Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Behind The Bars, The OTHER Costa Rica...A Yenta's View

Part four of our ongoing saga about our move to lliving in Costa Rica...

Read part one HERE ...How Do We Live Our Lives? With Abandon and Lotsa Moxie!

Read part two HERE ...Wecome To Living In Costa Rica ...Your Homecoming Includes A Shakedown At Customs!

Read part three HERE ...We Arrive, We Collapse, We Move In To Paradise...Right?

Having left off in our saga with just moving in to our new house, I know by now after reading about our adventures you must be wondering what the heck kind of jewelry were we dragging around with us. Well, there was mine, there was Bryana's, there was some of mom's and some of my grandmother's estate and then there was some from Aunt Lily's estate and there was our stock that we had for sale. In our ignorance of local customs we schlepped it all down there with us never once thinking about how we would get it back up to our customers, mostly in the US, or how we would keep it safe while living there.

We needed to get our jewelry to a safe place while we settled in. Costa Rica is a sizzling irony of opposites and the idea of safety for one's belongings, not being able to buy homeowners or renters insurance, not being able to trust your household help or your drivers, the landlord, your freinds or anyone else for that matter was/is an anomoly. Paranoia was the word of the day!

It may look like paradise with palm trees swaying gently in the wind, beautiful white or black sand beaches, awe inspiring live volcanoes, chickees in bikinis and hot young men with muscles flexed. In truth Costa Rica is anything but paradise. It seeths just under the surface with anger and supression, over crowded families and people who rip each other off on a daily basis because they don't know any better. Heavy metal bars cover all windows and doors on houses, stores, high rise buildings. Ten foot high walls surround houses and many are in compounds with armed gaurds hired by the wealthy standing in front of homes while children play on the street. Theft and pickpocketing is not only the national passtime but the easiest job to get in a country where most are agonizingly poor and available work pays next to nothing per hour. We had a full time maid who came in 5 days a week for $60 a WEEK. We wanted to put her in one of our boxes and bring her back here when we returned but we couldn't figure out how to get enough food and water in with her for the trip. We still miss her every day and our house has dust bunnies and fur tumbleweeds rolling and reeling across the floors in unbridled chaos.

We were so lucky having our Canadian expats there to help us as well as a few friendly Ticos before we even arrived. They got the place clean and loaned us some furniture while we awaited the arrival of our container with the remains of our belongings. So we had a garden table and chairs two beds, a batch of mismatched but very usable kitchen gear, plates, silverware and ten thousands pounds of jewelry! What else could two girls ask for except maybe some new shoes!

First thing we learned when we arrived is NOT to ever wear jewelry in Costa Rica, or at least nothing large, bright or fancy and forget wearing gold. Never, never, never! Why? Because you are a target when you do. Either it might be ripped off your body as you walk about or you might be followed home and targetted in a home invasion! Ahhhh paradise. :-(

Hearing this right up front we had to get our goodies to a good hiding place and in a safe until we could figure out how to do it ourselves. This is not an absolute and don't get me wrong, theft doesn't happen to everyone. But caution and common sense are the words of the day and we needed to learn that quickly.

There's an agency in San Jose run by expats for expats to help them get resettled and handle all kinds of affairs that crop up when moving to a new and very foreign country. We had previously met the chief boss man on a former trip down and arranged to put some of our valuables in the safe at the agency. Getting there from our house which was almost an hour away was the trick because we had no idea where it was, how to get there, how to tell the taxi where it was and most importantly getting there without getting ripped off. But we did remember the name of the hotel we stayed at from one of our visits and it was about half a mile from the agency, so voila! We got the number of a taxi and got a ride to the hotel. It cost way too much but then again, we were the greenest of gringas and were paying the price for no Spanish.

In my brilliant logic I decided that our gobs of goodies would be safer if we carried them around in plastic grocery store bags rather than in brand new fancy schmancy knap sacks. Each of us had two large bags, one for each hand and after mustering our courage headed out from the hotel to the agency. We looked like two old yentas schlepping through the shtettle at gunpoint with our purses slung over our necks and a large, overstuffed grocery bag in each hand and our faces laced with imagined terror. The only thing that was missing was the scarf on our heads! We were half running from the hotel to this place KNOWING that everyone on the street MUST KNOW were were carrying enough junk in those bags to build them all new houses and scared shitless that we were just about to be rolled. We nearly ran in the door screaming from such a large overdose of adrenaline and were wild eyed and cranked up running on all eight pistons when we arrived.

Ticos are very laid back, matter-of-fact people who tend to take things as they come. That was the first day I was told, "tranquilo, tranquilo" by everyone we met. In other words, "chill out and calm down!" The more they told me to be tranquilo the more agitated I got. What had I gotten myself into?

We had to sit there forever waiting for the chief boss man to see us because when we got there he was out to lunch and when he returned he had a meeting that lasted until god went to his siesta that afternoon. Didn't they know we had dynomite with lit fuses in our bags for crying out loud?!

FINALLY! It was our turn. He didn't see the reason for our anxiety. He's been living there too long. He's 'one of them' now. I was talking so fast I forgot to breath and having hot flashes from the heat and humidity that kept me swimming in a puddle of middle aged moisture and my own personal rain forest. All I wanted to do was take off my clothes and stick my head in the freezer and there was no freezer near by.

Into the safe it all went, I was so relieved I nearly cried. And to this day I cannot fathom what got into my head that I would convince myself to leave thousands and thousands of dollars of jewelry in a strange man's safe in an agency run by foreigners who must know what I was carrying, in a city I had only be in only for 36 hours and why I was willing to walk away from all of it and somehow know it was safe. But the mind plays tricks for survival and I had first tricked myself into being terrorized and then into being sane... or explode.

We went home with ANOTHER taxista who was absolutely sure that where we now lived was indeed via a route through Nicaragua and Guatemala. "It's only another few minutes" two hours and dozens of dollars later. We had landed in paradise and boy were we in for it over the next two years. Pura Vida!

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