Costa Rica is, therefore, a land agriculturally important and varied in climate, soil and altitude. All about at Port Limón is a Costa Rica green and hot and flat, but back from the sea are hills, long, green hills, and in the interior mountains and deep valleys, mountains of rock and earth, upturned by volcanic action, perhaps, but not volcanic in the sense that the predominating note is the sharp, thin peak of the volcanic cone. Real volcanic peaks are there, too, and indeed they will be the dominating factor of landscape after we reach the summit of the mountain range, but they are not the mountain range itself. Costa Rica is like the temperate countries in its mountains, while it is like the tropics in the endless green that covers those mountains.
Like all the countries of Central America, Costa Rica has a broad plain on the Atlantic or Caribbean side, a gradual rise to the table-land in the centre of the cordillera (where it is from 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the sea) and a sharp descent to a narrow plain on the Pacific shore. On the Caribbean coast the soil is the sand and mould of innumerable generations of tropical forest, on the table-land it is soft red clayey loam of much richness--the "red earth" of agricultural wealth --and on the Pacific a black volcanic sand tingeing even the beaches of the ocean furnishes the rich, porous sponge of volcanic silt.
From Port Limón the journey is only 104 miles up the mountainside to San José, the capital,--but it takes all day! It always takes all day to make a journey in the tropics. What with the wisdom of men who have learned that although hurry may get us along faster, it will not take us so far; what with the natural difficulties of keeping a railroad in record-making repair when during six months of the year the daily rain comes down with approximately the gentleness of a fire-hose; and what with the fact that there is no need to hurry.
Seated in the train, however, we find the world full of interesting things. The Costa Ricans (of whom there are, as noted, a few in Port Limón) come to the train to bid farewell to the two or three who are going to San José. The negro youth who took charge of our baggage wanders serenely in, an hour after all his work is done, to collect his fees, after which he sits down in the seat behind us, rolls himself out luxuriously and engages us in cordial persiflage until the train departs.
At last it does depart, on one of the various standard times that operate in Port Limón (Canal Zone time, Fruit Company time, Railroad time, San José time, etc.). It takes its way out along the edge of the sea, a beach lined with cocoanuts and banana trees, as we see it on our right, and on our left, a murmuring, beautiful, tropical river, running parallel to the ocean, and edging the banana and cocoanut groves. Then forests and banana lands and negroes; negroes individually, in gangs, in huts on stilts, in villages on stilts,--everywhere. And not one Costa Rican of any shade or color.
The black belt and the banana belt climb together, first across the low coastal plain, the bananas broken by cocoanut groves now and then, later by cacao plantations, with the brown chocolate beans drying in frames in front of the huts amid the flowers the negroes have planted there. Next the banana groves are broken with broader fields of beans and potatoes and maize patches on the hillsides, and last, far in the hills, by the first coffee plantations. But the black belt never breaks; not once, all the long day's ride, till we reach Cartago, the ancient capital, an hour out of San José, in the highlands. And there, at Cartago, the black belt does end, suddenly and finally.
The ride is beautiful, radiant in every conceivable way, in the wealth of tropical forest, first, then in views of the river tumbling over its rocks just below the railway grade, again in the vistas of this same river in a deeper valley and at last in higher hills, with longer distances and slightly more rugged valleys.