American Airlines flies you down to San Jose daily, all announcements in English. Indeed, almost everyone in the Costa Rican capital seems able to speak excellent English, prompting the irony of local kids all studying the language hard, to be impeded from practicing it should they reach compulsorily bilingual schools in America. As a matter of fact, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, or Wild East as it has been called, a Jamaican patois still exists, relic of past importations from the British West Indies. Payment in dollars is ubiquitous. The day’s Miami Herald lies on one’s breakfast table and Dan Rather’s latest toupee invades one’s evening room. CNN runs around the clock and Larry King comes on earlier than Stateside. Hotel Cable Guide introduces one to Donald Duck, Danahue, Whell of Fortune, and Cober Girl (all sic). It is hardly Costa Rica’s fault that it’s impossible to close one’s eyes and ears today to the Pax Americana. The recent tourist influx is almost entirely American, but in the Northeast I crossed via the Puntarenas ferry to the Nicoyan peninsula and saw not a single tourist, either on the ferry or in the three remotely placed hotels I visited there.

In any case, there is no evidence that Costa Ricans want to change the stance symbolized by Oscar Arias, who left office hailed as a moral beacon, architect of a peace plan signed by Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, in all of which there are bellicose antidemocratic elements. “In Europe they’re shooting dictators,” Arias is reported to have said. “Here we’re trying to replace them through elections.”

Bordering Nicaragua, Costa Rica has been living on the lip of one of the most brutal Marxist dictatorships of the region, one that may not have played itself out as yet. Everything about the country, from its charming capital to its black enclaves, seems to suggest: we are part of Western culture and wish to remain so. We are on the side of all that Jesse Jackson wants to tear down. There are no Aztec or Mayan remains, no sense of an Indian terror-past to take forward revolutionary pretensions, as in Mexico. For the native originals—the Borucas and Corobicis—do not seem to have been as brutal as their Carib colleagues, and Columbus, when he landed in 1502, established friendly relations with the indigenes; at least Spanish subjugations appear to have been relatively benign, since they regarded the place as an impoverished backwater, and the first governor Spain appointed, Juan Vasquez de Coronado, established what has been termed the most humane colonization in the region. So there are no Diego Rivera murals around, nor museums full of slave chains, and Costa Rica has now created an international presence as a sturdy democracy, a model to its neighbors who send across their criminals and politicos. Floreat.

The result has been that Americans are flocking to this prosperous tourist haven and retirement center. The country’s spread of protected wildlife parks, and official emphasis on ecology, have coincided with American interests and brought in a Mom-and-Pop tourism of the better kind. I was repeatedly in awe of the tenacity of our senior citizens on such tours, up at 5 A.M. to follow rare bird and animal trails, to bed down later in some primitive jungle lodge for more of the same in an open boat the next morning. After some turtle watching at Tortuguero, not far from the Nicaraguan border, I said goodbye to an American lady of nearly 80 who was spurning the normal mode of access to the park, by Piper plane, and taking an eight-hour ride down to Limon in a boat like the African Queen. I was brought up to respect British travelers of this ilk, from Freya Stark to Rose Macaulay (who once waded round the border into Yugoslavia); Aldous Huxley’s treks across Guatemala showed extraordinary fortitude in a half-blind man, while Evelyn Waugh’s penurious journey on horseback from Iquitos down the banks of the Amazon amazes me today. But possibly the scepter has passed to America in this domain. More than one septugenarian Mrs. Front Porch I met went on four such grueling tours a year.

As for retirees, so valuable to a restricted economy, Costa Rica has captured ours in abundance thanks not only to political and social stability, but also to the high standards of medical and dental services, so vital to the oldster. I suspect it is not widely known that American union and pension groups and the like constantly case out, via scouting committees, foreign countries as well as our own States for their congeniality to retirees (costs, services, sympathies). My own union has more than one such Chapter, reporting regularly. In these rankings Costa Rica has been rated high, taking the place of Mexico in the past. After all, ecology is apolitical, or should be. It attracts the hippie and the oldster alike. The Greens know no age groups, nor shades.

But, basically, Costa Rica’s glory lies in its national parks, their jungles and waterways. The wildlife to be seen is generally small—I never met anyone who had seen the vaunted local jaguar—but no less treasured for that. Monkeys abound, as do iguana and armadillo (called tatou in the West Indies where, to my shame, I have eaten all three). It will be a sad day if these centers spawn protection for another sort of animal, the drug addict and gender traitor. It has happened at Panajachel, which has disfigured the glorious shore of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, and near Quepos, on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, the magnificent beaches of the Manuel Antonio National Park seem to have attracted the more boorish and contemptuous of our homosexuals, bisexuals, and trisexuals (as in I’ll Try Anything). Visit the famed Mariposa hotel in the vicinity for a sample. Apart from such inevitable glitches, however, Costa Rica’s tourism thrust is exemplary and commendable. What’s the hope that in a few years’ time Mom and Pop will be displacing the backpackers to Nicaragua?