Catching a ride in costa rica

  It was with extra excitement that I turned to Michelle Nijhuis' article on hitchhiking, "The Last Ride," in the Oct. 29, 2007 issue. This means of travel brought me out to explore the American West for the first time 32 years ago, and led to my settling there. I've met people, gone places, and done things that I certainly never would have, had I not chosen to trust my luck and the world on my multiple cross-country hitchhiking trips in the mid to late '70s.

Now I am having my first hiatus from life in the West, living the past seven months in Costa Rica with my teenage son, who is going to high school here. And here is something that's a little remarkable - people hitchhike. Not just kids, who may have more daring than brains, but older people and women of all ages. Perhaps they hitchhike here out of necessity: Personal vehicle ownership is growing, but the majority still don't have cars. The bus system is reliably unreliable, always running late. So why not stick out your thumb and see if you can get a free ride? Well, in the U.S., for all the reasons Michelle shared in her story - we're scared, we're angry, we're isolated. Why is Costa Rica different? Does it have anything to do with their strong democratic traditions? Their abolishment of their armed forces in 1948? Their reasonably functional social security system (at least compared to ours), including national health care, higher literacy and lower infant mortality rates than the U.S.? Maybe having a president who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Having a national policy called "Peace with Nature" as opposed to "War on Terror"?

Who knows - it could just be frustration with the bus system. But I prefer to imagine it has something to do with people trusting people, expecting that, if you ask, someone might actually be happy to help, and certainly not assuming your ride is going to harm you or steal from you. Maybe Costa Rica is just an innocent and young place, and with another few decades of development it will become like its brethren to the north, where people lock themselves inside their own vehicles and speed past the pathetic carless on the sides of the road without even a look. I prefer to imagine that evolution may actually be moving in the other direction. With a few decades of embracing a democratic ideal, shifting priorities from armies to citizens' health and well-being, and having a few presidents more famous for Nobel Peace Prizes than crimes against humanity - perhaps sharing the ride, and a lot of other things, will become a normal everyday event in the land of the free.

Jon Becker
Boulder, Colorado, and Tamarindo, Costa Rica