I am blessed. Yes, I have a healthy, happy, and successful family along with friends who keep me laughing and grounded but I’m not talking about all that. I’m talking about three interesting places I’ve been lucky enough to visit in the past year or so: Panama, Costa Rica, and Jamaica. All similar yet so very different.
It’s no secret that I love to travel (although the headaches and hassles of flying are slowly making me think otherwise) and when I do, I also love to learn about the place I’m visiting. Smitty and I often visit with cab drivers, tour guides, and other local experts to get a non-guidebook take on the place, which I always find so interesting.
I am also an unashamedly trivia and info junkie and I delight in a good “did you know?” story. Writing today’s blog entered my mind as I was watching “Jeopardy” and I thought, “Wow, how do these contestants know all these things?!”
So, if you’re like me and enjoy a bit of information minutiae or just have time on your hands to read through some, I thought I’d share a few fun facts about Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Panama. Some things you may already know, some may surprise. Enjoy the ride!
COSTA RICA – “Pura Vida”
“Costa rica” means “rich coast” in Spanish.
The country is a rugged, rain-forested Central American country bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean to the east.
There are 800 miles of coastline in Costa Rica between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Most resorts are found on the Pacific side.
It is considered the “Switzerland of Central America” in that it has had no army since 1948.
Costa Rica has a population of 4.5 million and a life expectancy of almost 77 years, one of the highest in the world.
A peaceful democratic country, Costa Rica has not suffered violence and military dictatorships like much of Central America.
Colon is official currency and considered one of the world’s prettiest currencies.
The structure of the government is similar to that of the U.S. in that it is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. Has president.
The capital city, San Jose, is the country’s most populous with around 300,000 residents.
More than 80 percent of Costa Ricans are Catholic.
Costa Rica’s main industries are tourism; medical manufacturing; coffee, bananas, and sugar cane; and call centers.
Gambling is legal. Hunting wildlife is not.
February-April are the busiest tourism months and May-November is the “rainy season.”
The Tempisque River connects the mainland to the Nicoya Peninsula, which was a gift from Taiwan.
60 percent of tourists are from U.S. and Canada.
There are more than 121 volcanoes in Costa Rica and seven of them are active. Poas Volcano has the second widest crater in the world (nearly one mile in diameter), and Arenal Volcano is one of the world’s 10 most active volcanoes and is also a rain forest.
The power plant at Cachi Damn on Lake Cachi sells 60 percent of power to other countries.
The country’s slogan is “Pura Vida,” which means “pure life.”
JAMAICA – “Yeah Man”
Jamaica is the third largest of the Caribbean islands and the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean Sea. It is considered the West Indies and is 90 miles south of Cuba, 600 miles south of Florida, and 100 miles southwest of Haiti.
Jamaica was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence when in 1962, it became an independent nation but chose to remain a member of the British Commonwealth. Similar to Canada, Queen Elizabeth II remains the Queen of Jamaica but by tradition only.
You see “1962” on t-shirts, towels, and other items all over Jamaica.
Its British roots are still evident in things like they drive on the left side of the road and it has a Prime Minister and Parliament. Although no longer a British colony, Jamaica is considered a parliamentary constitutional.
English is the official language of Jamaica, but you will also hear a lot of Patois, called Jamaican Creole by linguists. It is an English-based creole language with West African influences.
Despite its ganja-loving reputation, marijuana was illegal in Jamaica for more than a century and just last year Jamaican lawmakers decriminalized the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, paving the way for a lawful medical marijuana sector in a country where the drug has long been culturally entrenched.
It’s estimated nine out of 10 tourists try weed while visiting. There are actually weed farms that grow marijuana. Owners of the farms are not allowed to sell their crops though.
Jamaicans are very religious people. Jamaica has the most churches per capita in the world. Most Jamaicans are Christian.
Rastafari is a religion. Those who practice it don’t eat anything that contains blood, their Sabbath is Saturday, and like Jehovah’s Witnesses, they don’t vote or participate in any political system.
Only 2 percent of the world’s Rastafarian population lives in Jamaica and only about 5 percent of the population of Jamaica is Rastafarian. It is a religious movement of Jamaican origin with many elements of Ethiopian culture as well as many Christian beliefs. It proclaims Zion, in reference to Ethiopia, as the original birthplace of humankind.
The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of marijuana and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures. For Rastas, smoking cannabis, commonly referred to as ganja, is a spiritual act and is often accompanied by Bible study. They consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to God, who they call Jah. Sacramental use of cannabis in celebration of the Rastafari faith became legal in Jamaica on April 15, 2015.
Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair and growing “hairlocks.” It is taught that patience is the key to growing locks and the way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water and herbal shampoo.
Reggae was born in the Kingston ghetto of Trenchtown, and was developed by poor blacks who listened to radio stations from the United States. Jamaican musicians, many of them Rastas, soon blended traditional Jamaican folk music and drumming with American R&B and jazz into ska, later developed into reggae under the influence of soul. Reggae became popular in the early 1970s largely due to the fame of Bob Marley, who actively and devoutly preached Rastafari.
There are very few snakes on the island of Jamaica. The mongoose was imported to rid the cane fields of rats in 1872. As an added benefit, the mongoose has killed off almost the entire population of snakes.
British writer Ian Fleming penned his famous James Bond novels at the house he built and lived in in Jamaica. Today it is still home to The Golden Eye Hotel and Resort began as Flemming’s luxurious home.
Jamaica is one of only two countries in the world that has no colors in common with the flag of the United States. The other country is Mauritania.
Kingston is the capital and has ½ million people living there, as does Montego Bay. Together they make up half of the island’s population.
Jamaica has free medical care.
Unemployment is high but crime is low. “Respect” is something you hear a lot, along with “yeah man,” “no problem,” and “my lady.”
The Jamaican dollar is the official currency.
Jamaicans eat more goat then beef.
Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the most sought after and expensive coffees on the market. It comes from Blue Mountain, which has an elevation of 7,000 feet.
Tourism is Jamaica’s largest industry and sugar cane is big crop, most of which goes to Europe.
Other big crops are bananas and mangoes. None of these crops are native to the island; they were imported at varying times during the island’s history.
Other big industries are rum, Red Stripe beer, and aluminum. Rum is the national drink of Jamaica and it was the first Caribbean island to produce rum on a commercial basis.
Jamaica was the Western World’s first country to build a railroad and AT&T copied Jamaica’s telephone system because it was so well developed.
In 1994, Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to launch its own website.
Over 200 species of Orchids grow wild on the island of Jamaica, 73 of which are unique to the mountainous island.
The Manchester Golf Club was established in 1868 and is the oldest in the western hemisphere!
Jamaica’s economy was drastically hurt by 9/11. As one of our drivers told us, “When the U.S. hurts, we hurt too.”
PANAMA – “The Country with The Canal”
Because of the way Panama is shaped and how it is situated on the globe, it is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic/Caribbean. Normally you see the sun rise over the Atlantic and set on the Pacific. The sun only hits a portion of Panama’s Pacific west coast during its rising and goes down over a portion of its Caribbean eastern coast.
Panama is the southern-most country in the Central American continent. It connects North and South America, is bordered to the west by Costa Rica, and to the southeast by Colombia.
Even though Panama is bordered by Colombia, there is no road that leads in to its neighboring country to the south.
It is a small country and has Central America’s smallest population of only around 3.6 millio.
Nearly 1.5 milllion of them live in Panama City, which is the only capital city that has a rain forest within its city limits.
Flying into Panama City is like flying into Dallas or Miami, as it has a HUGE downtown with many modern high-rises dotting the skyline.
The Panama Canal was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.The canal generates around one-third of Panama’s entire economy and is considered one of the 7 modern Wonders of the World.
The Canal is a 48-mile ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. A third, wider set of locks is currently under construction and will open this summer.
France began work on the canal in 1881 but stopped due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The United States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the shipping shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America. Ships traveling from New York to San Francisco and vice versa save almost 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going all around the Cape Horn.
Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The U.S. continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties guaranteed that Panama would gain control of the Canal after 1999 and a period of joint American–Panamanian control.
It takes 6 to 8 hours to pass through the Panama Canal.
When going thru the Canal, each ship’s country of origin releases control of their vessel to Panamanian captains.
Panama has the second largest duty free zone on the planet and also has the second largest registrant for offshore companies, behind only Hong Kong.
The “balboa” is the country’s official currency and it is fixed at parity with the U.S. dollar, which is used as the paper money in the country. Panama was the very first Latin American country to adopt the U.S. dollar currency as its own.
Panama was the first Latin American country to adopt the U.S. currency as its own.
Senator John McCain was born in Panama, in the Canal Zone that was, at the time, considered U.S. Territory.
The Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador.
The world’s oldest continually operating railroad is in Panama. It travels from Panama City to Colon and back.
Nearly percent of Panamanians are Catholic and nearly just as many have never heard the Van Halen song “Panama.”
Major exports include refined petroleum, passenger and cargo ships, and bananas.
Panama is located south of the hurricane alley so is generally not affected by tropical storms or hurricanes.
At its narrowest distance, about 50 miles wide, is the land in Panama that separates the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean.
If I had to choose I probably couldn’t pick a favorite but I will say Costa Rica left a lasting impression on me. Still, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d actually see the Panama Canal with my own two eyes and while our Jamaican honeymoon 30 years ago was quite memorable, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the island again. As I said at the very beginning of this blog, I am blessed. Out of this worldly blessed.