It’s everything. Tourism feeds me and my daughter. It lets me give jobs to 22 people. It goes into the whole community,” says Naima Montejo, owner of Surf Meds Caribe, the only female-run surf school on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
“We’ve been planting, growing food, trying to come back to our roots,” she says. “There’s not much money, so we’ve been trading. Some trees or seeds, some yucca or plantain. We switch. People are getting together, being creative. What we can do is help each other.”
Montejo lives in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a coastal town known for surf, three-toed sloths and an eight-mile stretch of jungle-edged sandy beach (now behind police tape). With a tropical climate and jubilant mix of Tico, African-Caribbean, indigenous and nearly 70 more nationalities, it touts pared-back beach life and an offbeat Caribbean vibe: languid yet lively. Much of the region is nature reserve. Most of its residents remember a time when the only route to town was the beach and, like a lot of the country, tourism is its lifeforce.
Puerto Viejo has been “shut” since 16 March, when Costa Rica declared a state of emergency, and then closed borders, businesses and beaches in quick succession. The country’s mantra, main greeting and answer to all questions, pura vida (literally, pure life), was traded for quédate en casa (stay at home).
With the exception of a local ley seca (dry law) banning booze sales – quietly dropped in April – the general view is that the swift, strict response worked. With its hotels and rental homes shuttered and driving access restricted, remote Puerto Viejo has no registered cases (or hospitals).