Tank Tops Flip Flops Newsletter edition no. 113
3 AM Wakeup Call – Costa Rica Election 2018
“We need you, we need your youth, your strength, and your idealism, to help us make right what is wrong.” Ronald Reagan.
I remember how excited I was, the very first time I voted. It was 1984 and I was 19 years old. I FINALLY MADE IT. I was going to vote for the President of the United States of America. I am PROUD to say I voted for The Gipper; the greatest President in my lifetime and one of the best of all time. I found myself overwhelmed with Patriotism as I stood in line at the voting booth; feeling as if I was really making a difference. Number 40 had a HUGE impact on my life; inspiring me to start my own business, be independent, become part of the solution instead of the problem.
“Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put in this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.” Ronald Reagan.
I have never taken my freedom for granted because I know the sacrifices so many have made so that I could have the privilege to vote. It is very sad, to see and hear so many young Americans who disrespect their country, their flag, their anthem; without ever taking into consideration what their lives would be like living in so many other parts of the world. It is also very concerning to see the anger that is in our country today, over politics; it was never like that when I was growing up. This is part of the reason I left the USA 15 years ago and moved to Costa Rica. I wanted to live in a better place, a happier place, a place where everyone got along.
I have to tell you, I saw it this week, first hand.
Super Bowl Sunday, February 4, 2018, was the Presidential election in Costa Rica. For the weeks leading up to the election, there was all the hoopla you would expect. Posters everywhere; TV ads; National Debates. Yet it was very civil and peaceful. None of the candidates spent time bashing the others; digging up dirt; nor talking trash. It was all about what each one of them planned to do to help this amazing country. I found myself talking with many of my Costa Rican friends this week, getting their take on the whole process. I found it incredible how many people were informed of the issues, and had a real interest in using their vote to make a difference.
Costa Rica voting is compulsory, meaning there are laws which require eligible citizens to register for and participate in democratic elections of representatives to form governance of their homeland, province or local government. In other words; it is a law that you MUST vote. There is One President and Two Vice Presidents and they serve a Four Year Term. They are constitutionally banned from serving a second consecutive term. There are two main parties, and a bunch of smaller parties, and the winner MUST secure 40% of the overall votes to be elected. If this does not happen, then there is a second runoff election April 1 for the top two leading contenders. There are 3.3 Million eligible voters in Costa Rica and they are predominantly Roman Catholic and often describe themselves as Conservative. When the election is over, everyone accepts the results and life goes on. It is their President and they support him or her. There are no demonstrations; no riots; no one disrespects the office. They are all ONE COUNTRY. If they are unhappy with the results, they keep it to themselves and try their best to vote in another party, 48 months down the line. PURA VIDA.
Many of the counties ban the sale of alcohol on Voting Sunday, as they take their rights very seriously. Costa Rica is the only true democracy in Latin America, celebrating 197 years this coming September, and they want to make sure everybody is sober when they vote. All I can say is Thank God, we live in a tourist county, as this is one of the very few where the bars are still open for business. I remember in 2006, my first Costa Rican election. They hadn’t quite figured it out yet. There was literally a riot, as thousands of gringos were enraged that they had to watch the Steelers hammer the Seahawks without any Pilsen. Times have changed.
“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Ronald Reagan.
Speaking of alcohol: I was in one of the local beach bars just a couple of days ago. One of the waitresses and I started a conversation about the election. I was very impressed with how knowledgeable she was about all the issues, candidates and the entire process overall. Especially considering she is only 19 years old. It turns out, that although the entire country gets a day off, as this is a National Holiday, this doesn’t apply of course to the tourism and restaurant industry. She was very distraught that she was not going to be able to vote, as she had looked forward to this day her entire life. You see, it is not very easy to change your voting location, as it is based upon where you usually grew up and lived. Many young people now have moved to Papagayo as the opportunities are better, than in the interior. And let’s face facts: wouldn’t you rather live at the beach? It seems her family lives about 3 hours away, up in the mountains of Monte Verde, so that is where she is registered to vote. She usually works a 12 hour day; from noon to midnight; and obviously there aren’t buses running in the middle of the night. It takes all day to go up and back, with all the stops it would have to make.
The more I talked to this impressive young lady, the more I found myself thinking back in time; I can still remember pulling the handle that said RONALD REAGAN. I thought about how upset I would have been if I had not been able to vote and I made a decision right there and then to help. This country has given me so much; welcomed me with open arms; and made me feel like I am one of them, since the moment I stepped off the plane. I try very hard to always show appreciation to every Tico that I meet, making sure they understand how thankful I am to be allowed to live in THEIR paradise. Although she was hesitant at first to accept my offer, she had no chance. You can’t say NO to Michael Simons; just ask anyone of my clients.
My alarm clock went off at 3:22 AM and I jumped out of bed, took a quick shower, fed the princess Millie Dolores, loaded up two jugs of Java in my truck, and out the door I went. I arrived at her house at exactly 4 AM and the road trip began. I brought her a pillow and a blanket, as I was sure she would sleep. She had only had a couple hour catnap after a long day slinging burgers, yet her excitement was buzzing and kept her awake. We were literally the ONLY car on the road, as I hammered across the countryside. We talked about everything except politics. I never asked her choice, I do not care. It is her personal business. People don’t make or break friendships over which way they vote here; and of course, I turned her on to some great Rock N Roll. “Who is Motley Crue?” she said, and that took up the better part of half an hour.
We turned left off the Pan-American Highway and headed up the mountain, the road was perfectly paved. We weaved through some quaint little towns as she told me of her childhood; roller skating; hiking; living with nature; being raised by her mom, who was ecstatic she was coming up that day. They would go together. As we crept higher and higher in altitude, the road got smaller and smaller, and very soon, it was nothing but dirt; bumpy as she called it. Horrible was a better word for it; but it was some of the most epic scenery you have ever laid eyes on. As the sun started to rise over the volcanoes, you could start to make out the outline of the trees; swaying in the wind across the top of the ridge. As you looked east, you could see for miles; rolling hills after green lush valleys; the fog of the cloud forest misting in the air; it was truly spectacular. If you turned to the west, you could see all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya; it was absolutely STUNNING. The beauty in this country, never ceases to amaze me; it doesn’t get any better than this, trust me. Leaving as early as we did, we arrived in Monte Verde, normally a 3 hour drive, we did it in 2.
As I rolled the window down to get some fresh air, I was instantly reminded that I was not in Coco anymore Toto. It was frigid. Everyone was bundled up; sweaters, coats and hiking boots; one woman even looked like Little Red Riding Hood, with rubber booties and all. I had not come properly prepared. As usual, I was the gringo: Tank Tops and Flip Flops. We swung by her house, picked up her mom and headed down the hill to the school. This was a site to see. There were dozens of flags, of every color, each representing a different candidate. Cars were loaded 6 deep with friends, everyone showing their support for their guy. No one was arguing; no one was shouting; no one was disrespectful. Everyone had PRIDE to be a Costa Rican. The energy in the air was vibrant. As you would expect in any civilized intelligent country, you need an I.D. to vote. The ladies went in and I sat in the truck. Their optimism of the future, was evident in their walk.
“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, and no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.” Ronald Reagan.
You see I am a Permanent Resident of Costa Rica, not a citizen. The ONLY difference between me and her, besides the fact she is young and good looking and I am only good looking, is that she can Vote; I cannot. I have every other right as a citizen. I have been here long enough, that if I wanted, I could become a Costa Rican but I have chosen not to. Maybe if I had children or was married to a Tica, I would think differently, but I have always had the same opinion. I LOVE this country; I am proud to live here: and I am thankful that they allow me to stay. If someday, for any reason, I do not like living here anymore, I will leave. But I do not think I should come, as a foreigner, and tell them how to run THEIR country. It is their home, let them decide how they want it governed. As I have always said, “Dear God. Please do not let the gringos come here and vote. They have already screwed up two great countries in the USA and Canada, please don’t let them mess up this place.”
As they got back into my truck, they were giddy with glee. They were hugging each other; sharing this special day; and I felt very lucky to be a part of the moment. She was a splitting image of her mother who was adamant we stay for breakfast. Do you really think I would turn that down? We arrived back at her home and she welcomed me in like family. It was this adorable house, perched on a hill, and had beautiful paintings lining the walls. It turns out her mother is an artist who sells her wares at the local craft shops. They put me to work immediately, chopping and pitting the avocados while her mom proceeded to make homemade tortillas; she ran around hugging the family cats; animals are always happy when you come back home for a visit. Chopped tomatoes, fresh sour cream, coffee through a sock; I promise you I am going to figure out a way to come back again, as this was one of the best meals I have ever had. THANKS MOM.
As they said their goodbyes, we jumped back in the truck, and started the trek back home. Of course we made it back in plenty of time for her work, and my preparation for the big game. Although I didn’t get to put a ballot in the box, I hope I had a little bit to do with the outcome. It was the least I could do to show my support for this Democracy. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this day and I will be forever grateful to call Costa Rica my home.
As has happened before, there was not one clear cut winner, so two candidates will now campaign towards the runoff. I won’t know until April, but whoever the winner is, I want to wish you nothing but success on your journey. Everyone in Costa Rica wants you to succeed. No one is rooting for you to fail. Wow! What a concept huh?
Hope to see you soon.
Come on down baby!!!