Costa Rica and Ecuador -compare and contrast

Some of you have asked me about the way people live here compared to Ecuador, the prices of things, and the amount of English spoken. So, here are some of my thoughts.

Ecuador and Costa Rica have some major similarities. Both countries have a “back in time” feel. There is a disregard for safety, although, there is more safety protocol in Costa Rica. In Ecuador people routinely ride in the bed of a pick up truck. I haven’t seen that in Costa Rica. There are a lot of small engine motorcycles in both countries. In Costa Rica the drivers wear helmets, although not all passengers do. They do, however wear a reflective “X” on their back, some sort of vest to call attention to themselves. On the coast I have seen quite a number of women driving ATVs with kids on the front and back and none of them are wearing helmets. The tourists on ATVs wear helmets, some wear goggles and others wear masks over their noses and mouths.

Other things that give that back in time feel are the architecture and fixtures. The buildings in the city have that old fashioned look with big display windows. Buildings (sometimes you might use the word shack) in the smaller towns are tiny places with old counter tops and not very modern appliances. The sinks and toilets decades old.

Neither country has a great infrastructure of roads. I think the roads are worse here in Costa Rica. There are a great number of dirt roads and it is slow going, many seem unpassable without a four wheel drive vehicle. Almost all the bridges are a single car width. Drivers just work it out.

There are no addresses in Costa Rica. If I remember correctly, there was an effort in Ecuador to establish a numbering system, at least in Quito. Although I have seen a few small mailboxes to to drop outgoing mail, I haven’t seen mail delivery in Costa Rica and saw neither in Ecuador.

Costa Rica has a fabulous system of tours guides, tour companies, activities, and fleets of vans in various sizes to accommodate the tourism industry. They really have the “movement of people to and fro” down pat. There are taxis, too, although fewer in smaller towns and about a bazillion of them in San Jose. Note of interest, the taxis in San Jose are fire engine red. The taxis I have seen in the small town of Brasilito are orange and green. I haven’t seen a yellow taxi yet. Ecuador hasn’t seemed to grasp the true nature of customer service and tourism, yet. Last year when I was there didn’t feel like a valued customer, just a single opportunity to sell something to. They told me what I wanted to hear, regardless of what there was to offer. And I don’t recall any guided tours, other than the boat trip I took (and that was 100% in Spanish). The Costa Ricans have a different culture. Proud of their country, they try hard to please. Their standard phrase when someone says “gracias” is not the standard “da nada”. It is “con mucho gusto” which translates to “with much pleasure”. It’s the difference between a server saying “no problem” (which personally irritates me) and “It’s my pleasure” or even “you’re welcome”. All of the tours I have been on in Costa Rica have been with bilingual guides. The drivers don’t always speak English, but the guides have a large vocabulary.

Beyond the guides and the front desk staff at the hotels, most people know a little bit of English, usually phrases they use in their jobs. There are more English speakers who speak Spanish in Costa Rica. More often I have overheard two people speaking English to each other and then switching to Spanish when the wait staff comes to the table. And, there are still people who don’t even try to use even the simple Spanish phrases.

The Gate 1 tour accommodations were quite nice. Along the way we passed home after home about 500 square feet in size, made out of cement or some sort of adobe material. I would call the walls plaster. Almost all have a tin roof, some with those clay tiles. It is obvious that most people just eek out a living judging from their homes. A good number of the yards are tidy, although the roads are dirt so it mush be a constant struggle to keep things clean. My iPad screen is constantly getting covered in a layer of dust. It must be even worse in the wet season. All this dirt must just be one big mud puddle.

Water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. Ricardo, our Gate 1 tour guide, told us that CostanRica has worked on things like education, tourism, and health care. Part of health care is having clean water so infant mortality declines (they have the lowest infant mortality rate in Central America) and part is to be able to support the business of tourism. It is unadvisable to drink the water in Ecuador. I drank only bottled water last year when I was there and still picked up a parasite. In addition, many places in Ecuador lack hot water and decent water pressure (and a few struggle with shower drains). In Costa Rica, the showers have been hot and the water pressure good.

Both countries let there dogs run wild. Some sit in the middle if the road, oblivious to motor vehicles. I have not seen one dog on a lease and only one dog here in Brasilito (named Maxi) seems to have an owner. 

Remember the ads in the 70’s in the US about keeping America clean? Put litter in its place was a country wide campaign. Now American volunteer groups adopt stretches of hiway and pick up trash, Not the case in Costa Rica or Ecuador. 

Baby strollers aren’t popular in Costa Rica. I don’t remember seeing them in Ecuador either (but I may not have noticed). Maybe because there are virtually no sidewalks in small towns and in the city, they are extremely narrow. The going is rough, with large curbs and gutters in the city and rough rocky terrain on the dirt roads in the rural areas. I can see how it would be difficult to push a stroller. So, babies are carried on mother’s hips. No backpack, no front carrier, not even a cloth pappose sort of thing like the indiginous people of Ecuador.

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