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The Wild World of Expats in Costa Rica

As an expat in Costa Rica, I’ve come across some real characters that make me shake my head and laugh. There’s the hippie chick who kisses her menagerie of animals and boyfriends with equal passion, oblivious to the ringworm taking over her leg. The paranoid guy who sees CIA agents in every flipflop-wearing gringo he meets.

And my favorite – the raging alcoholic convinced he’s going to expose Costa Rica’s dark underbelly to the world, if only he can stop his coke-scarred nose from bleeding long enough. My fellow expats down here are a weird and wacky bunch, myself included. But that’s part of the charm of life in pura vida.

Our quirks and dysfunctions bloom freely under the tropical sun. So, join me for a glimpse into the eccentric lives of expats like myself trying to reinvent ourselves, for better or worse, in Costa Rica.

Just don’t believe everything we say – our imagined backstories are as likely to be fiction as fact!

She loves all creatures great and small

You see her driving down the bumpy, unpaved rural road, hair flying, three or four dogs jammed in the back seat of her jeep. She has just departed her finca, leaving behind eight cats, four other dogs, two goats, a horse, and a parrot that squawks and says, “I’m a good girl, I’m a good girl,” all day long. She offers you a ride to town, you accept.

She is anxious to show you her latest wound: Her parrot freaked and took a small chunk out of her shoulder. You recall previous wounds, a cracked elbow caused by a fall from her horse, a puncture wound on her left thigh from when her billy goat gored her. But, as always, she smiles and laughs when recounting the events leading up to the parrot attack.

You inquire about her latest boyfriend. She has dumped Raul for Mauricio, who she is thinking of putting aside for Sergio. All her boyfriends are younger than her two adult sons who live in the States.

And she tells everyone she meets that very fact. If you know her well enough, she will even divulge spicier aspects of her life, telling me, for example, that what drew her to Sergio is that, “he has the hottest mouth I ever kissed.” You change the subject to fungus, she shows you her latest ringworm growth, along her outer right calf.

She refuses to go to the pharmacy and is treating herself with a paste made of herbs and clay. She smiles while discussing skin irritations as well. In fact, she smiles so much that even people who know and like her occasionally think, “She’s either on medication or needs to be. No one can be that happy all the time can they?”

She’s been here for ten years and she wouldn’t live anywhere else. On average, she says “Pura Vida” twenty-one times a day. When you last see her on a downtown street, she is planting a kiss on the mouth of Raul (Or is it Sergio?), before stepping around him to place another kiss on the mouth of her favorite street dog.

Minister of Research and Paranoia

According to this guy, one in three Americans here are in some way connected with the CIA. He’ll point out the most unlikely candidate imaginable and say, “He’s the CIA, No doubt about it.” That old hippie you’ve known for years who lives a self-sufficient lifestyle on a distant mountain top, the middle-aged pensionada who walks her little dogs down the street each day, that crazy guy who plays the bagpipes and once broke his leg trying to tube ride Class 4 rapids while tripping on mushrooms…he claims they’re all CIA. It’s part of his general theory, which is that almost every expat down here has a cover story.

“Everybody that comes here lies,” he tells you. “Everybody’s running from one thing or another up north. So they come here, reinvent themselves, add little embellishments about their make believe pasts, and its all okay because the people they’re sharing their fictions with are playing the very same game.”

He looks about, eyes darting, as if searching for a hidden microphone before continuing. “One of the great things about the internet is that it helps expose the walking frauds that make up so much of the English-speaking population here. You tell me you’ve done this or that in your past, I go straight online, plug all the data into all the search engines, and inside half an hour I know if you’re lying to me. So don’t ever try to bullshit me.”

The Angriest Expat

He collars you in a downtown bar and starts right in: “I’ve had it here. This country is nothing but parasites. They see a gringo and think, ‘Here comes the money. Here comes another sucker to take advantage of.’ Its like, ‘What can we steal from the guy?’ Nothing but thieves and whores. The hell with this place. I’m outta here.” (He finishes his drink, goes to the rest room, returns a few minutes later, nose running freely.) “Yeah man, I can’t wait to get the hell out.

Back to the USA. Where things actually function. The hell with this part of the world. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, you can have them all. They’re all the same: Just a bunch of lazy childish people looking to get whatever they can without having to work for it. Total corruption. Puro chorizo. ‘Chorizo Rico’, that’s what CR really stands for. I don’t know how you can take this any longer. I know I can’t. That’s why I’m outta here, adios amigos, baby!” (He finishes his drink, goes to the rest room, returns a few minutes later, nose running freely.) “I tell you what I’m gonna do before I leave.

Before I leave, I’m going to expose this place for what it is. This country will not know what hit it when I’m finished. I’ve got connections here. I’m gonna bring La Nacion, Teletica, CNN, Fox,The New York Times, all the media, I’m gonna bring them here and we’re gonna blow the lid right off this place. We’re gonna blow this place away with nothing but the truth, and the world will know the truth here when it all goes down. You laugh at me, go ahead and laugh.

You and the other gringos who smile and shrug and suck up to the locals are gonna get hit by the fallout of the bombs I’ll be dropping. I’m telling you now the shit will soon be flying and I’ll be laughing at all of you from back in the states when it hits.” (He finishes his drink, goes to the rest room, returns a few minutes later, nose running freely.) “One more thing…(At this moment he notices that what runs freely from his nose has turned red. Blood runs down his chin and drips onto the bar top. He lets go with an unearthly scream.) “Aiigghhh!! You see? You see for yourself what this country has done to me!”

Note: Any resemblance between the characters depicted in these thumbnail sketches and actual people living or dead may or may not be in your imagination.

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