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The celebrities are gone, but locals remain

What life is really like in Sarapiqui, the setting for this season's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of here!"

SARAPIQUI, Costa Rica — Entertainment blogs ate it up when mildly famous people were dropped into the jungle here to endure humiliating torture tactics and hundreds of bug bites to compete against the likes of the wife of Illinois' scandal-embroiled former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Last week, NBC aired the final episode of "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" having already made news with bizarre quotes — like reality TV star Heidi Pratt's admission that she would go as far as proving she "can eat kangaroo penis" to win the contest. Alas, such a meal never came to pass. Pratt proceeded to take so much "Survivor"-style abuse that she fell ill with a stomach ulcer, and she and husband Spencer Pratt ultimately quit the show.

Oh, the joys of reality.

Exciting as all this might be to some American television viewers, none of the Costa Rican region's locals interviewed for this dispatch seemed to care that almost a dozen c-level celebrities had been thrown into the jungle in their very own Sarapiqui. (FYI: In the end, actor Lou Diamond Phillips was crowned King of the Jungle.)

Indeed, outside the hedges that surround the vast pastures and jungle of Sueno Azul Resort, where "I'm a Celebrity" took place, real-life residents face harsh realities that Heidi, Patti, Lou and their fans at home may not be aware of. A popular spot on Costa Rica's ecotourism trail — due to its beautiful natural landscape and rich biodiversity — Sarapiqui is also one of the nation's poorest counties. Although some locals might wish to leave, most of the more than 45,000 Sarapiqui residents would probably find it next to impossible to ever get out of here.

For starters, there's a shortage of public transport.

"For us, in the banana zone, the only problem we have is with transportation," said 47-year-old Lidia Vargas, who lives at Chiquita's Nogal Guayacan banana plantation, where her husband works. "It's really hard for us to leave. The bus only passes through once a day (early in the morning) and the taxis are too expensive. If you manage to (get to town) one day, you better run all your errands that day," Vargas said.

But as the locals further discussed Sarapiqui's problems, it became apparent that lack of easy transportation isn't the only factor. Teen — and even preteen — pregnancies abound. "You see a lot of girls at 12 or 13 that are already pregnant," said Maria Morales, Vargas' 24-year-old daughter. Morales glanced over at her 6-year-old, Cristel, who returned an enormous smile, exposing gums where her top front baby teeth had been.