Tank Tops Flip Flops Newsletter edition no.5
I remember the first day I arrived in Costa Rica. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
When she first landed, she was surrounded by all these smiling happy Munchkins celebrating like there was no tomorrow.
These big Fiestas in Costa Rica are like that too. There is smiling happy Ticos dressed up in these wild outfits, riding horses, singing and partying like the Wicked Witch of the East just had a house dropped on her head. It’s called a Tope. And that first scene where the Yellow Brick Road starts out going round and round in circles is exactly how you feel as a new-bee in Costa Rica. Nothing makes sense, everything is different and you are totally confused, yet you have no fear: the Gringo is here.
I guess I am very much like Dorothy now, “with my little dog too!” I have lived here for 9 years and still, every single day of my life, I chuckle and shake my head at some of the crazy stuff that happens in Paradise. It’s hilarious, it’s sometimes stupid, it very rarely makes sense and that’s why I love this place. Join me as we set out down the Yellow Brick Road, known as Life in Costa Rica.
The first observation everyone makes when they land at the airport is that nobody has a machine gun. You go anywhere else in Mexico or Central America and you see military personnel immediately as you land. Not here, as there is no Army. But go to a bank, grocery store or stop for gas, and the guard is packing some serious hardware. These guys are right out of Soldier of Fortune magazine: bullet-proof vests, 9 mm Glock, sawed off Shotguns and black gloves with the fingers cut out. The nice part is, the gas stations are full service, like when you were a kid, so they pump, check the air and oil, and even clean the windshield and you don’t even have to get out of your car. Its all good, till the bill comes and you realize that its $6 a gallon.
You laugh later on when you turn on CNN and hear the USA complaining about $3. Oh, and they get every single Colon out of you they can. You hear the pump click, telling you its full. Yet they some how manage to squeeze another liter or two into the tank so that they can milk every single drop out of ya. You are in your car and all of a sudden think there is an earthquake, till you look in your mirror and see 3 guys rocking your car back and forth to get that last 300 Colones out of the customer.
As you continue down the Yellow Brick Road, you see stuff that makes the hair on your neck stand up. People walk down the middle of the road, at night, wearing black. No reflectors, no glow in the dark vests, nothing. Sidewalks, forget it. They also go completely against the rules we were taught as a child. Remember, ride with traffic, walk against it? Doesn’t apply. Cars stop in the middle of the road, on a major highway, for no particular reason. Sometime to have a conversation with a car stopped on the other side of the road. So do Buses.
They actually have Bus Stops on Interstates with no where for the bus to pull off the road. So it just stops. Right there in the middle of the highway. They also have bus stops on curves instead of at the corner. Go Figure. In the evening sometimes, right around dusk, you will see workers waiting for the bus. They are of course exhausted after a long days work in the sun.
So they lay down on the side of the road to wait for the bus. Do you think they sleep 2 or 3 meters from the road? No way. They actually use the edge of the asphalt as a pillow!!!! No S&^%. In other words, there head is ON THE PAVEMENT, their feet in the ditch, with tires flying by 18 inches from their nugget.
Every now and then: you guessed it; scrambled eggs. You see these workers hitchhiking and we pick them up everyday. They are usually carrying a Machete or two, and sometimes chainsaws and axes. It reminds me of the Bud Lite ad on TV, where the wife yells at the husband, “He has a chainsaw! Yeah but he has a 12 pack of Bud Lite too! And….. A CHAINSAW!!!!”
Buses pass trucks on a curve, or over a bridge, with a double yellow. Cars stop on the side of the highway, so the family can have a pick-nick. One of the “tricks” of the road here is if someone wants you to pass them, they will put on their blinker, to tell you to pass on the left. This gets me every time as I play the famous guessing game of Latin America. Do they want me to pass or are they turning left. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.
At least the truckers put their hand out the window and wave you by, something they would never do back home, when it is safe to pass them on a hill. Another deal killer is the 4 lane road to 2 lane bridges, or 2 lane roads to single lane bridge thing. You will be going along, minding your own business and enjoying the beautiful day, and all of a sudden, BOOM. No road, bridge. There was no warning, no signs, nothing. Just 2 lanes becomes one and everyone has to merge. QUICK. There are no merge lanes anywhere either. It’s all or nothing baby. Like a video game.
Stop Signs? LOL Suggestions. The old taxis in San Jose, aim for the pot holes too, so they can knock the car hard enough to jar the headlight, making it work again. You see people drive their cars, into rivers, so they can wash them. Not exactly environmentally correct but definitely gets the job done.
Speaking of washing my truck. I hired this nice young man to help me for a couple days. I found these gorgeous volcanic rocks down at a little private beach an hour from here. They were solid black, and shiny as you could imagine. These would cost me thousands of dollars back home from a landscape company. I knew they would look killer in my yard so I hired this guy to help me. We went back and forth 3 or 4 times that day with loads of rocks.
When we were done, my pick up was of course full of dirt and sand. So I told him to wash my truck and I left to go run some errands. When I returned, he was standing in my driveway gleaming with pride. My truck was spotless. He stood there, almost like a car salesman, pointing at the truck, showing me how beautiful it was. I smiled and pointed at the ground. He had that look your dog gives you; you know the look, when they tilt their head to one side because they can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Then all of a sudden it dawned on him, and his shoulders shrunk. All the sand and dirt was on my brick paved driveway.
I live off of a dirt road, yet it never occurred to him to back my truck out of the pretty driveway BEFORE he washed the sand out of the bed of the truck. It took him another 2 hours to clean the driveway.
Lesson learned. Always pay by the job, not by the hour.
Scooters and motorcycles are what we refer to as Mass Transit. I have never in my life, even imagined, you could get so much stuff and so many people on to one two wheeled vehicle. Entire families, 4 or 5 strong, are regular occurrences. You see dogs and newborns, groceries and cases of beer, and it all seems to fit just fine. Ladders, tool boxes, and equipment strapped to the back, and off to work they go. I find it hilarious when you see a horse, tied to the back of a bicycle or scooter, and the owner is running the animal, God knows where. You see people texting while bicycling or driving their moped. Just when you think you have seen it all, they out do themselves. Yesterday I saw a man on his bicycle with a huge Mahi Mahi hanging over his shoulder.
The one that kills me every time is when I see a guy on a motorcycle but the helmet is on his arm, not his head. You can just see the family at the morgue after a big accident. Yes that’s Ernesto, I know his elbow anywhere. A family outing is when they load 5 plastic chairs in to the back of a pick up truck and go for a ride, with the family sitting in the chairs. Definitely a couple fries short of a Happy Meal. Trust me when I tell you, things are just different.
They put Ketchup on sandwiches and salads, not just eggs like Canadians. I actually met a woman the other day that puts Mustard on her sandwiches. I asked her to marry me. Beers and sodas don’t come in 6 packs or 24 pack cases, they are always sold individually. Eggs are not refrigerated, because they are so fresh, and you will never taste anything better in your life.
Limes are sweet and Oranges are sour, and Lemons do NOT grow in Costa Rica, and nobody knows why. Yet there are fruits you have never seen anywhere else in the world. It’s a Margarita lover’s paradise.
And if you have a mango tree, anywhere near a walk path or public road, you can bet your life that they will be pilfered on a daily basis.
As you drive down the highway, you see people selling fruit. Then 200 meters later, someone else is selling the same fruit. For the next mile, there are 6 stands, all selling the same fruit. What do they think is going to happen? You want watermelon honey? You sure you don’t want watermelon honey? Are you absolutely positive you don’t want watermelon honey? Look a watermelon stand!!! Whew, Thank God. I changed my mind. Glad someone is now still selling watermelon.
Maids clean floors, but don’t do walls. Poker games deal right to left not left to right. You go to a major retail, commercial center or office building and there is no parking of any kind. And the few spots they do have, someone is set up in front with a table selling jewelry. Doors open IN not out. So if there was an emergency………….. Think about it………….on the other hand, DON’T think about it.
Fences grow into trees. Public announcements are made by strapping two huge Disco speakers to the top of the smallest car on the planet and driving through town blasting out the information. Lobster is cheap: Pizza will bankrupt you. And don’t, FOR ANY REASON, order sausage on your pie. You will take one or two bites, and you will get that strange feeling that you have tasted this before. Hmmmmmmmm. But what is it? And then it hits you. They use Hot Dogs for sausage. Stick to Pepperoni and Ham my friends.
Marketing is not a Costa Rican specialty either. They make the smallest sign they can and put it on a tree and then wonder why no one ever calls. Even if you see it, you can’t read it unless you are on LSD. It is usually designed by a 4-year-old with every letter of the FOR SALE in a different color. Go into a bar, and you will see more clients BEHIND the bar than in front. I guess it’s more fun to drink WITH the bartender.
You will hear Rock N Roll playing on the speakers and they know all the words. “Oh, you like the Rolling Stones?” you ask. Who? No the Stones. Who? It’s like Abbott and Costello. How do you not know who the Stones are, I mean they opened up for Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. Forget it.
There is a saying in Costa Rica. How can you tell a Guanacaste baby from any other baby? It is born with a match in its hand. Burning is a birth right. They burn everything. When they should have a fire ban, they don’t. And if there is a fire, the truck doesn’t show up, and if it does it either can’t get up the hill or doesn’t have any water. So the firemen just sit on the side of the truck, eating their Gallo Pinto and watch the fire burn itself out. Then, when the wood telephone pole burns down, they replace it; you guessed it, with another wood telephone pole.
When you are at the grocery store, it is inevitable that the person in front of you will forget something. So they will run off and bring it back. Then they will do it a second and a third time. When the cashier gives them the total, they realize they don’t have enough money to pay for it and have to put an item back. God help you, if you end up being stuck behind a funeral. Why they have to take up the entire street and not let anyone pass, is beyond my comprehension. Clocks? We have them but they don’t do anybody any good as the Ticos are always late, even to their own funerals.
I have to admit though; you gotta love a country, where it’s legal to walk down the street with a beer. I won’t ever leave.
Government. Wow, I could talk for days about this one, but let’s just stick to a couple prime examples. You go to Immigration or the DMV and they tell you to stand in a certain line. When you get to the window, they tell you, sorry, go to this other line. When you get to that window, they tell you to go back to the first line that you were in 4 hours earlier.
The police pull you over for speeding. When you ask to see the radar gun, it is blinking ERROR ERROR ERROR. So you end up having to give the cop a bribe, and he THANKS YOU. It takes an hour to make a deposit at the bank, and then the teller can’t even tell you your balance. You have to go to another window for that. If you don’t use your account for a certain period of time, they freeze it. So you come to make a deposit and they won’t let you. You of course get upset and they inform you that if you want you can close the account. So let me get this straight. I can take all my money OUT of the account, but I can’t put any more in? Yes sir that is correct. Hmmmmmmmmm. I will take the first option thank you.
I will never bank at a National bank again, only private banks. But the Stupid People of the Year award has to go to the local water company AyA. I think the pre-requisite for working for AyA is that you are dumber than a box of rocks. Regularly, the pipes spring a leak. When you call the water company, it takes them 2 days to come and check it out. Then 5 guys show up and stand around doing nothing for an hour. Yup, that’s a leak alright. And they leave. Six more times that week, someone else comes back, looks at the leak and leaves. Yup, that’s a leak alright.
Trust me when I tell you we don’t have a water problem in Guanacaste, we have a brain power problem in Guanacaste. You know the saying, “He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer” Well these guys are butter knives. Plastic butter knives. Disposible plastic butter knives Made in China.
Paper……….. man do they love their paper here. Go to any government office, and there are 6 sets of paperwork for anything and everything. No country in the history of the world uses more paper. Save the planet, my ass. Save the trees……. That’s hilarious. I actually once went to get a permit to cut down a small tree on my property. They gave me 22 pieces of paper telling me I couldn’t cut down the tree. So they killed a tree to make enough paper to tell me I couldn’t kill a tree. Go figure.
Construction sites are a whole different planet. OSHA would have heart attack if they relocated to Costa Rica. You see guys working on a job site with flip flops, no hard hats or safety glasses. Railings are only 3 feet high, you could literally trip over them and open holes are everywhere. Just the other day my friend was at the “huge” Mall in Liberia. She wanted to use the elevator because she had her small child with her, but it was out of service. The broken door was half open, and the elevator was no where to be seen, just an empty hole going straight down. No Caution tape. No “Look out below” sign. Nothing. Can you imagine the lawsuit in the USA? Not in Costa Rica. People here look after themselves, the way I believe it should be.
Animals are definitely part of the deal here. Everyone I know has 3 or 4 dogs or cats, they just seem to show up and never leave. I just inherited my 6th. But these guys are street smart, let me tell you. They actually look both ways before crossing the road. You see chickens and roosters everywhere and the random pig tied up in the front yard is par for the course. As you drive along the highway, you will almost always see a horse or a goat tied to a tree. The rope is just long enough to keep it from sticking its head into traffic. We call these weed eaters, as they are there to keep the grass from growing too tall on the side of the road. I saw a Goat sitting on the hood of a car yesterday on my way to the beach. I had to go back for a second look. It never ceases to amaze me.
This week is the Annexation week here in Costa Rica, which means 10 days of serious partying. One thing this country definitely knows how to do is celebrate a Holiday and trust me when I tell you they never miss one. Ever. In 1823 the Province of Guanacaste made the best decision of their life, and they voted to leave Nicaragua and join this gorgeous country of Costa Rica.
So for the next week, we will have dozens of Parades, Topes, Carnivals, Festivals, Expos and just morning to midnight celebrations. It will definitely feel like you finally found Oz. There will be “bull fights” but not like you see in Spain. In this country, they stuff the ring full of drunken, cocky men, and then they ride a bull into the ring and people cheer as these rocket scientists get creamed by an 800 lb Toro. AWESOME !!! This is what we call a couple beers short of a 6 pack. The bulls are never hurt or killed, just the idiots crazy enough to climb into the ring. This is the NASCAR of Central America.
I think anybody who knows me knows how much I LOVE COSTA RICA. I have a good time making fun of this crazy place but I wouldn’t live anywhere else. When I hear tourists say “Well we don’t do it that way back in America” I always reply “this isn’t America. If you want America stay in America”
Costa Rica is one of the finest places a person could ever live. It has the highest literacy rate in the Western World.Almost everyone is bi lingual and speaks English. They have some of the best medical care on the planet and one of the most stable Democracies south of Texas. It costs a fraction to live here compare to other tropical destinations. There is no army, almost no violent crime, and without a doubt the friendliest, happiest and some of the best looking people you will ever meet anywhere in the world.
You never hear of a movie theatre or school shooting and there is no Jerry Sandusky here. The temperature is always perfect, the ocean is always crystal clear, they have the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen and you don’t see a single piece of trash as you drive around the Papagayo area. It really is a wonderland and I feel blessed that they allow me to live in their country.
Thank you Costa Rica.
Next week I am taking a trip back to the USA to visit a couple friends, get my hair cut by my buddy Paul and catch a baseball game. It will be nice to be back in the real world but only for a couple days. After 3 or 4 days back there, I find myself missing this crazy place called OZ. I start clicking my flip flops and thinking “There’s no place like home” Come down and check it out.
See you down here in Paradise!
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