I have spent time in Costa Rica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. After reading Susie Crowther’s “Plan A” [“Plan A,” Viewpoint, April 25], I am moved to caution her that the tropics seem to be paradise if you spend vacation time there during the dry season, January through April. Vermont can also be paradise during May through August, absent hurricanes.
May through December is the rainy season in most of Central America and the Caribbean Basin. After four months without a drop of rain in the Dominican Republic, I was thirsting for some rain and cool, dry Canadian air. When the rain comes there — finally — it will rain just as it did during Irene, for four or five days straight.
And it rains nearly every day for months at a time.
If you look at the picture of Granada, Nicaragua, accompanying the article, you will notice that there is a gutter on the side of the street common to all Central American towns. That gutter will carry the outflow from the houses as well as all the trash from the street after a deluge. Dead rodents, garbage, and a fecal stew will be found in these gutters after a rain, along with the accompanying foul odors. Paradise is a temporary state of being.
As for walks in the mountains or on the beach, they are beautiful, but dangerous if one is not careful. Swim in a mountain stream, and you may contract schistosomiasis. Don’t touch plants or trees in the woods without first checking for biting ants, stinging wasps, thorns, and spiders. Don’t sit beneath the manzanillo trees on the beach, or the sap may drip on you. It’s like poison ivy. Several of Columbus’ sailors died from eating the fruit.
Do not try to pet the cute little javelinas. Wear boots and canvas, long-legged pants in the bush to avoid a bite from the fer-de-lance; you have 20 minutes after a bite from the venomous pit viper until death.
Everywhere you go in the tropics, something flora or fauna is trying to stick you, bite you, poison you, or crawl inside your body. Never walk barefoot; many parasites can bore through the soles of your feet.
And even if you want to just sit on the beach, the sun is about four times stronger than in Vermont on the fourth of July. Additionally, the beach vendors will pester you incessantly as you try to read your book. Never leave anything lying on the beach when you swim, because it will be gone when you return, even your smelly old sneakers.
This brings me to another topic. You state that you can live on $500 to $1,000 per month. This budget is a fortune in all of Central America other than Panama or Costa Rica. The average income in Nicaragua is probably near $500 per year.
Do you really want to live like a rich Gringo amongst impoverished people? Are you going to hire them as servants? If you plan to have things like cameras, cell phones, television, and hot water, you will need to hire a watchman to guard them, or they will disappear rapidly.
I don’t mean to sound overly opinionated, but having spent time in Spain, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic I have much experience with this ladronismo. Propina is a word that indicates a tip or a bribe — no distinction made. If you don’t pay propina, you will be robbed.
We call it a tax here. You will still be paying a tax. The only place I never had to worry about my small pack of belongings and my shoes was Cuba. Unfortunately, you may not own property there.
So you will be rich people in your community. The campesinos are not going to go on walks with you because they rise at dawn to work all day, go home to a meager dinner of rice and beans, with perhaps some pork on Sunday. They will be in church on Sunday. No batidos for them. They won’t sit and discuss books with you because most of them — except in Cuba — do not read.
There is no middle class. You could try to make friends with the wealthy few, but they will soon become bored with your democratic values as they party behind broken bottle walls and concertina wire fences. They will drive by you in a cloud of dust in their blacked-out Escalante SUVs.
Your poor neighbors will never tire of watching everything you do. It is not considered rude to stare at estranjeros. You might be laughed at or mimicked by them in good humor.
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