We arrive in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, hours before a hurricane is forecast to hit the nation. The government orders the evacuation of vulnerable towns and villages, coastal communities are urged to seek shelter, and internal flights are put on a wait-and-see basis.
We decide to make the next leg of the journey by road, driving west through the highlands to the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula. We rent a bungalow in a scrubby patch of jungle not far from a beautiful crescent beach near Nosara, and settle the kids into their new home.
When the rains are light or cease, we fill their days with jungle strolls and beach walks, listen to howler monkeys roar and watch them prance through the trees, find iguanas and humming birds, hawks and pelicans, and all types of insect. We eat tropical fruits, rambutan and tamarind, papaya and mango, pineapple and banana. We feast on hearty casados – plates of fish, rice, beans, vegetables and sauces.
Further north, life is less idyllic. Hurricane Otto has smashed through the country from the Caribbean to the Pacific, the first tropical cyclone to cross the nation since records began, and the most southerly ever to hit Central America. At least ten people have lost their lives, with many more missing, and more than 3,000 remain evacuated. Flash floods washed away houses, roads and livestock. Some areas have been devastated, with more than a month’s rainfall pounding infrastructure in just a few hours. The cleanup will cost millions. People from around the country are pulling together to help with the relief effort – President Solis has declared three days of mourning for the victims. Less helpful are the morbid hurricane tourists, who are driving to the area to take selfies with destruction, adding to the chaos.
This hurricane was unusual. It was very late in the season, making this one of the longest on record, and it was the first to strike Costa Rica. Weather can be strange and unpredictable, but Otto also forms part of a recent trend in more intense tropical storms. The world’s oceans have absorbed the vast majority of the global warming that humans have produced over the past decades as we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As the oceans become warmer and more energetic, so do the storms they stir up. And as sea levels rise, these intense storms can do more damage to our human world – destroying our infrastructure, livelihoods and even our lives.
One of the reasons I have come to Costa Rica is to look at how this small nation is managing the challenge of producing energy we all need for economic and social development while maintaining its important natural ecosystems. What is already very clear, is that in these changing times – in the Anthropocene – we need to plan for unpredictable, violent weather.