Friday, 15 June 2012

Steaming along nicely

This photograph, which I owe to the blog of Pedro Erik Wesson, shows a steam locomotive in its pomp working the tracks in the south of Costa Rica in the 1950s.....when Golfito was the port used by the American United Fruit Company to export produce from the region.

I've loved steam engines since I can first remember, not just locomotives but all and any of them...beam engines, steamrollers, paddle steamers...you name it.
But then I grew up in a period where steam had not yet abdicated its rule....mighty steamrollers with the driver perched high up in his cab worked the roads, with foolish boys throwing pennies under the rollers and looking half delighted, half aghast at the results.

Dr. Beeching still worked for ICI and steam trains of all shapes and sizes roared or snuffled their way from end to end of the country, from the great expresses to the slow trains, serving quiet country stations. Not quite 'Oh Mister Porter' and Buggleskelly station....but not that far from it either in some cases.

Placed in the care of the guard for the journey to Glasgow on the Royal Scot no journey could begin without the ritual visit to the mighty locomotive at the end of the platform, the driver and fireman smiling down at the children gathered beneath them, the expulsions of steam indicating that the beast was ready to go....
Peering through the window as the train took a curve...the bridal train of white steam running back over the carriages -
The tunnels where it behoved you to close the tiny window panel if you were not to undergo the castigation of the aunts' reception committee when alighting with your white collar marked by smuts...

So what has all this to do with Costa Rica?

Well, we took a trip to Golfito in a light 'plane....
The company had a mad promotion of a trip for five dollars so we plumped for the south, thinking to go on to  botanic gardens on the Panama border.
As it turned out, the weather turned to persistent, heavy rain on the second day so the gardens will have to wait, but on our first evening we took a walk along the shore and came across this:


Standing idle, abandoned, rusty, this is the very train from the photograph at the head of this post. I reckon it has been there since United Fruit pulled out in the 1960s...the pursuit of profit being more important than the economy of whole region. No adjustments, no compensation....just upped and went.

There is something unwholesome about American colonialism.
First, the denial that is it colonialism.
Second, following from the first, that no consideration has to be given to the colonised...as it is, after all, not the affair of government but that of business, which knows no morality.
Third, the willingness of American government to interfere in the governments of countries in which American business has an interest.
And fourth, the total unwillingness even to try to assume Kipling's 'white man's burden'. Decried as it is, there was at least a sense of responsibility underlying it.

To try to revive the area, the Costa Rican government decided to attract people there to shop....

They set up a duty free area...the Deposito Libre...where people could buy goods at reduced prices.
These days, you can buy one thousand dollars' worth of goods twice a year.
You have to take a ticket on day one, stay overnight - which helps the B and Bs and the caffs - and shop the next day.

All clear and simple you would think. But suppose you want to refit your house...it will cost more than one thousand dollars. Do you come back in the next six month period?

Of course not. This is Costa Rica.

Inside the Deposito Libre are any number of ladies and gentlemen of the area who, for a small consideration, will let you use their tickets.
If you are on a spending spree you go to the checkouts accompanied by enough ticket holders to make up a crowd scene from a Hollywood Biblical epic and no official turns a hair.

So, unlike poor old train number 82,  Golfito is still steaming along nicely.


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19 comments:

  1. Bloody colonialism! Bah-humbug!
    See? I'm starting already! No, wait! This is better, surely?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6OHD2uCpfU

    (I'm from old New Zealand, where, until very recently, it took 5 huge K class engines to haul a train up the Rimutuka Hill.) Great stuff, Ms Fly!

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  2. Yes, I like Flanders and Swann's take on things too...
    While your tale of Rimutuka Hill puts double heading up Beatock into the shade....

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  3. I love steam trains too. A track runs close by what used to by me Nan's house, and I would always watch the trains. I could walk the ten minutes to the station and stand on the footbridge while the train went underneath (I never noticed the smuts on my clothing but my parents did) or I could climb a fence and hide in the long grass a yard or so from where they thundered past.

    I drove one once, good fun.

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    1. Wonderful beasts, aren't they.
      I envy you driving one though!

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  4. Ah steam....1st date Niall ever took me on was a trip on the North Yorshire Moors railway where I was introduced to a Stanier Black 5. He too loves steam engines [yes...we've visited the Crofton Beam engines]
    Growing up in the US I don't recall steam trains but vividly recall an elementary school trip to the 'turntable' in the Baltimore railyard. Antoinette

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    1. So he started as he meant to go on.....

      We took the trip to Mallaig behind a Black 5 years ago...the last time I experienced the intoxicating smell of steam!

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  5. I'm so glad I found your blog. We've been to Golfito and found pretty much what you did, and really, there wan't anything we wanted to buy. We did, however enjoy the old buildings from those Standard Fruit days, and we saw that same old engine you found. How serendipitous.

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    1. And I'm looking forward to more Corruption Fridays! So used to it after living in France for years it's interesting to see how it manifests itself in Costa Rica.
      Yes, those wooden bungalows were lovely and kept in good condition - much more interesting than the duty free area! To learn that I could only buy 24 bottles of wine per six months (without the aid of the Biblical epic crowd) creased me!
      I loved that engine...even with the inevitable Che painted on it.

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  6. I love steam things too. I saw a beautiful steam canal barge in the Jubilee flotilla. Wish I could have got a closer look.

    As a kid I used to like standing on the railway bridge when a train came underneath and blew steam all over me. I could only do it when someone agreed to take me. My relatives weren't quite as keen on the experience as I was so this was a rare treat!

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    1. Yes, I caught just a glimpse...but the BBC having a bad hair day meant that that was all!

      There is something about steam...

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  7. How sad to see that lovely old loco in such a sorry state. I don't suppose that Mr Fly and yourself are looking for another new project? :D

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  8. Yes, I can see us now....wire wool bought in bulk and a ten year holiday by the sea....

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  9. What a great story. Tempting me to cross the Atlantic.

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    1. Well worth being tempted, I can assure you.

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  10. Oh, steam trains! Standing on the station platform of our Lancashire cotton town waiting for our train and watching the express roar through without even slowing down. We children would always hope that the fireman would be stoking as it went past, with the cab lit up as though by the fires of hell. :-) Glad to have caught up with this great post at last. Fly.

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