Your daily English-language news
at the speed of
Children are children, be they in the Comunidad Yorkin (left) in the High Talamanca region of Costa Rica or on the Isla Mulatopo, San Blas, where the Cunas children
frolic on a pier. But as they grow they will face discrimination from the white culture and deal with limited resources and limited opportunities on the home reserve.
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Exactly 500 hundreds years ago Christopher Columbus arrived in Costa Rica on his fourth voyage.
Full of ambitions and an adventurous spirit, this explorer did not realize the consequence of his actions.
There are many reports of the conquest. Some are
Director Nicolas Echevarria chose Cabeza de Vaca as the subject for his 1992 film because the story of the conquistador-turned-shaman is considered exceptional. The history of the conquest of the New World is mainly a story about the conflict between Spanish conquistadors and native peoples.
Echevarria says that his film "is one of the few examples of the Spaniards, that after living with the Indians, took the Indians' side. They became defenders of the Indians."
Would that more of the contact between the cultures were like this. Instead, the whites with better technology and the goal of conquest took the upper hand and relegated the Indians to the underclass.
Indians in Boliva, Brazil and Guatemala have suffered terribly even very recently.
Even today, as a descendent of the Bribris community I suffer from stupid discriminations. If I try to cash a check, I am considered a criminal, and people on the street ask me from what country I come.
As a Bribri woman, I have to confess how ashamed I once was every time I compared myself with the white, blond Scandinavian cultures.
But step by step, while I was traveling in Central and South America, I "discovered" again how amazing it is to be an Indian. How many things I learned with them. But also I learned much more while I was living in Europe for 12 years.
First, I learned that many people were confused about our culture. This was a difficult time for me because my life was more complicated. But in some ways my life was easier. I learned to live with comfort. Earlier in Costa Rica I used to wake up early to prepare the fire to cook or walk two miles to carry water or to do the laundry at the river.
In Europe I decided to join with the local culture. But I also saw that life is wrong and unfair, particularly for short, dark Indians.
A.M. Costa Rica photos by Saray Ramírez VindasRigoberto Morales is the chief of the Bribri Comunidad Yorkin in southeastern Costa Rica, and his job is to try to keep the culture going.
Simultaneously I learned how to survive in the consumer world. I realized how the invaders of our country continued killing and robbing and defiling our land under the pretext of development. This was different than what the early Spanish did, but much more effective.
Not long ago, I visited the traditional communities of Rey Curré and the Boruca Indians south of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas. They are protesting against the Boruca Hydroelectric Project which will bury thousands of years of archaeology under river sediments.
The project will involve a dam that will bury much of the tribal land under water. This will wash away in many cases remains of the civilization that has endured for millenniums.
Also there is the pressure on the High Talamanca communities, specifically the Bribri communities that worry about the exploitations of their land by companies that will mine gold ore and drill existing petroleum deposits.
One Canadian company seeks to mine the gold in the northern part of the country using cyanide leaching that will dump dangerous chemicals into the environment.
Over the last 20 years, many Indian communities in the world are getting stronger and stronger voices. We have amazing respect for nature and peace. We also have faith in a world that is moving toward a single culture. But no matter how closely we approach a single culture, part of us will remain Indian forever.
And today, to my people, the Bribri, I say in that language: Yeki beki ani. Uscarasca-sé. I love you, and I thank you.
A mugging gang that has staked out downtown San José as its territory is getting stronger.
A recent report from persons who work in the area of Avenida 1 and calles 5 and 7 say that the number of muggers has increased from four to perhaps as many as 10.
With new strength the gang also is getting bolder, and two North American tourists were mugged in tandem one day last week, according to persons who frequent the area.
One tourist was said to be a frequent visitor to Costa Rica, and the second person was reported to be his friend on a first visit here. The pair were grabbed from behind, one mugger for each tourist, on Calle 5, a source said.
Quickly two more men approached from the front and completed the takedown of the two men. The initial muggers used some kind of cord or wire to grab the men around the neck from behind, the source said.
This is the first time that the gang is known to have grabbed two persons at once. Police officials
|had urged visitors to walk in pairs
to avoid such incidents.
The gang has worked the downtown streets with seeming impunity for more than a year. Perhaps as many as 50 foreigners have been mugged along with at least an equal number of Ticos. Few victims file police reports.
The victims included a Salvation Army collector whose throat was cut but not fatally and several business owners in the area. Guards and other workers in the area have a good idea of the number of gang members and what they look like.
Hardly a weekend goes by without new reports of muggings. Descriptions of the gang members include that of at least one older man who works as a lookout and a stocky man about 45 and about 5-foot, 6-inches tall who sometimes talks to potential mugging victims. In one case he told two potential victims that the men who were about to rob them actually were undercover policemen.
Fuerza Pública officers seem unable to mount any sort of sting operation or surveillance to capture the gang members in action. The area where they work is the center of the tourist area populated by a number of bars, clubs and casinos.
|New I.D. technology
guards U.S. borders
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has adopted a variety of new procedures for screening foreigners entering and exiting the country as a response to new laws imposed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An immigration official described the heightened security policies in testimony before the Senate subcommittee on terrorism Wednesday.
The USA Patriot Act and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act both called for more comprehensive data collection on aliens, according to Michael Cronin, the services assistant commissioner. In response, immigration is working with other federal agencies to create a databank they have dubbed "Chimera."
"This system, when completed, will provide current and immediate access to information in law enforcement and intelligence databases relevant to determine whether to issue a visa and to determine the admissibility of an alien," said Cronin.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of State have successfully developed one component of the expanded data-sharing system, which allows an alien’s photograph to be available at ports-of-entry to determine if the alien engaged in any document fraud.
The new method was first instituted in Miami, Fla. where, Cronin said, "INS inspectors credit the initiative with detecting 108 fraudulent visa holders in the first six months."
The FBI fingerprint data is also now available to the service, a change that has led to the arrests of 3,100 persons wanted for felony crimes, said Cronin.
The intergovernmental effort to improve border security is also working to develop a comprehensive system to keep track of both the arrival and the departure of non-U.S. citizens.
Cronin said this system will allow the government to "identify and take action against those who violate the law, more easily locate individual aliens of interest to law enforcement entities, and validate the immigration status of aliens so that only eligible persons receive immigration benefits."
The collection of electronic passenger manifests from air carriers is
the first step toward development of the entry-exit system. That form of
data sharing system began its first phase Oct. 1.
Tri-border region hub
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Combating terrorism, supporting democracy, and fighting international crime are the top priorities for the United States in its bilateral relationship with Paraguay, according to John Keane, who has been nominated by President George W. Bush to be the new U.S. ambassador to that nation.
Keane testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Oct. 9. He labeled the tri-border region where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet a long-time center of illicit activities such as smuggling and money laundering, and also "a hub for Islamic extremists who provide financial and logistical assistance to Middle Eastern terrorist organizations."
Keane said, however, that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Paraguayan government disrupted terrorist financing and recruitment efforts in two cities in the tri-border region and "continues to crack down on illicit, possibly terrorism-related financial activities."
Strengthening democratic institutions and good governance are the primary objectives of U.S. foreign assistance programs in Paraguay, according to Keane.
"It lurks not only in would-be coup supporters, but in those who fail to address Paraguay's serious problems of corruption," he said.
International criminal enterprises that exploit Paraguay's openness are another area of concern for the United States, Keane said, but Paraguay "is beginning to address them seriously."
Keane’s career has included Senior Foreign Service work and the position
of director of Central American Affairs. His previous positions have seen
him work Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru.
to monitor election
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
ATLANTA, Ga. — The Carter Center says that Miguel Angel Rodríguez, former Costa Rican president, will join Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, in a 55-member delegation to observe the Jamaican general election Friday
Carter is scheduled to arrive in the Jamaica capital, Kingston, next Monday. While there, he is expected to meet with several candidates, electoral officials and members of the police force.
Recent polls suggest the ruling People's National Party is favored to defeat the opposition Jamaica Labour Party to secure a fourth term in office.
Tuesday residents in some areas set up roadblocks and a few schools closed early following a series of shootouts the night before. Police reported no injuries or arrests. It was not clear if the shootings were politically motivated.
Entering U.S. with visa
Special to A.M Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Effective Nov. 1, the U.S. Department of State is raising the worldwide non-immigrant visa fee to $100. Currently $65, this application-processing fee is charged for all non-immigrant visa and border crossing card applications.
This adjustment will bring the fee into line with the actual costs of
administering non-immigrant visa services, said the department.
Our readers ponder: Is there any such thing as a true pardise?
|I am very sorry Mr. Rochard’s experience
has been so bad. I certainly can understand many of his complaints. I keep
trying to make foreign residents understand that Costa Rica is a COUNTRY
The size (of the country) may fool you, the four million seemingly happy, smiling souls may fool you. Even the tenderness of the Costa Rican accent may fool you but beware WE ARE A COUNTRY.
Yes, we got the intellectuals and the very honest people but we also got the thieves, the calculators, the scammers, the good and the bad cops, the good and the bad politicians and certainly the good and the bad professionals.
Everything but the beautiful landscape and the delicious coffee (you just can’t go wrong) can be either good or bad. It is fundamental that you understand and make this difference before making the decision to move here.
I am also a foreign resident (in the States that is). I’ve been had so many times. The first three years I bought almost everything that came in the mail. I filled out the forms. I bought the magazines. The parking lots in New York overcharged me. I am basically tired of reading the fine print — it is so important here not to miss the fine print.
I fight the phone and electricity company regularly and the credit card company is cleaning me out $25 at a time even though I pay on time
|every month! My bed is not real wood,
my house is not real wood, the nice wooden exterior is something called
“siding” and the repair man charges just for showing up without doing any
actual work, and then there are the people: so nice but who don’t really
I could go on and on. What you are going through Mr. Rochard is a classic case of culture shock, you run into a people who just by talking come across as really friendly, your senses were overwhelmed and you went numb. Your senses became incapable of telling who is good and who is bad, you basically labeled us all “angels” just like now you label us “demons.”
My advice is the same I gave once to the lady who wrote an article on MSNBC about driving in CR — whose description of the route she took makes me think she was driving through a banana plantation: Look at the Costa Ricans, how many did you see on that road? If you saw none, then get out of there immediately, there is a reason why Costa Ricans don’t go there.
The same for you — behave like a Costa Rican, don’t behave like the rich gringo. You will see the real, honest people coming out. There is so much more I can tell you to make your life easier in Costa Rica. Maybe I should write a book!
(Click here to read Mr. Rochard's letter)
|I first came to Costa Rica in 1995
for five months for a winter escape from snow and fell in love with the
place. Like an infatuated teen I simply shrugged off or ignored the negatives,
and wandered all over the country, taking photo after photo. I returned
several more winters and tried in vain to obtain a permanent residency
permit with the help of an agent called a "tramitadora"(spelling?) — sort
of like a legal assistant.
I won’t go into the details but I was ripped off for several hundred dollars. Once she had my down payment there was no need for her to do anything else for the balance. Just ignore it. Take the easy money.
My attitude was changing too. With increased exposure the rose-colored glasses came off and I started to see life in Costa Rica for what it really is. I would list dishonesty and theft as a cultural norm in all Latin countries. They “live to steal.”
Everyone does it, politicians, police, lawyers, neighbors and the guy on the street. Wasn't there a Ms. Grynspoon as a minister who ripped off her own bureau of Social Assistance for millions?!! I believe I read that in the Tico Times.
That is why most Latins live in furnished steel and concrete prison cells with multiple locks! They do not even trust each other, and with good reason. I once was awakened at 2 a.m. by noises and discovered youths with bolt cutters on a roof trying to enter a second story window next door.
Need a public washroom? Good luck. You had better have your own tissue paper and soap because it cannot be provided in a land where everyone steals. And just finding a facility can often be a real challenge.
Pride of workmanship and responsibility are replaced with "what can I get away with?"
In most cities of the "first world" (western Europe, N. America, etc) a woman out late at night will take a cab in order to get home safely. In Latin countries that is extreme folly. I have had many Ticas relate the horror stories. If she's attractive she's driven somewhere the cabby knows and he takes advantage of her. Then he robs her. Then he gets on the taxi radio and signals his buddies. It can be a nasty night.
For gringos hoping to retire in Latin America, they soon discover there are two prices, one for gringos and another for Latins. So you learn to make friends with a Tico/Tica who does the negotiating and then you show up to close the deal. There's no other way. Even then your "friend" can rip you off and make his own deal on the side.
Thinking of marrying a Tica? You will be EXPECTED to play Santa Claus to an endless stream of cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, etc. Forever. Often they are not REAL relatives at all, just a pal lining up for the gravy train.
Pedestrians seem to have no rights in CR. If you are hit crossing the street it's the pedestrian's fault I'm told!! The streetlights are positioned for the benefit of drivers, not pedestrians. I know of a woman who was hit and knocked to the side of the road. The driver just continued on. And no other driver stopped to come to her aid. She was later helped by other pedestrians. And apparently even that was surprising.
An elderly gringo of Italian descent who could pass for a Tico himself had a nasty experience. He was jostled in a crowd in downtown SJ and lost his balance, fell to the pavement and struck his head. He was unconscious for a few minutes. Did anyone come to help him? No. They helped themselves!!
They took his wallet, his watch and cleaned out his pockets. When he came to, he had to beg for money to get bus fare back to his apartment. (At least his bleeding head helped that cause somewhat)
Thinking of renting a house in CR? A gringo friend of mine (four-year resident, fluent) rented a house near Heredia and paid his rent on time. Then one day the REAL owner showed up and booted him out! The phony landlord had somehow bribed a copy of the keys from a former tenant and knew the owner was away for long periods. My gringo friend has been scammed TWICE within two years by similar ploys even after he tried to assure legitimacy.
Buying a used auto is equally fraught with perils. And trying to bring anew one into the country
|can be a nightmare with customs.
One person I know of had a car in customs for 18 months before finally
Getting anything done in a timely fashion in a Latin country is near impossible. When dealing with the burro-cracia the endless delays and excuses serve ONE purpose — to encourage a bribe to "expedite" matters.
The same holds true at border crossings. You and your goods and your hired truck can be held up endlessly until you cough up a suitable bribe. It's implicit extortion. Anyone who has ever crossed from CR to Panama and back knows what a ridiculous procedure is required. Not only are you heavily searched leaving one country but AGAIN entering the next a few steps away! It's a charade and abusive. The "officials" wear no badges or uniforms. You never know if it's just some scammer or not — not that there is a great deal of difference.
I went to David, Panama in 1999 and there were not even any signs to follow when you get off the bus. Instead they set it up for entrapment. You CAN simply walk across the border (no gate, hard to tell where the border is) but down the road a few kms are police looking to pick off anyone whose papers are not stamped properly.
Zapote for incoming parcels is indeed a ridiculous disgrace. I was waiting for something where time was an important factor (God forbid in Latin America). I had to check with the main post office in downtown SJ everyday or so for weeks to find out if a parcel had come into Zapote. The delay I discovered was partly due to Zapote MAILING a notification to SJ rather than just using a fax or phone!!!
That cost almost a week. Then the stupid labyrinthian game of "now this line-up, then that line-up" starts in Zapote. It's so inefficient it's unbelievable. And dishonest. A parcel of documents can be assessed at one rate one day and another rate (several times higher) another day. It depends on who is doing it and their mood.
There are sewer gratings missing or damaged on many streets where you could fall a long way and break a lot of bones. And the stench and filth almost everywhere is just depressing and unbearable after a while. There is no pride and no responsibility.
Until they changed the immigration policy to be more open to other Latin countries (with major problems) there was not really a high rate of violent crime in CR, EXCEPT for the east coast around Limon (if you miss a bus connection and are stranded in Limon for the night stay off the streets). Theft galore yes, but not really violent crime. With the immigration change violent crime is a major growing problem that will erode tourism.
Need a phone installed? Good luck — maybe six months to two years. There is absolutely no need for such long wait times. A backlog of paying customers is the signal to hire more staff pronto. Or privatize another idiotic burro-cracia.
Want to return bottles to PALI? I recall the procedure and verifications and line-up games were more stringent than getting married in other countries! The goal always is "how can I make this the greatest obstacle course of line-ups and procedures possible?"
The first bank withdrawal using VISA that I made in CR (Alajuela) took me 1.5 hours in a variety of line-ups. Another gringo asked me what was my secret to getting thru so fast!!?? It took him 2.5 hours. Incredible and inexcusable. Yes you learn the faster methods, but there is still no excuse. Line-ups everywhere are reminiscent of the old USSR. And of course armed guards on payday at the bank door with rifles at the ready. Why? Because theft is "normal", just like living in furnished jail cells is "normal" because of the culture of theft.
Nice climate, fauna and flora though. And, unlike Mexico, the water really is drinkable in most places. But the culture of theft and dishonesty does not make up for it. Forget residency — there are better choices around the world. I wish Pacheco well in cleaning up corruption, but he faces a super-human and perhaps impossible task.
Generation-ex (George Exeter) formerly near Heredia
|Michael, Michael, Michael.
One wonders why you continue to live here.
I can only surmise that no matter where you live, or have lived, you have been bitter, and miserable. Reminds me of folks who used to come vacation in our old homeland of Florida year after year, only to bitch about the heat, the traffic, the prices, the service, the kids, the old folks, the medical care, the police, the sand, the mosquitoes, the natives. Go home already!
In response to
Hi. After reading the letters complaining about Costa Rica, and it's people, I wonder why those who this way stay here. Like I tell people, here in America, who complain. If you don't like it leave. No one makes you stay anywhere.
This is the Tico's country it is up to people like us to conform to their ways, not them to ours. No place is perfect. If your life is so miserable you have nothing better to do than complain, then you will be happy no place.
Impressions of Costa Rica
I just read your pro and con letters relative to Costa Rica. I live in small town America. I own property in Playa Matapalo and have planned retirement in July 2003.
Mr. Rochard has obviously had some very negative experiences. From what I have seen this is not an uncommon reaction for many estranjeros who come to Costa Rica without having realistic expectations.
Shoddy goods? In my experience shoddy goods are dumped all over the third world as is can be sold to folks with limited incomes and limited expectations. Incompetence? I have found a lot of Tico workmen to be able to perform admirable work with limited tools and support.
Thieves? Pickpockets? Undoubtedly true in urban areas. A lot like Kingston, Jamaica or the Saigon of my youth. But strangely, in all my travels, I have never, ever felt more comfortable relative to security then I do when I am in Playa Matapalo.
Folks are friendly and helpful. No one is pushy. Other expats require closer observation than the Ticos. But in San Jose? From what I have seen, it is a zoo. Medical care? Sorry, but if I have a serious medical issue, I would rather be at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta than at Hospital Mexico.
What it boils down to is, in my opinion, that you have to take the bad with the good and engineer your life in such a way as to avoid the obvious problems and enjoy the pluses that life in Costa Rica offers.
There is no Garden of Eden. But leave the rose colored glasses at home. There is no free lunch. Just my opinions.
Thomas C. Payne, D.V.M.
To all who live here
Let us face it, we are to very different cultures, who is to say what is better. Yes, I do get upset some times here in Costa Rica, but I sure do in the States as well. We have a saying in America: Love it or Leave It. You can say the same here in Costa Rica.
I am retired here, and I love it, I can live like a millionaire and not be one. Where can one go in the world, buy a house on a golf course for 150 thousand, taxes 26 dollars a year, and play all the golf you want for less than 70 dollars a month. Fly model airplanes down the street, or just decide to go to club, swim or just hang out. I have beautiful Costa Rican wife that is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Although I have the Dutch nationality, I can subscribe many of your "problems" with the Tico life style. However, nonetheless, I would not take it so hard or if you cannot stand it get out and go back to what you escaped. There must be a reason that you are here, right?
A lot of these problems can be solved by learning Spanish (Tico) and start adapting yourself to a beautiful Third world country, which is doing just a little better than other third world countries.
The use of a mirror can sometimes be something to learn:
Apart from the annoyance of the Tico chauffeur, there is also the gringo that just keeps on going in the left lane regardless of any other traffic.
Apart from the Tico who fills up the shelves in the supermarket and never knows where and if they have a certain product, there is the gringo at the cash deck holding up the whole line because he wants to pay in dollars and nobody understands him.
Apart from the Tico that is "watching" your car (they have to live as well) while another guard is stripping it, it is the gringo that pays way too much (just a couple of dollars) and so obliges others to pay the same.
Apart from the Tico who is trying to make a half decent life by making imitations, is not it the States (and Europe) that are selling their leftovers and second-class articles in these nice countries, like Costa Rica.
Apart from, and so forth:
Look at the bright side. In the past eight years that I'm living here you see changes, things tend to be a little bit better. Education, health care, institutions, woman's lib, financial institutions, roads, etc.
Patience is the best medicine and like you said check everything before and after, keep your eyes open and take a book with you in case you have to go to the ICE, National Registry or national bank.
By the way, if you want to try something else; there is Nicaragua (there you have nothing), Philippines (He Joe, shoe shine, cheap), Colombia (just hide your head when they start shooting), Sierra Leone (one out of three have HIV), and an awful lot of other countries that would be very, very happy with all the nice things we have here.
Frank D. van den Brink
Concerns of how and what is being awarded newsworthy....
I am an adventure tour and travel coordinator based in the US and have over the years brought people to different places around the globe with an intent to hopefully open their eyes to appreciate what valuable resources of nature and cultures the world has to offer.
My clients are from all over the world and they seek out authentic experiences and "pristine" environments. I am an adamant proponent for eco-sensitive activities and self-sustaining tourism.
Recently I have taken to reading A.M. Costa Rica mainly because it is somewhat difficult to get current event information and news on Costa Rica here in the United States.
While most of the articles and new stories are relevant and "newsworthy", I found a few of the "letters" and remarks in some news stories rather alarmist. While I have traveled and seen much on this planet, I find that situations are usually much less dramatic than what is portrayed in the news and other information sources.
I am concerned that more sensationalizing news of this sort will hinder tourism, thus less money and also preventing greater understanding of the needs of the indigenous people.
Costa Rica has a valuable place in the world as an example of good intent to preserve spectacular natural areas as well as a democratic system of governing. Although it is true there are problems of theft and moral issues like prostitution, you need to take into account what you have in relation to what the rest of the world has.
Keep the higher goals and visions and help fix the "problems." Be a shining example for the world to emulate. Use tourism as a financial tool to help develop a sound self-sustaining eco-tourism infrastructure and to educate those beyond your borders so that they may too help their local environments.
Plan for the generations ahead instead of just for today. Give the local Ticos something to take pride in and give them a means of creating something of value. Give praise where deserved and give help and compassion where needed.
You have the potential to make a powerful statement to the locals and to the world. Do not take this responsibility lighty, for each and every one of us has the choice to make this a better world and your choice of words can have a big impact on that choice.
Joel L Dulude
Dear Michael Rochard,
If I may quote you, for I feel the same way as far as your first sentence goes: "We read your letter and found it interesting, if inaccurate." I'll now follow the structure of your letter, even using many of your phrases to give a much more reasoned, accurate, and objective picture of Costa Rica than you seem able to do. Costa Rica is a wonderful place to live.
Bananas are very cheap and so is rice, as are a myriad of other wonderful fruits and vegetables. Trust me, if you have been living on the typical Western unhealthy, fat-laden diet, if you can learn to live on the available, incredibly tasty, fresh fruits and vegetables here, as well as fish and chicken, you'll probably live ten years longer.
As far as buying clothes goes, one has to buy good clothes and then they'll last a very long time. The up side, at least for many of us who don't have to go into an office every day, is that dressing here is very casual and one has to buy very, very few new clothes or shoes at all. This provides a great savings over one's typical clothes budget in North America.
Cost Rica imports much that is of low quality. The upside to this is that it is inexpensive. This is a poor country. People can’t, generally, afford expensive things. Yes, of course it's cheaper in the long run to buy good quality — as I mentioned above. But if you have very little money, you have to buy what you can afford. It wears out more quickly and you have to buy again, thus more expensive. This is part of the vicious cycle that is the tragedy of poverty.
In the two years I've lived here, as a legal resident, I've had literally dozens of things come in through customs. I don't spend a minute dealing with customs. I use a service that is rather inexpensive. Sometimes I pay a bit in duties, sometimes I pay more than I think I should, and very often I pay no duties at all. But it's never an exasperating experience because I don't have to deal with it. If you use your brains, you can avoid a great deal of frustration in learning to adapt to a culture different from yours.
No doubt that there is crime here and it's on the increase. And no doubt, as you say, it's nowhere on the level of the U.S.
You agree that one needs to watch one's wallet and anything else one puts down. Outstanding advice — indeed for anyone who lives in any country in the world.
However, in the two years I've lived here I have never had anything stolen at all, not a single colon. I'm careful and try to be smart. And I have no bars on my windows, no walls around my house, no razor wire, nothing. The only difference between the way I live here as far as security and safety is concerned and the way I lived in the U.S. is that in the U.S. I had an alarm system that I don't have here.
You're writing to Paul and you tell him his has rose-tinted eyes. I must say I'd love to see them. I've seen rose-tinted glasses, but never eyes.
When we moved here we found the first six months very difficult. It's always difficult to adapt to a new country. I've lived extended periods of time in three foreign countries, so I know this first hand. After we had been here for six months, however, we knew that we had made one of the best decisions of our lives when we decided to come here. So I would tell Paul, tough it out the first six months. You'll certainly be rewarded for doing so.
We've learned that customer service here leaves a lot to be desired. So, once again, we used our brains and were patient and have found now that we get service that is just as good as we got in the US, where, admittedly, customer service is becoming more and more of an oxymoron.
Having built two houses one of which is extremely large and complex, we were simply astounded at the high level of craftsmanship exhibited by out Costa Rican builders and workers. Rarely have I seen a group of people take so much pride in their work and be so eager to please.
One sees a great deal of trash on the streets here, cracked pavements, potholes, uncut and weedy public green areas. It would be so nice to have these things fixed and attractive. But, as I said, this is a poor country. Resources are scarce and hard decisions have to be made. Costa Rica opts for things that are more important for the quality of people's lives than their aesthetic surroundings, as important as these things are.
I know as many Ticos as I do foreigners. I find my Tico neighbors to be exceedingly friendly, polite, helpful, honest and, extremely hard working. I live, it is true, in the country, and the Ticos I know are almost all campesinos. I've never seen people work so hard in my life.
As far as financial honesty, goes, I have this story in answer to your "never lend a Tico money." I have a man work on my grounds 3 days a week. For the first year, he walked here the mornings he worked. One hour, rain or shine. In the afternoons, after 8 hard hours, he walked home, one and one half hours rather than one because he lives kilometers farther up the mountain than we. He never missed a day's work in that year.
After a year, he told me that he could buy a motorcycle for 600 dollars but didn't have the money. I told him I'd lend him the money. He insisted that the method of paying me back should be that I pay him for two days a week and he would continue working three until the loan was paid off. And that's what we did, for a while. He never missed a day's work during that period he was paying me off and never asked me if just one time he could be paid for all three days. After he had paid back two thirds of the loan, I forgave the rest.
I must agree that people drive poorly here. I could suggest a lot of reasons for that, but it wouldn't change things. However, having moved here from California, I'm glad to say that I don't see people killing others on the road with guns they have in their cars because of road rage. I'd much rather have a guy cut me off than blast me with his glock.
I agree that one needs to speak Spanish well in order to avoid difficulty. I know a great many North Americans who have been here many years and never learned to speak Spanish at all. I feel that they deserve every difficulty they run into that is caused by not speaking Spanish.
In the United State I three times saw t-shirts that read: "Welcome to the United States. Now speak English, Goddamn it!" Maybe the foreigners here should start wearing t-shirts like that one with Welcome to Costa Rica instead of the United States on them. Perhaps the Ticos will then learn English so the foreigners don't have difficulties.
People buy a nail at a time because they can't afford more. People buy cigarettes one or two at a time because they can't afford more.
You ask: "Where else have you been where you can buy a single cigarette? "When I was a child in the 1940's in the US and we were quite poor, my mother used to send me to the grocery store to buy her two or three cigarettes at a time. Yes, that's right, in the US poor people used to be able to buy them one, two or three at a time. Can't do that now in the U.S. as far as I know, so poor people there have no choice in the matter but to buy a full pack — about six bucks each in New York now, I understand.
As far as your statements go about our being hated because we have a lot of money, I don't believe a word of it. However, if it is true, I find it very understandable. It's eminently human to resent others' good fortune. That's why there's Schadenfreude. Of course they want our money here, why wouldn't they?
Costa Rica has one of the best educational systems in the developing world. In Central America, particularly, the advantages of Tico workers are appreciated by companies from all over the industrial world. But if I'm wrong, perhaps you'd like to do a good deed and warn off Intel and Proctor and Gambel to start with.
Perhaps literacy does not make an educated person but illiteracy certainly doesn't either. Would you rather have uneducated, in your sense of the word, people who can't read or write too? Would that help things here?
I find your statement that: "Students in the schools are taught by rote, in other words, to memorize information. They do not understand anything that they are taught nor do they have any problem solving or analytical ability and the general level of I.Q. in the whole country is staggeringly low. Not one Tico we have met in two years has an ounce of common sense," to be one of the most ill informed, bigoted, ill-though things I've read in a longtime.
However, I must admit, I might be wrong. Most of us can be wrong at any time. So why don't you write a letter to this paper and give us your sources for determining that the level of problem-solving and analytical ability and general level of I.Q. in the country is staggeringly low. I, for one, would love to read the studies on which these conclusions are based. I'd really be interested in reading about how a general population of an entire country could have a low general level of I.Q.
Wherever you go,
there you are!!
Sorry to read MICHAEL ROCHARD’S comments. Clearly, he needs to go somewhere else. He sounds like a typical North American.
But, I think he might get ulcers in many places in the world. I deduct this from what he writes about his shirts: HE DRYCLEANS THEM!!! One more time, in case you missed it: HE DRYCLEANS HIS SHIRTS.
Time to go back home, gringo. He's the kind of "ugly American" that compares anyplace in the world to the U.S. on the level of quality of services and goods. He thinks this is "insight" while it only exposes his "IQ and common sense" which he finds very low in Ticos.
If you don't have it, you can't see it.
If that paragraph about Ticos being unhealthy, many with diabetes and I quote: "the ones that can afford it eat the same food as us gringos, which is why there are many more Ticos in the markets than gringos" is proof of the writers “analytical ability” which he thinks is very low in Ticos, he made his point about himself.
STOP INSULTING YOUR HOST COUNTRY. PACK UP AND GO SOMWHERE ELSE. BUT REMEMBER, WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE.
Hey Mike, A smart guy like you should be able to find the airport.
I'll even throw in a couple of bucks to get your buns out of this country, permanently.
Michael Rochard's diatribe of slander, half-truths, opinions expressed as facts, and general verbal diarrhea (with mental constipation) is a disgrace.
He ought to go back to where he came from on the first jet. Should we pass the hat to help him go?
Costa Rica never claimed to be perfect, but it's good points far outweigh its bad ones, and if M. opened his eyes to see beyond his nose he would realize that. Did it ever occur to him that he might be the one who is out of step?
I've heard this so many times, I just have to say something. People (Mr. Rochard is only the latest) complain that crime is going up in Costa Rica, that you can't turn your back on your belongings or they will be gone, that if you leave your house for even a few hours, it will be burglarized, and so on.
And, we have seen Costa Rican homes that are beautiful, even luxurious, on the inside but look, literally, like dingy hulking fortresses or penal institutions on the outside with bars and barbed wire carefully secured.
This would seem to confirm the complaints about the grave dangers of life in Costa Rica. But these complaints are nearly always, and Mr. Rochard continues the tradition, prefaced by the offhand comment that, yeah, sure, it's nothing like the U.S.A., nothing THAT bad, but...Well, my question is, which is it?
My wife and I leave our home for weeks at a time and never give a second thought to it's being broken into. We have no alarm, certainly no iron grates over our windows and no barbed wire to secure the perimeter. I put things down at work, on the beach, at sporting events or on downtown (San Francisco) benches and never think about anyone making off with them.
Sometimes people have things snatched that way but it's a surprise, a disappointment, never expected. So if crime is so much worse in the U.S.A., which everyone seems agreed upon, why all the barricaded homes and why all the dire expectations, warnings to watch out, there are thieves and muggers everywhere in Costa Rica?
Like I said, which is it? Is Costa Rica "safe" or not? (And by the way, Mr. Rochard, if you think the Costa Rican educational system is "one of the worst in the world", baby, you gotta get out more.
And if you were a Tico in the USA writing a letter like yours and putting in your name and where you live, you would likely be visited by "patriotic" rock throwers expressing enlightened sentiments like "Love it or leave it!"
A rejoinder to
I write this letter in response to Mr. Rochard’s truthful yet premature diatribe against life in Costa Rica.
I might remind Mr. Rochard that no one is under lock and key to live here and unless you feel compelled to actively do something to exact change, no change will come.
I will, however, grant him leniency in certain points that he makes throughout the course of his — perhaps well-founded — banter: Crime has risen. This is usual is a “developing nation” as it plots its course toward accruement of capital (i.e. The Yellow Brick Road toward Capitalism that we travel down, Expats and Ticos alike, only to find that our true leaders are obscured by curtains.)
The concept of property here is vague and, at best, driven by need to procure material possessions solely as a dictum of social status. How many would-be residents have arrived here only to find this country of prison bars only to find the situation extremely daunting and not in the least hospitable nor “pura vida”?
It is contradictory, however, that such individuals in life for the “today” are so very interested in the status symbols of others, interested in such obvious ornaments of “tomorrow”.
But this is a country of contradictions. And that, Mr. Rochard, is exactly what makes living here so awfully interesting. Did you need to be reminded that this is not the land of 401K and Club Med?
Though bitterness you reveal a naiveté that must have been grossly present preceding your arrival here. It is with this in mind that I offer the holy trinity of my Costa Rican Survival Guide:
1. Learn Spanish: This is neither the U.S. nor a U.S. protectorate by any means. English is not the second language nor will it ever be. Get used to it. As a gringo here, I have always been deeply angered by my countrymen who speak English to Ticos here; those who have the unmitigated arrogance to assume that the world is English proficient and who are angered when they are misunderstood.
I quote, “Even with an interpreter it didn't help other than we knew where we had to go.” Friend, aside from confusing an interpreter with a tour guide, be aware that we’re the minority here! You don’t lose your identity upon learning another language, you gain freedom of expression.
2. Don’t play into the “Dumb Gringo” Stereotype: I see them everywhere, big lumbering oafs with wallets bigger than the skyrocketing numbers of illegitimate births here. You, sir, complain that there are no true Tico friends. I rabidly disagree. For a Tico to actually take advantage of you there must first be a perceived ignorance in he who will be “suckered”.
In light of this I offer a longstanding tenet of Western Philosophy: Know Thyself! If you make yourself available for a scam, scammed you will be. If you make it known that you have nothing to offer save your charm and charisma, you will find true friends; you will find some of the friendliest people that I’ve ever met. Ticos sacrifice to a fault, perhaps, but it is a worthy combatant of the dog-eat-dogism of most societies today.
3. Steer clear of the demanding tendency of the North American Desire for comfort. For example, don’t say this:
“Bananas are very cheap and so is rice, but, trust me, you won't last more than a week on the local diet. As to the fine shirt you bought, it will fall apart the second or third time you have it dry cleaned.”
I have lasted more than two weeks on that local diet that you so scorn. It is no one’s fault but your own that you might have been raised on corn-fed beef and sat at the table with your glass of water choked full of ice.
Your lack of self-limitation is no fault of mine or of any Tico. Furthermore, you must understand that for most people here it is difficult to afford dry cleaning. Perhaps you should question the quality of your shirts. Chances are they were made in a sweat shop here or abroad so they should be fairly easy to replace.
As I mentioned above, there are certain things in your letter that ring with truth. Education here is dismal and systematic—assembly line style-- at best. But at least it exists on a universal scale, for without existence, room for improvement is no room at all, must an eternal impossibility.
I fail to understand the driving situation here. Perhaps the “higher-ups” should consider cutting back on the importation of cars or imposing stricter emissions and inspection policies. Perhaps those in transportation should stop selling driver’s licenses as if they came in boxes of cereal. And rid the country of those rotundas!
“The Ticos are very unhealthy and have one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the world. The ones that can afford it eat the same groceries and foods as us gringos which is why there are many more Ticos in the markets than gringos. “
We gringos have one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. Touché. Consequently, because they emulate the wrong in our society does not mean that those who “follow the gringo” are somehow better or more educated. If anything, it reveals to me that they have the same proclivity towards laziness and comfort that we do. The world is so astonishingly and cynically similar.
It is this similarity coupled with the stark differences that make living worthwhile. It is what made Ambrose Bierce comment, “…in these countries, strange things happen. And that is exactly why I am going.”
That is why I came and is exactly why I remain: Fresh Air.
Ryan Daley, Los Yoses, San Pedro
Americans in Costa Rica
I lived in Costa Rica for six years and try to get back every two. I
would like to remind those who have left the U.S. to take up residency
there of the general opinion of foreigners here in the U.S.:
Now, how would those who wrote derogatory comments about Costa Rica like this said about them! When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I was amazed to find out that there was a private school for English speaking children. After I “grew up,” I realized that Americans do this no matter where they go and form enclaves. They have to have Americans teaching Americans.
And why has the colon devaluated from 96 colons to a US dollar in 1990, to 369 colons to a dollar presently? Could it be that the influx of phantom American wealth has aided in the devaluation and inflation. My last trip there, I saw people waiting in line after work to use ATM machines. The more people depend on credit cards, the more the mirrored reflection is that of a failing economy. In my mind, this is being caused by the Americans who live there.
The largest percentage, retirees who wouldn't be able to live so affluently on Social Security checks here. Are the Costa Ricans to be blamed because the U.S. can't take care of its elderly?
Costa Rica used to be the only Central American country with a middle class. I see that less and less with each visit.
And, as a former teacher and most recently, law enforcement officer, I suggest one look again at what relevancy reading has to do with crime, poverty, and drug abuse and then do some comparative statistical research!
If Americans living there left their own country because of existing social, financial and political problems they couldn't rectify in their own land, don’t create the same problems in your new surroundings. Take a look at some recent newspapers from the United States.
Mary Ellen Moberly
Reply to "Gringo Rains on Newcomer's Parade"
I would like to address the opinion that Mr. Michael Rochard wrote in the letters section entitled "Gringo Rains on Newcomer's Parade."
Costa Rica is a great place to visit and is a great place to live, but one must watch their back at all times, that is true. While there are wonderful places to see and the people are mostly all friendly, he does have a point in that they are all out for something; by that I mean anything they can get, be it a cut from a sale or a small fee for just about anything that may happen while they are present.
I don't know how long Mr. Rochard has lived in the country, but once you have figured out the way the Ticos operate, you shouldn't complain. If that is where you chose to live because of whatever reasons, deal with it, or go to a different place where the grass is greener.
The U.S. is a pretty cold country. People hardly ever talk because they are too busy working to pay the bills, and believe me, before you know it, life has come and gone here in the US and you are none the richer in either mind or possessions. Life has passed you by and most of us Americans have never even left their city of birth to see how the rest of the country much less the world lives.
Costa Ricans are peaceful, loving people. The problems that have occurred in the past 15 to 20 years or so stem from the neighbors that have crossed over from their country to seek a better life. Ask any Costa Rican, they will tell you, but at the same time, they are humanitarians and are for the most part proud of that.
The quality of workmanship is for the most part shoddy and one must always check the work before paying it is true, however, once one understands that they will fix it or not get paid, they will fix it.
As to the trash on the streets, you should have seen it 30 years ago! It was deplorable! At least in the last 10 years they have cleaned up the general San Jose area 100 percent. They have installed trashcans on most every other corner downtown, which are used probably half of the time, which is a great improvement from years past.
Yes, the people have no common sense, but those that do capitulate on that. I think it is fascinating to watch the owners of stores, which sell singles of just about everything. These same owners that started 20 or 30 years ago are very rich now. The same applies with the storeowners of those pastry and ice cream shops that occur on virtually every corner.
I really love the Costa Rican way of life because every day is a different day and one never really can predict the next. In the States, every day is pretty much predictable and rut-like. The next time you are downtown or at the Soda Tapia or at the grocery store take a moment to observe the people and try to see what they are doing and how they react to others; maybe you will notice something you haven't noticed before whatever it may be.
Go to the Central Market and buy a vegetable, talk to the vendor ask him how he is and how business is going, don't be afraid, he is a human too, and he has the same issues to deal with as you do except maybe on a smaller scale.
To enjoy Costa Rica is to be a person who can go with the flow relax and enjoy each day as it unfolds. Because at the end of the day when you are older, or even five years from now if you have not enjoyed your "life", then you have not really "lived,” you have just existed.
I am an American always have been. I lived in Costa Rica for five years from 1969 to 1974 and I can safely say it did change my life.
Mr. Rochard, Costa Rica WILL change your life too.
Life in Costa Rica
Dear A.M. Costa Rica,
On reading Mr. Craig's letter in response to Paul DesRochers' article in your October 7, 2002 edition, I am reminded of the old saying that "one man's meat is another man's poison"
Whilst I can agree that Mr. DesRochers has a very optimistic and, perhaps in some aspects, a slightly unrealistic view of the totality of life in Costa Rica, he is at least looking forward to the "meat".
On the other hand, it seems to me that Mr. Craig has serious indigestion, if not poison in his view.
Perhaps he might be happier elsewhere. He certainly is not a good ambassador for your beautiful country.
A dose of genuine Pura Vida might help purge him of his ailment.
Graham F. Gallais
|What we published this week:||Monday||Tuesday||Wednesday||Thursday||Friday||Earlier|