WHAT’S IN THE BAG SIR?
newsletter edition no. 6
I have always had the traveling bug in me; it’s how I ended up in this gorgeous country. And I still enjoy it, spending as much of my free time as I can in different spots of Costa Rica. But as I have told you before, every now and then I have to go back to the real world just to get it out of my system.
I have to admit, for all the problems with the USA lets face facts; they have great malls and stores. I love to shop, like a girl. Nobody can spend money like me. NOBODY. One of my best friends has always called me the Ultimate Consumer because if it was new or cool, I bought it. I have changed my outlook now, since I have moved to Latin America, and I have also gotten older. So I don’t have to have the newest and coolest of everything anymore. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy burning the numbers off my credit card every once in a while.
I fly out of San Jose a lot instead of Liberia airport, as the prices tend to be substantially less. I also fly on COPA Airlines through Panama City, as they have tremendous bargains and their airplanes are brand new. It also means that I fly on a plane with hundreds of South and Central Americans usually on their way to Miami. It is hilarious to see everyone boarding with empty suitcases, in anticipation of a serious shopping spree. What is even funnier is when you are coming back. Every person at the Miami airport and the COPA counter has their bags stuffed to the max. They are right at their weight limit and usually have to take items out to check it on the plane. We all look like we are entering the World’s Strongest Man Competition as we can barely drag our suitcases they weigh so much. One of the main reasons I fly at least 5 times a year is so I can keep my Elite Status with the airline, allowing me an extra bag and all up to 70lbs instead of the usual 50. Heh man, trust me. You can get a lot of extra stuff in a third suitcase and there is a huge difference between 210 lbs of shopping and the measly 100 that most common travelers have to endure.
So what exactly do you buy Michael, I am sure you are asking. Well, I don’t need any clothes as I only wear Tank Tops and Flip Flops. But I do find myself shopping for things that I can’t find here in Costa Rica. Sometimes its kitchen items and sometimes its cool stuff for my bar at my house or it can be promotional materials for 3 Amigos. Many times I am bringing back some basic electronics as they are also substantially cheaper in the USA than here. DVD players, printers, scanners etc can easily fit into a suitcase without much difficulty.
But the biggest list I have when I go back to America, is for the grocery store. I love to cook, always have, and I am actually quite good for an old gringo. The stores here are awesome and I love making dinner with all the fresh vegetables, meats and fish. But I am also single and live alone, and most of my rock star meals are better served for 3 or 4 people. Many nights, after a long day showing property, the last thing I want to do is make a big gourmet meal. So things like Hamburger Helper and Rice a Roni are easy and fast, but they are also not sold in grocery stores in Costa Rica.
The stores now have a tremendous amount of products that didn’t exist a few years ago, but there are still some items that are just hard to find. Beef Jerky for instance, is almost impossible to find in Costa Rica as are certain cheeses or Polish Sausages. Of course you are not supposed to bring this stuff in your suitcase, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it.
If you remember my last Newsletter I told you that Lemons don’t grow in Costa Rica and its true, yet nobody knows why. Well I was determined to try, so one time I even brought in Lemon seeds, and planted them in my yard. Guess what? They were right, it doesn’t grow. So the next time life gives me lemons I guess I can’t make lemonade and have to settle for limeade.
Now, the question is, “how do you get all this stuff through without getting caught or paying duty” That is the $10,000 question. First, it is always easier to come through Customs in San Jose than in Liberia airport as the customs agents here at the beach know that the gringos are loaded up with contraband and they work us over pretty good. The agents in San Jose are less likely to stop you and look in your luggage, as they are used to seeing the wealthy Ticos come back with thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from a US shopping spree.
I once saw an agent harass this woman who had a tremendous amount of high end clothing in her suitcase. She started screaming at him, at the top of her lungs, that he had no right to question her, blah blah blah. He folded like a taco and off she went out the door. When you arrive at the airport, you must first go through the Immigration line and get your passport stamped. You then pick up your luggage and head for the door. Just before the exit are the customs agent and an X-ray machine. Everyone must put their bags on the conveyor belt and allow the man to look at what’s inside from his TV screen.
There is a famous saying; the best place to hide is right out in the open. So instead of trying to sneak through customs, I have found it is better to be loud and boisterous (anyone who has met me knows this is a very easy thing for me to do). I start waving at the agents 50 yards from the check point. I act as if I went to school with these guys. Hola! Great to see you! How’s the family? I keep talking the entire time my bag goes through the X-ray machine, but you also have to have a distraction sometimes, especially if you are loaded to the hilt with taxable inventory. That’s why I always buy lots of alcohol at the Duty Free. Just as my bag is going through the X-ray machine, I call to the gentleman watching the screen. As he looks my way, I open up my duty free box and ask stupidly “do I have to put this through the machine as well?” If he looks back at the television I just keep asking him over and over the same question forcing him to ignore the TV and look my way. I know they are thinking that I have to be the stupidest gringo on the earth, the entire time $1000 worth of electronics is blowing past his screen.
One time I had 3 suitcases stuffed with paraphernalia for my bar. I had NFL helmets, outdoor speakers, Satellite TV receivers and I even had 8 metal barstools that I took apart piece by piece and put into my suitcases. They were rattling like an old SUV that has been driving down the monkey trail one too many times. So I needed a real distraction. I brought along Millie, my Yorkie. Nothing works like a small cute dog when it comes to dividing your attention. Just as my luggage was going through the machine, I pulled her out of her travel bag. You could hear every woman in line go “Ohhhhhhhhhhh, she is soooooooooo adorable!” and of course the agents looked as well. I then handed Millie to the man behind the TV screen and proceeded to ask him if he wanted me to put her in the X-ray machine as well. He just about had a heart attack and tried to give her back to me. As I pretended to fumble with my paperwork, Millie did her job, licking his face and distracting him from the screen. Mission accomplished. Bar stools are here for our enjoyment. Come over anytime.
Sometimes they open your bags without putting it through the detector. And if you have food items, they usually confiscate them. Especially beef jerky. These guys love beef jerky. Over the years I have picked up hundreds of people from the airport and I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Awww man. They took my jerky” I think these guys have beef jerky parties every weekend. A friend of mine was coming in once with a Canned Ham. She was going to serve it for Thanksgiving. Now this is pushing it a little bit, but this lady has some Cajones, let me tell ya. Well, she failed. They found the ham. She was arguing with them that it was canned, cooked etc and wasn’t a potential health problem blah blah blah. They were having none of it. Their eyes were big as saucers thinking about the great lunch they were all going to share in the break room at the airport.
Well, she was having none of that either as she knew they were only confiscating it for their personal use. She proceeded to open the can, turned it upside down, and dumped it on the floor of the airport. She then stepped on it so it was inedible. Just imagine this petite little woman, jumping up and down on a big pile of meat, yelling “You….will…not…eat…my…HAAAAAAAAAM!!!!!”
I have teardrops just thinking about it, I laughed so hard. I am amazed she wasn’t arrested. I got popped once too, bringing in these radio electric fences for my dogs. They look like mini nuclear bombs, so of course they stopped me and made me open my suitcase. I explained what they were, and they proceeded to haul me into a private room. I had visions of the movie Midnight Express and feared I might never see the light of day again. The Customs agent just calmly stood there, with his hand out, waiting on a small gift. I pulled out my cash, and just kept peeling off $20 bills until he felt he had enough and then he sent me out the door, but not before stealing my beef jerky the SOB. He was licking his lips like the fox in Little Red Robin hood. You gotta love this country. Can you imagine trying that in Houston airport?
Now, I have also brought in some very expensive cooking ware and even some silver and crystal wine glasses too, along with 500 count linens and ultra soft towels. Just list it as Camping Gear on the form. Costa Rica allows you to bring in any camping gear, duty free. I chuckle when I tell the man, “It’s for camping” even though it might be a $1000 set of pots and pans. I know he is scratching his head thinking, “Man, these gringos sure camp in style!”
But the ultimate trick, believe it or not, lies in the simple fear that every man experiences. Feminine Care Products.
There is not a man on this earth who has not had to buy his wife or girlfriend Tampons at one time or another. Nothing is more embarrassing. And no matter how old we get, we just really want nothing to do with the concept of Menstruation. Most men would rather pick up dog poop with their bare hands, than handle a box of tampons. So, you guessed it. Whenever I travel back from the USA to Costa Rica, I dump 2 or 3 boxes of tampons on top of all my goodies. I then make sure I get in the customs line with the oldest Latin man I can find. The moment he opens the suitcase, and gets the first peak of a TAMPAX , he slams that lid shut like an old screen door on a windy day. BAM!!!!! Have a nice day sir. Works every time!
When you are leaving Costa Rica, they could care less what you take. The more the merrier. Spend every dollar you can here sir, we will take it all. So every March I go to a big Real Estate convention in Las Vegas with my Associate Joe. We have a blast. Everybody knows that if they stop by the Costa Rica booth, we will have some “medicine” for them. Last year we brought 12 gallons of rum and 70 lbs of coffee, and served a cup to anyone who visited us. Do you think Costa Rica cared that we had that much in our bags? Of course not. They knew we weren’t allowed to bring that many bottles back to the USA, but they surely weren’t going to deter us.
I remember arriving in Houston. The luggage was soooo heavy and we had to go through that last check point before we re-loaded our bags on the plane. I was a tad worried they would open the suitcase and confiscate my beloved Rum. And on top of it all, one of the bottles had broken. So here we are, rolling 4 suitcases through the Houston Immigration area, with rum leaking out the bottom in a little trail. You could smell the sugar for 50 feet. Yet the agent didn’t even bat an eye and we just wheeled right on through. Let me tell you; we had one serious party when we got to the convention. Makes me want Rum and Coke as I am writing this (with a lime not a lemon of course) be right back.
Ahhhhh – Much better.
Where was I? Oh yeah. My good buddy Jack. I needed a cocktail for this story. What a class act. Jack was a client of mine who retired here to Costa Rica. He was the kind of guy that everybody loved. He was in his mid 70’s and had the most amazing attitude; he could light up a room in a second. He never forgot anybody’s name, especially women, and always brought presents to the office for my secretaries. Every time he showed up, the girls would scream with happiness at the gifts he gave them. “Ooooooooooo Jack, Thank you so much.” But he was also a tad eccentric and had his certain ways about him. He was the kind of guy that just couldn’t order something off a menu without giving the waiter specific instructions. Eggs must be over easy, but not too runny. Dry toast, no butter, but bring Jam on the side. Bacon cooked VERY WELL, and don’t put any parsley anywhere on the plate. No tomatoes, potatoes not too done. I want a glass of water, No ice. Etc Etc Etc. And he would return it if it wasn’t perfect. He was like this in all parts of his life, and it drove some people a little nuts.
Personally I loved it; I always got a chuckle out of it. I would be like, Jack, just eat the fricken stuff man ok? We gotta go. He loved Martini’s too. Man did he love Martini’s. And of course, nobody could make them correctly, according to his standards, so he would actually always bring his own mix, everywhere he went. He would have this little water jugs, filled with his famous concoctions, and just ask for a chilled glass at the restaurant. That can be a challenge here too sometimes LOL.
Well, my buddy Jack passed away last year. It was amazing how many people showed up at his funeral, a testament to his friendships. Before he died, he made me promise him that I would personally deliver his ashes back to his family in the USA. I remember him saying, “I do not want the Ticos to ship me UPS because I just know they will lose me somewhere along the line”. He was probably correct. So when he passed away, they had his remains cremated and I went to San Jose to pick him up. I had to get all this paperwork filled out by the embassy, of course, so I would be allowed to travel with him on the plane. His urn was amazing. Just like Jack. Never does anything half ass. This looked like something King Tut would be buried in, with a velvet box, and gold emblems.
I booked a First Class ticket as there was no way I was letting my good friend Jack fly coach, and I bought a brand new carry on to put him in, as I know he would have had another heart attack if I put him in a dirty suitcase. Off to the airport I went, and this is where the fun began.
Costa Ricans are very religious, Catholic mostly, and dead bodies are just not something they want much to do with, kind of like Tampons. They don’t have an open casket funeral here, that’s for sure. So I knew I was going to have some fun going through the bomb detectors at the airport. I put the bag on the conveyor belt and proceeded through the metal detector. I am on the other side waiting for my bag, shoes, belt, computer, passport, keys, cell phone etc, to come through.
Man it’s a pain in the ass to travel now, isn’t it?
Anyway, I can see the belt going back and forth, as they are all sitting around the TV screen staring, trying to figure out what the heck this huge metal box could be, inside my suitcase. They call over the manager, and then two or three cops come over. Half the damn crew was there, looking at the TV. So I yelled out, “It’s a dead body!!!!!” The entire airport stopped, like something out of an EF Hutton advertisement. You could hear a pin drop. All the TSA crew (or whatever they are called in Costa Rica) took 3 or 4 steps back and all took a deep breath and held it in unison. It was hilarious.
A couple of the women starting doing the Hail Mary Full of Grace thing. They were all touching their heads, to their chests, shoulder to shoulder. One of the women almost fainted. She had to sit down and start fanning herself.
I said, “Do you want me to open it?“ NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! They screamed. I have never been pushed through the bomb detector so quickly. They were all waving their hands forward, shooing me through. Get away, Get away, and Get away!!!!! My first thought was, now I know how I am going to bring in my beef jerky next time.
In Costa Rica, they always have to over do everything. It’s black or white: all or nothing. There is no grey. A speeding ticket is either $5 or $600. It’s never $50 bucks. It’s the same way at the airport. They have to be overly safe, and they actually check your bags a second time, as you are boarding the plane. Don’t ask why, it makes no sense, but most things don’t here. Pura Vida. So as I am boarding the plane there is another TSA agent and her little fold up card table. I hand her my carry on bag with Jack in it, and before I can say anything she slams the bag on the table. She could tell I was not happy at the way she handled my luggage, so I figured I would play along for a minute, and didn’t tell her what was in the bag.
She unzipped it, and started to remove the towels I had packed around it for protection. As soon as she started to lift the urn, I told her. “It’s a dead body!!!!!!” She immediately dropped the urn back in the bag and started backing up FAST. She was one of those women with really hairy arms; you know the type I am talking about. She could give a Howler
Monkey a run for its money. You could literally see the goose bumps on her arm and the hair standing up. She turned white, and her eyes bugged out of her head.
She reminded me of Beetle Juice. She started to cry and did the Hail Mary thing and gave me the most evil look in the world, like “How could you do this to me?” I smiled, that’s what you get for slamming my buddy Jack. Have a nice flight sir was not what she was thinking I promise.
As I got comfortable in First Class, I put Jack under the seat in front of me. I wanted him to be near me on the flight, and not up with the computer bags. The flight attendant asked me if I wanted a drink and of course I ordered a Martini, so I could enjoy it one last time for Jack. I never understood how anyone could drink those things, they taste like dirty dish water.
But I forced it down for the sake of my friend. As I toasted him, I thought of all the crazy idiosyncrasies that made up Jackie Boy, as his friends call him. I told him, “Only you Jack could cause such a commotion at the airport. You are the only man I know that still makes
women scream even after you are dead.” I met his family in Miami and handed off my old buddy. I know he is up in heaven, drinking Martini’s flirting with women, pissing some people off. I love you Jack and I miss you RIP.I then got in my rental car and went to the mall. I had three empty suitcases I needed to fill up. No need to waste a good opportunity to go shopping and burn the numbers off my new credit card. There is a very good chance you will see me at Walgreen’s, pushing a cart through the women’s Feminine Product Aisle. If you do, stop by and say hello.
See you down here in Paradise!
If you have had a great experience with my office and Costa Rica, I want to hear about it. Please send us a video of yourself telling us WHY and I will post it to my website for everyone to see. Or send me an email and I will put it in my Testimonials. I appreciate your business and that you have decided to read this Newsletter more than I could ever tell you. THANK YOU. Please take a little more time and check out the entire site. We have added a lot of information lately that I am sure you will find helpful. Also, please forward this to any friends you think might be interested in learning more about Costa Rica. Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course, but you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop procrastinating and hurry back!
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