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My Minor Brushes With Crime in 30 Years Living in Costa Rica

Maybe I have been lucky or maybe I have been smart, but in over 30 years of living in Costa Rica, the worst thing that has ever happened to me in terms of crime is having my bicycle stolen. Twice. Both times I broke one of the cardinal rules of crime victim prevention here.

I left my bicycle outside, in plain sight, and not chained to anything. If it is light enough to steal and run with, it can not be left unattended in any area that is accessible to the fast and agile criminal element.

While I have been fortunate in that respect, I have not been immune. I was once assaulted, struck on the side of the head with a rock-hard pillow while walking down the street, minding my own business. This was a long time ago, back in the times of 24-hour bars, such as the Montecarlo in downtown San Jose, which advertised a daily happy hour from 6 to 10.

That was 6 to 10 am, not pm. I had spent the night in a hostel in Barrio Mexico and was walking with many other pedestrians amidst the morning rush toward the downtown area. On the way, there was a two-block area of bars and red-light establishments. Hookers, addicts, drunks and hustlers wandered these streets. As I walked, I could see over the heads of those in front of me, and I noticed a woman, possibly Indigenous, with a crazed gleam in her eye.

She stood in the street and stared right at me, never took her eyes away as I neared. Just as I was walking past, I noticed two things from the corner of my eye: She had only one arm, and that arm was clutching a hard square pillow that she suddenly swung at me, connecting firmly with the side of my head. Street people laughed, while a woman walking behind me inquired as to my health.

I was stunned but kept walking, wondering what the hell had just happened, and why this street person had singled me out from 25 yards away. Maybe I looked like some gringo from her past who had done her wrong; or maybe she was just crazy.

Or maybe I look like an easy mark. One Friday afternoon I was hurrying on foot in downtown San Jose on my way to a government office before it closed, to get some paperwork I needed to fly out the next morning, when two young women stopped in front of me and made their moves. One said Hola Papi and tried to embrace me, while the other went for my pocket. I pushed them aside, literally, and said ‘No soy tonto’, or something similar.

I could also count the four times I have been bitten by dogs here: twice while on my bicycle, once on foot, and once, in the office of a 5-star hotel in Manuel Antonio. The last one merits an explanation. I managed a tour company and this hotel sent clients on our tour, collected in full, then I went by once a month to pick up a check for what was owed.

On this occasion, I was met by the classic 1-kilo, growling, snarling, leg-humping rat-dog, that I later learned belonged to the GM of the hotel. I wore a pair of beach sandals, and as I was leaving with the check, the dog bit me on the back of my ankle.

When I got to my car, I noticed that it had drawn blood. I called, demanding to speak to the general manager. When I got him on the phone, he did not even apologize, simply said that the dog had all its shots and I would be fine.

And that is the extent of my “victimhood” in Costa Rica. Lay low, keep a cool head, and don’t be ostentatious is a mantra I have lived by here, and it has always worked well for me. And also, don’t leave your bicycle out overnight if it is not securely locked and chained.

Pura Vida!

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