was preserved by American Quakers fleeing the draft in the 50s, and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest was actually created with money raised by school children in Sweden and matched by the Swedish government and impressed adults around the world. 
Many questions to be answered!
On goes the research. 

Hello from Montezuma!

June 29th: Journal post
Hello from Montezuma, on the Nicoya Peninsula!

^on the beach! Sorry, but this may be the only picture because the wifi everywhere is pretty bad. :/

My friend and traveling partner, Ally, and I have now spilt from the ITE group and are on our own in Costa Rica. The group left Monteverde to fly off from San José three days ago while we left for Puntarenas after hiking through some trails in Monteverde. We stayed at Hotel Sol y Arena, which was a bit of a godsend for past me. Unexpectedly, we arrived in Puntarenas after dark (which falls about 6pm) without a plan for a place to stay since we figured we’d just walk around and find a place once we arrived. I was nervous about the lack of a plan and the dark, about being robbed, of being lost. But this hotel was just 20 yards from the bus station, lit up in the dark, and I pulled Ally towards it. The cost was only $20/night for a two person room. Later we found out after exploring the next morning that we’d found the cheapest option by $10-40 by chance. We fell asleep after splitting a granola bar about 7:30pm. 

^The beach in Puntarenas, around 7am. 

The next morning we walked through Puntarenas, which is a long strip of land surrounded by the pacific, to the ferry terminal, back, and again to the terminal with our backpacks, about 45 minutes each way. I’ve quickly fallen into the habit of greeting most people we pass, and it paid off when we actually got blessed by a woman sitting on her porch as we walked by and said good morning. I’m not reglious, but there’s something nice about a stranger wishing what they believe to be the best to be with you. 
It was amazing how many public parks there were. Parks in Central America are common, I think––most larger towns seem to have several. Large spaces with tens of benches and walkways and a central monument, often a basketball court. An interesting practice here is to paint the bottom four or five feet of trees white. In one park we passed, the trees were painted all sorts of beautiful colors! We bought three lines of sweet rolls for a couple of dollars for breakfast and ate them on our walk through the town, quiet at 7am. 

^Painted trees in the park.

^Huge water towers in Puntarenas. Two of four were leaking. 

Our ferry to Paquera left almost at 9am on the dot, right on schedule, as had our bus to Puntarenas. (For those who claim Tico Time makes everybody and everything late; it’s not true. :P ) It was like a party cruise, with a DJ and everything! And only $1.60 for the ~hour trip. 
^View from the ferry.

Then a bus to Montezuma, mini-exploration of town, and eventual settling at Downtown Hostel, a art filled international chill space by the beach. We’ve ended up spending three nights here, enjoying the vibe and travelers. There’s a series of waterfalls nearby, and you can walk for presumably miles along the beach. My favorite combo: Hiking in the morning, read and rest in midday when the sun is highest, and walk along the beach in the evening to talk and watch the sun set. 
Everything has been going really well so far––nothing stolen or lost, friendly travelers and ticos––with the exception of a fall I took yesterday when crossing a rocky outcrop on the beach. Engrossed in my thoughts, I stepped a little too close to the edge and the rock suddenly crumbled away, leaving me blinking at the ground in a ~three foot deep and wide seashell filled crevice. It all happened very fast, and somehow I cut my left pinky toe pretty bad and scratched my left thigh, my belly, and my back, and little spots all over my hands… How, I don’t know. :P But it’s all good now! There was a lot of fuss at the hostel and all the adults brought out their medical supplies, so now I’m all taken care of. In other unrelated news, Ally jumped off a 50 foot waterfall into murky waters and has not a scratch. XD
This morning Ally and our roommate are exploring a new waterfall, while I stay here to write, rest, and take pressure off my toe so it can heal. The hostel is pretty quiet; most are off taking advantage of the beach or have left. I’ve eaten the free pancake breakfast twice now, since it goes to 11… which is practically lunch time, right? Heh heh heh… 
We’re off to the town of Nicoya tomorrow, where we will try couch surfing for the first time! We’ve been messaging with the host for the last few days, he has 17 really great reviews on the website, and we’ve both promised to leave the second one of us feels uncomfortable, so I feel pretty good about trying this out. I mean, I knew as little about my host families when I moved in with them for a year. We’ll see! Mom, dad, you’ll be glad to know I do not plan on hitchhiking despite others suggesting it’s easier, cheaper, and faster than the bus. :)
¡Pura Vida! as they say here in Costa Rica, which I’ve heard used to mean pure life, good luck, good bye… and omg we’re in Costa Rica!