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As a result of these factors, around 20 per cent of children now attend private schools. Public school teachers are badly paid, so the best ones end up in the private schools. As most politicians send their own children to private schools, education has become less and less important in the national budget. While the level of education in Costa Rica is clearly high for the region, and one of the reasons why the country is so popular with foreign business investors, it seems that a good education is increasingly becoming an issue of wealth.

Costa Rica Reluctant Literacy So, despite the much-trumpeted statistics, it is not a shock to learn that Ticos are not big readers. In fact, many people from the lower classes clearly have trouble writing. Although Spanish is a phonetic language—meaning spelling mistakes should theoretically be all but impossible—misspellings are common everywhere. It is common, for example, to see welcome signs saying bienbenido instead of bienvenido , vendors selling copoz instead of copos , and no smoking notices saying grasias por no fumar instead of gracias Nearly every time I have seen a Tico reading a book, it has been por no fumar.

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While reading novels Shop assistants use calculators in public, I have even been told to do the simplest of sums and, by well-meaning strangers that I could ruin my eyesight or make according to the Biesanzes, myself sick. The government is clearly concerned. Newspapers and advertising hoardings carry messages from role models such as football trainers urging young people to read, but apparently to little avail.

In any case, most bookshops only stock text books and literary classics. You may not remove the books from the library and can only use them for a few hours. The number of universities, however, has mushroomed since then. With the higher status and better job prospects associated with having a degree, demand for university education is massive. Now, there are four state universities and almost 40 private ones that together churn out tens of thousands of graduates each year. Many of these private institutions offer only specialised courses and standards are often low.

This rapid growth in the number of graduates, combined with the decline in public sector jobs traditionally a huge source of graduate employment since the crisis-hit s, means the number of graduates now outstrips the number of professional jobs available. These also give rise to frequent earth tremors, occasional quakes and have helped build the three mountain ranges that run through the country.

The remaining natural forest is deciduous, the trees losing their leaves in the unbearable summer heat. Cattle on the Guanacaste plains—the archetypal scene of the north. During the rainy season May to November , one can expect at most an hour or so of rain each day in neighbouring Nicaragua, but in Costa Rica it sometimes seems the clouds will never lift again, and parts of the country receive 7. Thanks to the large amount of rain, Costa Rica also has more rivers and a higher volume of water for a country its size than any other nation in the world except New Zealand.

Although it only covers 0. Costa Rica more bird varieties than in the United States and Canada combined. Despite everything the tourist literature may say, however, none of these zones is actually a rainforest. Although you will, undoubtedly, get incredibly wet in Costa Rican forests, true rainforests only exist in Asia, Africa and South America, where enormous forests create their own rain, which falls every day.

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The city centres are almost per cent commercial with city dwellers preferring to live on the outskirts, where many still rear chickens or at least have a small vegetable or maize patch. The names of barrios in the capital also reveal their recent rural history, for example, Hatillo little ranch and Dos Pinos two pines. But with more than half of the people now living in urban areas, the face of agriculture has changed drastically.


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Today, according to the Biesanzes in The Ticos, more than half of all Costa Rican landowners own less than 10 hectares Of these, 37 per cent have minifundios of less than 2 hectares 3 acres , which are too small to satisfy the basic needs of a family. In the s, just 2. In contrast with the past, there are now thousands of campesinos with no land, and with no choice but to work as day labourers for larger landowners.


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  • Despite ongoing but under-funded government land distribution programmes, the Overview of the Land and History 41 numbers of such campesinos and the scale of rural poverty are growing all the time. This is a result of both population growth and the fact that nearly all land is now privately owned or in state-protected parks.

    Perhaps most importantly, the role of coffee in the country has changed dramatically. Supply soon outstripped demand and prices went into a free fall from which they have never really recovered. Many farmers complain that the cost of producing coffee is more than what they earn from it. The crop accounted for only 13 per cent of export earnings in Bananas are the other major source of income from the land, and now bring in twice as much money as coffee.

    Costa Rica is the second biggest banana producer in the world after Ecuador. Increasingly, many plantations have closed down due to disease, and have been given over to other crops, such as African palm. Costa Rica The other main farming activity is cattle ranching, which increased to such a point that by , there were as many cattle in the country as people.

    The clearing of land for cattle farming has drastically changed the landscape.

    Few of the towns are big, but listed below are some of the most interesting. Located on the Meseta Central, the city has a cool, pleasant climate. Up to a million pilgrims make a trip here on 2 August. Cartago also boasts the ruins of the Iglesia de la Parroquia Church, which collapsed during the earthquake of Goods were brought here by ox cart and then shipped around Cape Horn to Europe—a journey of several months.

    Puntarenas, built along a tongue of sand in the Gulf of Nicoya, is popular with Tico holidaymakers, though the seawater here is polluted. Ciudad Quesada is situated on the north-western slopes of the Cordillera Central and is famous for its beautifully tooled leather saddlery. Many houses still have puertas de sol—an ingenious corner door, which lets light in but keeps heat out.

    Also fascinating is the nearby tropical agronomy research centre. In the northern part of the town, you can still see the old company houses with their airy verandahs and lush gardens. Today, tourism is the biggest 46 CultureShock! Fortuna is a clean, tranquil country town with a nearby waterfall, caves, wildlife refuge and hot springs.

    Several jungle lodges Overview of the Land and History 47 and the La Selva biological research station take advantage of the proximity of the tropical wet forest of the Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. Monteverde has a sizeable community of American dairy-farming Quakers, foreign and local artists, a cheese factory making real Cheddar, and the Monteverde Institute, which carries out research into sustainable tourism, agriculture, etc. Local artist Evangelisto Blanco has sculpted dozens of trees into various human and animal shapes, and surreal arches.

    Look out also for regional food specialities such as palmito cheese and peach preserves. There are about protected areas in Costa Rica. Other smaller reserves, often owned by foreigners, are also being set up. Always take plenty of sunscreen, water, a hat and insect repellent.

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    Keep your eyes peeled for snakes and peccaries. If peccaries attack, your best option is to climb a tree. Several people drown on Costa Rican beaches each year—usually because they panic. Instead of fighting against the water, wait until the current becomes weaker then swim back to the beach at a 45 degree angle.

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    Swimming back in directly will just lead you straight back into the current. The 16,hectare 24,acre park, however, is under threat from widescale rice farming on its outskirts, which requires the use of large amounts of pesticide. It provides an added range of life zones to help local wildlife survive year-round in the sometimes severe conditions of dry forest. The park is also important as it contains the largest remaining area of tropical dry forest in Central America, and beautiful, unspoilt beaches.

    Watch out as some rivers contain crocodiles and, at high tide, sharks. The park, however, has problems with illegal logging, gold mining and poaching. Its last major eruption was in A second extinct crater holds a lagoon and a system of paths runs through dwarf cloud-forest at the summit.

    The park, however, is being steadily encroached upon by banana plantations, which are also causing pollution through the vast amounts of pesticides used.

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    This thick premontane tropical wet forest contains the worldfamous Aerial Tram—an ingenious way of viewing the forest canopy. The summit is a lunar landscape of ash, pyroclastic material and four craters. The area has still not been fully excavated, but cobbled streets, aqueducts and petroglyphs have been found.

    Guayabo, like some other Central American indigenous sites, was mysteriously abandoned around The largest moth in North and South America can be found here—Thysania agripina. Since then the volcano has spewed out ash and lava on an almost daily basis. Near Fortuna, you can relax at night in steaming hot springs with a cocktail, watching the volcano explode above you. There are also plenty of adrenalinpumping opportunities on various canopy rides, where you whiz through the treetops harnessed onto zip cords.

    Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas Most of the terrestrial areas of this park contain all six species of mangroves in the country, as well as plenty of crocodiles and water birds. The stars of the show are the huge leatherback turtles called baulas , some up to 5 m 16 ft long, which nest here between October and March. The park was set up to protect the nests and turtles from over-poaching by locals.

    Limited egg harvesting is still allowed—the eggs are popular drinking snacks bocas in Tico bars. Parque Nacional Barra Honda A park which protects more than 40 spectacular subterranean caverns, some over m ft deep. The caves, in limestone hills on the Nicoya Peninsula, contain a variety of bizarre rock formations and specially-evolved animals. The area is excellent for snorkelling and diving, and humpback whales migrate through the area from December to March. Dolphins and turtles are also seen. Some of the pre-Colombian stone spheres have also been found on the island, which is thought to have been a Diquis Indian burial ground.