Last night Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Miranda gave her yearly state of the nation speech after Ticos enjoyed the day off. Tomorrow US President Barack Obama arrives in San Jose, and again Ticos get a day of rest. More so for security reasons but it is being flagged as a long weekend gift to Ticos to enjoy themselves and spend up big. The economy could do with a cash injection of the retail kind.
So what about the US President’s visit? It seemed to be a case of who really knew Obama was on his way! No one seemed to know in the school where I teach. The news hadn’t made it to grass roots Tico teaching society though they were aware parts of the capital would be shut down. That was the talk during recess when teachers gathered around the coffee machine.
And yet only two days ago, the Tico Times ran with a story saying the security operation for President Obama’s visit was the “biggest in Costa Rica’s history!” So why wasn’t everyone talking about it. Why weren’t classes swept up in a visit of such grand proportions. After all, Obama is only the seventh US President to visit Costa Rica after president-elect Herbert Hoover in 1928, John F. Kennedy, a favourite of Ticos, in 1963, Lyndon Johnson’s brief stop during a flight to El Salvador in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George W. Bush in 1989. The most recent trip was by Bill Clinton in 1997.
Truth be known Obama’s visit is big news and the whole city is on high alert, well for some secret service types, so the Tico Times reported: “Following deadly attacks in Boston and an attempted poisoning of the president with ricin, Costa Rica will employ 1000 police officers, 180 intelligence agents, 150 Traffic Police officers and an unreported number of US Secret Service agents to guard the US and Central American presidents.”
From midday tomorrow, Costa Rica will experience “22 unusual hours of massive security deployments” across the capital. Not only will there be street closures but neighbourhoods, commercial buildings and public services will be locked down during Obama’s visit.
Obama and other presidents from Central America and the Dominican Republic will be escorted to Casa Amarilla, as the historic Foreign Ministry building is known. The presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica along with Obama will be discussing trade, security, immigration and energy matters, officials were reported to have said.
So now I know after arriving in San Jose last week and visiting the famous Casa Amarilla [yellow house], why staff were practising rolling out the red carpet! I thought there was some “unusual movement” by municipal and other police! The Tico Times shed some light on that reporting that secret service agents and Costa Rican police officers had swept through downtown neighbourhoods interviewing residential and commercial building owners demanding personal details!
Back to the coffee machine at school. It seemed no one was that impressed. The visit by such high-ranking government officials was just another inconvenience. And I must admit how quickly I fell in step thinking their arrival was indeed problematic given I’d made plans to vacate the capital. Chances are, I’m told, I won’t get through downtown to join the tour bus to Tortuga Island http://www.tortugaislandcostarica.com.
So what is one to do during an enforced lockdown? The only thing is to visit some of the “amazing” museums, via the internet! When in downtown San Jose at the weekend, a Faulty Towers’ Manuel lookalike, and soundalike, helped me choose a card to send home. I was looking for something quintessentially Costa Rican.
Carlos José Juan Jesús Alonso Martín Sanz Rodríguez has many talents. He likes to travel the world, he is a local tour guide, he teaches English and he works in a card and bookstore similar to Hallmark in the US/Dymocks in Australia, and he isn’t shy in promoting his other sources of income on company time.
But what struck me about Carlos was his enthusiasm for life. He shunned other Spanish-speaking customers to take time to show me the “hamazing” website on Magical Trees, which of course is also available as a book at his store. Concerned about the other customers, he replied. “Don’t worry, Ticos take their time looking at things, we love to talk!”
So as he pulls up the website http://costaricamagictrees.com/arboles.php, and writes down directions to the exhibit, he excaims: “Hit es hamazing! Hi love eet. Ju must visit the display!” I promised I would but Carlos wasn’t about to let me get off so lightly. “Ju must visit it, won’t ju, eets hamazing, Hi love hit?” he urged. “Of course I will, it looks beautiful,” I replied. “Promise ju will visit. Ju must experience the trees of my country, eets hamazing, hi love hit!. And hi love your country. Hi want to go there. Hi’m a world traveller, ju know. Hi travel everywhere … via the internet!”
So this afternoon on the eve of Costa Rica’s biggest lockdown in history as the local horns blare with a political message I can’t understand, I plan to honour my promise to Carlos… and take a peak at that “hamazing” website of beautiful Costa Rican trees.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer, potentially stuck in San Jose during President Obama’s inaugural visit to Costa Rica.