Costa Rica and Little Jamaica
On our way to Manzanillo my friends and I decided to make a pit stop in Puerto Viejo, so we ate lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road that was playing Reggae music. The establishment had beautiful, vibrant colors in its décor but I didn’t give the music or atmosphere much thought because I was thoroughly enjoying the view of the Atlantic Ocean from my seat.
As the day went on, I started to see a ton of locals with dreadlocks. I heard more and more Reggae and I began to notice more colors associated with Rastafarianism (red, green, and gold). Walking through the streets gave me a sense of familiarity but it could not put my finger on it just yet. The sights and sounds were welcoming, yet there was a moment that stopped me dead in my tracks. I heard someone start a sentence off in Spanish but finish that very same sentence in Jamaican Patois! Wait, am I in Jamaica? I was thoroughly confused at first but have now termed that combination of languages “Spatois”! 🙂
The culture of Jamaica is far reaching and has left its mark across the globe. Many years ago, Jamaicans went to Panama to work on the railroad and the canal and years later Reggaeton was born. What I did not know was that a similar migration took place in Costa Rica as well.
Afro Caribbean History in Costa Rica
Centuries ago African slaves from the Bantu, Araas, Mandigo, and Ashanti tribes were forced to work in the cacao plantations of Costa Rica and did not gain their freedom until 1823. Beginning in 1871, a railroad construction project between San Jose and Limon witnessed a massive influx of Caribbean immigrants, especially from Jamaica. However, the railroad project suffered a financial crisis and many Caribbean workers were forced to stay. These laborers started farming and settled along the very railroad line that they came to work on. As time progressed the banana exploitation came to the country. It was a job that Jamaicans already knew how to do since the fruit was also grown in their country. Cue Harry Belafonte’s Day-O song: “Come Mr. Tally Mon tally me banana. Daylight come and me wan go home. Day-O. He say day-ay-ay-o”.
For five decades the Afro-Caribbean people were not considered Costa Ricans and were denied citizenship. They had to fight for an education that reflected their cultural roots and language (Patois). African traditions were kept alive thru oral folk tales as well as Afro-British customs. Not only were the customs preserved but a distinct Caribbean culinary flavor was infused for all taste buds to enjoy! Coconut milk is the base for their fish, seafood, soups, and rice & bean recipes. Traditional dishes like ackee with cod fish and beef patties can also be found in the Limon area of the country.
The Afro-Caribbean culture is so strong in Limon that I momentarily forgot where I was and called it an island! Shhhhh, don’t tell… Ya mon!
From my adventures to this magnificent country I learned a few important lessons that I wanted to share with you. It is not an all-inclusive list but a few short tips that will help you along with your travels in Costa Rica…
- Bring and Use Bug Repellent – Due to the Zika virus scare, I probably inhaled more bug spray than my lungs could handle but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
- Cash – If you are pinching pennies like I am, I would advise bringing a little more cash than you think you will need. Two ATM machines tricked me into numerous bank fees by stating I could not take out a certain amount of money in one withdrawal. The ATM did allow me to make two withdrawals but made certain to charge me for each one. I am still mad about that!
- Don’t Flush Paper Products Down the Toilet – Depending on which part of the country you are in, the treatment of wastewater will vary. If you see posts in bathrooms that ask you not you flush paper products down the toilet, please adhere to the request. They have trash bins for you to put your used paper products in. We are visitors in their country and we don’t need to pollute their local environment or add to any infrastructure limitations.