Costa Rip OFF.
Costa Rica is a beautiful place, by far the most diverse ecological environment that I have seen in Central America. A far cry from the dry, arid climate of western Nicaragua, or the overpopulated and deforested country of El Salvador. One minute you are in coastal highlands driving along mountainous terrain with almost a desert like feel, and then suddenly you plunge into the jungle hearing the roar of howler monkeys and witness fist sized tarantulas crossing the road like sluggish turtles. This sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Costa Rica is like a combination of almost everywhere we have been in Central America, with a variety of climates and ocean on both sides. When we were in the capital of San Jose, it was cold and windy, with flurries of rain similar to the climate of say, San Francisco, yet only two hours away, the coast was hot and sticky, with strange wind patterns that changed almost every day. One evening in Mal Pais on the coast of Central Costa Rica, I woke up to a thunderous, way off-season rainstorm, completely catching everyone of guard.
Costa Rica has so much to offer, yet has given way too much away to the tourist population of the western world. I hate to use the word sellout, but that is what comes to mind. In the middle 90’s, Costa Rica became thee tourist destination of Central America, so popular and well known for its friendly people, eco-tourism, and beautiful environment. I made my first trip here in 1994, and remember coming home wondering how it was that the four weeks I was there, I only spoke English. The country just caters to the tourist, and its not uncommon to hear gringos ordering food or asking directions in English, assuming the entire populace speaks it. We had a good trip, consisting of myself and my girlfriend, her best friend and a good buddy of mine. We got fun surf, had some really wet weather, inadvertently destroyed a rental car, and got some stuff ripped off. It was a good time, but I wasn’t drawn to return immediately like so many were during that era. I returned to Costa Rica in 1999 with Scott on a pleasant drive through Central America, and was amazed at the changes that had taken place in just 5 years. Dirt roads I had driven were now paved and no more than entrances to fancy European hotels with restricted access.
The smiles that I had once received as a tourist in a foreign land had changed to smirks of disapproval, and the prices I had paid for food and lodging had doubled. On top of that, I felt ostracized by my own kind, the meandering surf tourist, who had set up camp and was trying to claim territory. Aside from all the crap, I still enjoyed my stay. It was a transition for me, and even more so for Scott. At the time, he was making the move to live in Costa Rica and work on a construction project for a new hotel. I was not sure what I was doing, other than knowing I wasn’t ready to go home just quite yet, and my ride had ended. Scott stayed, and I headed north back to Nicaragua and El Salvador until I ran out of funds and was forced to buy a plane ticket home. This was 1999, fast forward to 2004.
Our first scare is the border. Scott had some serious issues with his vehicle trying to illegally remove it from Costa Rica back in 2001, and is nervous to what they will say when they see his name on a new title of another vehicle. It is also a major holiday, and the lines are horrendous. We first wait in line on the Nicaraguan side for four hours, and on the Costa Rican side for another five, just to get into the country. Sure enough, the Aduana official types in Scott’s name into the computer, and a red mark comes up. “Senor Cherry! Parece que todavia tienes un carro aqui en Costa Rica! Que paso? (Mr. Cherry, our retarded computer system shows that you still have a 88 four runner in Costa Rica! What’s up!? ) Seems that the country doesn’t really care about past issues with vehicles, because Scott shows him his exit stamp from way back, and explains that the car left with him. No problem! “Here is your new visa for your car Mr. Cherry, have a wonderful trip to Costa Rica, and spend lots of money here! Please!!”
Our second scare becomes reality when we wake up the following morning after an all night dusty drive to Mal Pais, where we have been offered a house to stay in by Scott’s Aunt. We wake up to small but fun surf, beautiful weather and a beautiful house. From 6:15 to 7:45, the beach is empty and beautiful. The surf is not crowded, although small, and it feels good to be in the water, playing around. Suddenly, as if someone opened the gates, the ocean becomes a comedy scene straight out of what should be a film called, “Learning to Surf”. It is packed with people, and the attitude is “surfer’s are cool” and “I’m cool, and check out my tattoos”. The entire ocean is filled with moving buoys with sharp objects. What I think is an Israeli surfer who is trying to teach his girlfriend how to surf, as well as show off his extremely hideous style, challenges me on a two-foot wave. As I paddle for it, he makes a beeline straight for the inside, almost causing me to run him over. I go on the wave, and he attempts to as well, but misses it. He is angry, and curses me in a language I can’t understand. When I paddle back out to the peak, he is staring me down, so I paddle over and try to strike up a conversation with the chap in Spanish. He doesn’t understand, and paddles away muttering some indecipherable words under his breath, and seems to be more confused now than angry.
Scott’s aunt’s house is beautiful. It feels so good to be in a place where you feel at home, and that is just what we do, set up shop. Maybe just a little too much. We clean our car, do our laundry, clean the cameras, and I even paint one of my boards. We have this little sanctuary where we don’t have to deal with anyone, and it feels good. Scott says we got a little too comfortable.
One morning we wake up early, for some reason a lot earlier than usual. The night’s sleep had been restless, and for some odd reason I had woken up on three separate occasions, wide-awake. As I walk back towards the house from checking the surf, Scott asks me in a panic, “where are your boards?” Thinking that to be an odd question, I reply, “In the house of course, where I left them.” “They’re not there man, we got ripped off…” Sure enough, my boards are gone, and we find all of our clothes and gear spread out on the back patio. We both go into full panic mode, freaking out on where the camera gear is, and the film. After a few desperate moments of searching, we find that the stuff is safely locked in the kitchen. The tally of stuff that did get snaked seems to grow throughout the day, and by the end I have lost two surfboards and my skateboard. I am just glad they didn’t get my journal and our computer / camera gear.
I have a bad taste in my mouth, and want nothing more than to get out of this place, and head south. I am angry, frustrated and confused. We head to San Jose, and Scott and I have a blow out. So much stress and anger and frustration, we take it out on each other, and it sucks. After a silent morning driving around San Jose, we finally patch things up, and realize life could be a lot worse. How often do you get to drive through Costa Rica with nothing more to do than observe and take in the beauty of a country? Either way, I am over Costa Rica at this point, we got ripped off here, so I have a bad taste in my mouth. Besides that, the surf is flat, it’s crowded with tattooed pretty boys and chic traveler chicks that give you attitude when you walk down the street and try and say hello. The biggest question I have is, in places such as Mal Pais, where we spent most of our time, where are the Ticos? (Costa Ricans) They just seem to have been run out, and are seen basically only in the restaurants and places where work is needed. Luckily we do get to meet a wonderful couple of Ticos named Danny and Jessica who kindly offer us a place to stay and show us around San Jose. Feeling the need for some homestyle entertainment, we head off to see the Lord of The Rings on the big screen, and try and read sub titles.
Before we leave, we stop and visit an old high school friend who moved to Costa Rica right out of High School. On what he thought was to be a 6 week Spanish class in San Jose has turned out to be 12 years, a wife, two kids, a house and a bookstore. It was good to see him doing well outside the bubble of the United States. When I asked him if he misses home, meaning Marin Country, USA, he pondered the question for a minute, as though trying to find something to miss, and replied sort of semi confused, “No… I don’t!”
I don’t know if I will ever go back to Costa Rica, but never say never, so good-bye for now, bienvenidos a Panamá!
We entered on the worst, or maybe the second worst, possible day we could, crossing the border at PeĖas Blancas on the Sunday following the New Year. The Nicaragua side had three lines for immigration. All with no less than 250 people in each them. After 3 hours of trading places we arrived at the window only to be muscled aside by pushy vultures who lay in wait and squeeze between us and the immigration window as the person in front of us exits the line. This is behavior, that after 3 hours of waiting I have no tolerance for. If your going to squeeze in front of someone who has been waiting that long and then try to tell them that you have been there all along you have to expect some resistance. “Oh, Oh I see. I must not have seen you standing right in front of me for the last three hours I mean standing there in line was so interesting I must not have noticed you just inches from my side for all that time. Oh and I know your tired and got up early. I understand. No go right ahead. That’s all right I have been standing here so long any how what’s another 12 minuets while you have the passports of your 19 family members and 27 close personal friends stamped.” Ha Ha yea right! Beat it lady I don’t care if your over 50 (Shove) I have no room for your lack of respect for human dignity. If you’re going to play by those rules you have to deal with a little bit of intolerance. (Shove) “My turn-Get lost.” I said in English having no patients for such an act. She continued to whine and push and whine and push and then noticing the micro second laps in the persons attention behind me she squeezed all of her girth between us pressing me over the counter and into the glass window. Advantage Scott. I was now able to push back off the counter and send her backward into the people to whom she just cut in front of who immediately started in on her about what was now the problem formerly known as Scotts. “Cur-Chunk, Cur-Chunk” went the stamp of the passport and we were headed into Costa Rica after a brief stop at the Aduana to get the car paper work delt with.
Entering Costa Rica had me a bit nervous because of a little problem I encountered on my last visit in 2000, when I was robbed of $2700 by an importation agency while trying to pay the taxes on my car to import it and then accused of making the whole story up when I reported it to the authorities. At the time they wanted me to turn over the vehicle to them so that they could impound it, i.e. give it as a gift to a nephew or use it for spare parts. I graciously told them that the I would immediately bring the vehicle to them and pay the $500 fine they requested for having over stayed my circulation permit; and then I did a midnight run across the border with Zack to get the car across the border and out of the grip of there nepotistic control. You see the agency I used was the one at the border and the border Aduana is where they falsified the documents that were sold to me for $2700 saying that I had paid the taxes on the car. So somebody at the agencies brother, cousin or son in law at the Aduana manufactured the false documents for there cut and then bought themselves a new 28” color Samsung with some of my $2700 and left me with a forged Aduana document that I became liable for. Or I just made it all up to spend an extra month in Costa Rica. Well at the risk of slander I guess I will just concede and say I made it all up. So you can understand why I was a bit nervous going back to a country where I had tried to commit crimes against there state in order to satisfy my tourism fetish.
The line for the Costa Rica immigration was around the block. Coincidentally the same 750 people simultaneously exiting Nicaragua were entering Costa Rica. The difference was that Costa Rica had one giant line winding through the parking lot and going around the building as where Nicaragua had three separate lines. The reality was more standing in line. Another three hours to be exact and then another hour dealing with the car culminating with a visit to the same office in where I was threatened to be thrown in jail if I didn’t immediately hand over my car and pay $500. Well I have to say a tiny drop of sweat appeared on my brow as they typed my name into the computer to generate the new permit for the car. And then and then and then as I looked at the monitor a giant flashing red light came up. “Oh no!” said the gentleman at the counter there seems to be a problem as the words restricted flashed across the screen with a case number attached. “Lets look up the case and see what’s going on” he said I sat poised glad to know I had just tied my New Balances in case I needed to move fast. The case number came up and he said “ It looks as if you still have a vehicle in the country. Is this true?” “What!” I exclaimed as if totally surprised. “Yes a 1988 Toyota 4runner” he replied “No. I left with that car a long time ago” I explained, “When was that?” he asked. Zack spoke up and said “August of 2000” Oh no I thought that’s too late, August 2000 was after the permit had expired and would prove that I had over stayed my time. (Which as we all know was deliberately done with malicious and fraudulent intent.) I quickly responded, knowing I had a earlier stamp in the passport dated may 2000, when I had gone to Nicaragua for a few days before the fiasco with me fabricating the story and all. “No it was May” I retorted. Zack not knowing what I was thinking responded “NO it wasn’t it was August.” “No it was May “I pleaded bogging my eyes and kicking his leg under the table. “Oh that’s right it was May” he responded. I quickly opened to the page with the May stamp and showed the gentleman. “Ok” said the man “This must be an error let’s just clean this up for you” “click, click, click, click, click on the key board and we were on our way with a new permit in my name bouncing down the road in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is naturally beautiful. The beaches are picturesque and the jungles are lush and green. My aunt and Uncle Tom and Nina have a house on Santa Teresa beach that they gave us for the time we are here. When we arrived it felt good almost like being at home Zack even spread out his art supplies and painted his boards. There wasn’t any surf. Down the beach some other friends of mine Susan and Greg have a hotel and Susan’s daughter Nancy and her husband Steve have a yoga studio where I went in the mornings to take their yoga class. It was interesting to visit with Steve and Nancy and see the life that there making for themselves as in a foreign land based on health and happiness doing yoga and raising there child Ashoa.
Costa Rica is a strange place and I never feel very comfortable there. It’s a world tourist market that is loaded with tourists being catered to by local and foreign business owners trying to make a buck off of them. The feeling I get always is like I am on a ride at the amusement park that I have paid for. The people who sold the tickets were only smiling to get me to buy the ticket. The whole time I am on the ride I am not really enjoying it but I am laughing anyhow. Then when the ride ends they want you out of the way so they can load it up again and only grin because you look like you might be trying to decide weather or not you want to go again.
We were robbed in the night as we slept. Thieves came in and took two of Zack’s surfboards and some other belongings of ours. Luckly Zack had locked the door to the room where all our cameras and passports were. It seems like every time I am in Costa Rica I end up loosing something but it is always a monetary something. That seems to define my experiences in Costa Rica a loss of monetary something.