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Costa Rica Expat Life: The Story of Pancho

When looking at a map of the Americas, this part of the world looks like a bungee cord holding up South America. Picture Costa Rica as a bungee cord in mid-bounce. Most of us have learned to navigate the sudden plunges and breathless highs of life here without it affecting our sanity. But for others, the ride can have unpredictable side-effects.

Take my old friend Pancho. Like me, he came here from the states in pre-internet days and immersed himself in the Tico culture. He Hispanicized his first name, learned passable Spanish, got married to a Tica, had a kid, built a house, got religion, got divorced and came out of it a wholly different person from the innocent young man who had arrived here years earlier. If on the surface he had not changed much, psychically he was a beaten and bruised hombre.

The religion he had ‘gotten’ was not the staid, somber Catholic one; no, his wife had taken him to her Evangelical church where they banged on guitars and drums and proclaimed their beliefs at full volume. I would occasionally run into him after he had attended one of the services and he always looked dazed. I could not tell if he was at one with the holy spirit, or just gobsmacked after having it shoved at him for two hours at full on, Spinal Tap, these-go-to-11 volume.

A few years after the split up he was back in town, behind the wheel of a battered Range Rover, bound for a ‘tour’ of Costa Rica. The ‘tour’ he had planned revolved around the dented left rear hubcap of the Range Rover that he swore, when the angle and lighting was right, bore an image of the Virgin Mary. “People will pay good money to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a dented hubcap,” he assured me. “God-fearing Latinos are always on the lookout for the latest Our Lady of Fatima“.

This hubcap is gold, I had studied the hubcap at length, from all angles and at various hours of the day, straight and sober, unstraight and unsober, but the alleged vision never materialized. There was one occasion when I caught a fleeting glimpse of an image that strikingly resembled Moe of the Three Stooges, but it turned out I was staring at the hubcap of a different Range Rover.

My last sighting of Pancho was of him behind the wheel of the Virgin Mary Express, heading north on the highway toward San Jose, plumes of dark diesel smoke streaming from the tailpipe.

Fast forward to a year ago. After much time away, Pancho reappeared on the scene. When I asked him how his ‘tour’ had gone, all he said was that it had lasted as far as the San Jose area, where within an hour of his arrival the sacred hubcap had disappeared, along with the rest of his car, when he left it parked with the engine running while he went in search of prospective hubcap believers. But that was all in the distant past.

Pancho was a man of the present. He wanted to talk of his new interest, which was the You Tube channel he was in the process of creating. “That website is a bank vault, you know,” he told me. I wasn’t so sure.

If anything, YouTube seemed to be the validation of Andy Warhol’s long-ago pronouncement that in the future everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. Ephemeral fame was the norm. Anyone could post a video about anything there, regardless of content, meaning or quality. It was more like a huge internet video flea market than a bank vault.

Pancho assured me that there was money to be made once a viewing base was built up. He invited me to come visit him in the following week to show me first-hand how his idea would become golden reality.

The next week, I spotted Pancho riding a tricked-out mountain bike down the main street of Quepos. On his head was an elaborate helmet with a go pro mounted above the visor. As he passed, I heard him talking into an unseen microphone. “I am now approaching the mercado central and bus station of Quepos,” he intoned. I walked quickly toward the bus station where I watched from a distance as Pancho attempted to interview locals.

He had removed the helmet Cam from his head and was aiming it at himself as he spoke. Then he rotated it and pointed it toward the people milling about. People mugged at the camera or stared or laughed or moved quickly away any time Pancho approached. Eventually he got back on his bike and rode away.

A few days later I caught up with Pancho in his 7000 colon per night hotbox of a cabina. He paced the floor and spoke of hits and subscribers and the limitlessness of cyberspace and the endless stream of money that would be flowing his way once his videos began circulating. “I’m calling it Costa Rica Bikecam,” he said. “I’ve already got it trademarked.”

He invited me to see some of his videos. For the next hour I strained to keep an interested look on my face as I watched a series of shaky, nausea-inducing mini cam shots, overlaid with Pancho’s incomprehensible monologue. It was like watching The Blair Witch Project minus the fright. There were shots taken in town, on the beach, in the palm fields.

The lighting and sound quality varied wildly from shot to shot and Pancho had an annoying habit of trying to instantly translate every word spoken by his various Tico subjects. He shouted over them, mistranslating words and phrases.

Pancho finally, mercifully switched it off and looked at me expectantly. “One word,” he urged, “Give me your best one-word summary of what you just watched.” A lot of words came quickly to mind: Unwatchable. Incomprehensible. Lousy. Sucks. Really. Bad. I racked my brain for something positive to say. “One word wouldn’t do it justice,” I said.

At that moment I was thinking of the time my son, then in junior high school in the US, informed me that he and some friends had formed a rock band. When I asked him what songs they did he told me they couldn’t yet play any songs, but they had a really good name for the band. “Trademark,” I finally said. “Costa Rica Bikecam. Great name. Good thing you got that trademarked”.

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