Welcome to the HillaPinnia blog.
Where you can read stories from the things I know, things I learn, and things i see.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I've moved!

That's right, I've moved to a new blog. Go here to catch up with me and my international travels, International Hillary

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are Costa Ricans really the Happiest people in the World?

Many an international study and op-ed claim, Costa Rican's are the happiest people in the world. Even the government of Costa Rica proudly displays billboards advertising how happy the people of Costa Rica are. So why is it I found myself questioning the supposed happiness of an entire country? Is it my own skepticism regarding happiness or is it my first hand experience in Costa Rica and the rest of the Central American region? I imagine at the core it is both and I saw this with good reason.

After seeing unprecedented poverty in Hondouras and the rustic simplicity of Guatemalan life, I can see how Costa Rican's(Ticos) more modern and less impoverished life style can lead to an increase in happiness. However, I question whether or not this happiness is universal among all Ticos. I heard about and saw more petty crime against travelers in Costa Rica than anywhere else in the region. I felt less welcome and less safe in small villages and on public transportation. I experienced the dollar sign effect, where a local would see me and assume only one thing, I had money and was stupid enough to spend it naively. I question the level of happiness of any society that has high rates of crime, particularly petty crime, which is often associated with poverty; poverty in turn is linked to unhappiness.

An entire population that in the past thirty years of tourism has lost its cultural identity to a westernized hospitality culture, dependent on tips for their income. Tour buses wind up and down the narrow roadways showing visitors only the chosen sections of the country, glossing over the real Costa Rica. After visiting Nicaragua and Panama, a few years behind, but developing economically along side Costa Rica, the Disneyland-ifacation of the country is all too apparent. Tourism is the main industry leaving traditional farming and crafts aside. I found many supposed Tico crafts that were made in Guatemala or worse yet, China. Those working in service, hospitality and tourism are less than thrilled by their daily existence. I overheard one woman telling her coworkers in Spanish, that if she had to help on more fat American book a jungle tour she was going to vomit, again making me wonder, how happy are Ticos?

My skepticism and perhaps jealousy, questioning the reality of Costa Rican happiness does nothing to change to numerous articles, reports and billboards claiming the happiest people in the world live in Costa Rica. So, here is something everyone can be happy about. Sloths, they are amazing and if something in Costa Rica is truly 100% happy it is probably this slow moving furry tree dweller.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Its Not Always Easy Getting to Costa Rica

The eastern border between Costa Rica and Panama is a stereotypically Central American sight; divided by a river, travelers are asked to walk cross a "bridge" all luggage in hand and if they make it to the other side, are allowed to immigrate onward. The following photos tell the story better than words.

Below: the river that provides the natural border between Panama and Costa Rica.

Below: the "bridge" between Panama and Costa Rica.

Below: an example of the rust on each segment of the bridge.

Below: the wooden slats one must step over and across to make it to the other side.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bocas del Toro

Central American rainy season was in full swing when I board my bus to Bocas del Toro, Panama. The overnight bus dropped me off just before sunset at the boat doc where I waited for a small speed boat ("taxi") to take me to the Bocas del Toro archipelago. The questionably stable boat, took sharp turns and whizzed past many house on stilts and many houses whose stilts had failed. The sun began to rise as the boat bounced past one very tiny island after another until we slowed down to dock at the main township of Bocas del Toro. The town still asleep (it was only 5am), had an odd calm as it looked out across the green water. I found a hostel that would let me check in very, very early and immediately went to sleep.

I woke up a few hours later to the sound of my hostel roommates, packing their ridiculously large suitcases and speaking very loudly in Hebrew. I decided to get out and explore the island that so many of my fellow travelers recommend. I soon found my way to a local dive shop where I asked several questions about diving before finding myself on a boat headed to a "really awesome" drift dive. My first dive was not a drift dive, it was merely a shallow reef dive complete with jellyfish and not much else. Disappointed I was not convinced the second dive would be much better and then as the boat pulled us to our departure point I noticed something i've never seen before, I could see the drift current in the water. The fast moving current of very warm water was a slightly different color than the surrounding water. I could tell that this dive would be an adventure. I jumped in and was immediately taken into the current. I relaxed my body and decided to see where it would lead. I did something I never do I let the water have control. The surges in the current shot me back and forth over the beautiful coral and marine life for at least fifteen minutes and then suddenly the ride came to an end as I was shot out of the current into a sand bed about 18 meters deep. There I waited for my fellow divers to join me before exploring the cave that was starring at me and calling my name. The cave was amazing because it was home to at least twelve nurse sharks all resting in neat stacks. On the cave floor were several large lobster and a dead infant hammer head shark. Indeed, one of the coolest dives I've experienced and the reason that I am buying an underwater dive camera when I get home.

I returned back to my hostel on an adrenaline high and very hungry. Hoping I to make some friends, I began to make a very large bowl of pasta hoping I could share with someone, but nobody would talk to me. I felt like the kid picked last for a sport. Then I began to notice something odd. Everyone, and I mean everyone in my hostel was speaking Hebrew. It was as if every Israeli in Panama was staying at this hostel. I tried to start a conversation with a few people but they quickly moved away favoring spending time with other Israeli travelers. It was so peculiar, nobody would talk with me or eat with me, because I was not from Israel. I still can't figure out why. But the social isolation was the reason I chose to switch my hostel the next morning to the Aqua Lounge, a hostel on an nearby island built entirely over the water, with a view from a postcard.

The people at the Aqua Lounge were friendly and laid back and with easy swimming access I stayed for 3 days. Relaxing and doing nothing felt great. But after three days another problem arose. Sand-flies, my little buddies from Honduras, except these sand-flies were more itchy and more painful than their Honduran cousins. My legs were covered in bites and after 3 days of them feasting on me, I felt like I was on fire. It was time to say goodbye to Panama.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Obligatory Tourist Trip to the Panama Canal

I'm just gonna say it, the Panama Canal is boring. It takes hours to move one boat through a large square box filled with fresh water. This water is then wasted as it is pumped out to the ocean moving the boat another box forward. This goes on until the boat reached the other side of the continent. I'm glad I went because its one of those things to do in your lifetime, however my overall impression of this world engineering marvel was boredom. Here are some pictures from my visit, in case you want to see what I saw or if you need to fall asleep.

This photo is of canal construction in the early 1900s. Anybody notice anything interesting in regard to race and gender in this picture?