Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

To Protect and Serve

January 11, 2011

This is a letter to the editor in La Nación, Costa Rica’s only respectable daily newspaper. First, the verbatim letter published in Spanish. My translation follows.

¿Quién podrá protegernos?

El 1.° de enero fue una madrugada preocupante en Barrio Lourdes de Pérez Zeledón. Unos 20 muchachos problemáticos empezaron apedrear varios locales y casas. Una patrulla de la Fuerza Publica de Pérez Zeledón llegó 30 minutos más tarde y ante la pregunta de qué pensaban hacer, angustiados de ver como destruían parte de nuestra propiedad, el oficial índicó: “¿qué quiere, que nos maten?” y “eso no es problema de nosotros”. ¿Dónde estaban los refuerzos? ¿Dónde está la seguridad? ¡Qué clase de respuesta! Decepción total.

Who can protect us?
January 1st was a worrisome morning in Barrio Lourdes in Pérez Zeledón [city in southern CR]. Around 20 problematic boys started throwing rocks at stores and houses. A police patrol car from Pérez Zeledón showed up 30 minutes later and, when asked what they were going to do about it, as we were anguished to see how they were destroying part of our property, the officer said: “What do you want, for them to kill us?” and “This isn’t our problem.” Where was the backup? Where is the security? What a response! A total disappointment.

This is indicative of my experience with the police, as well. I’ve called to report a robbery, and the officer on the line said, “Do you see the robber?” I responded negatively. “Well, there’s nothing we can do, then.” And he hung up.

Another time I called to report a man threatening me with a monkey wrench at my front door, trying to get in. “Sorry, but we’re out of gas,” the officer said.

Once I was in a dance club and a fight broke out in the street, and one man pounded another’s head into the curb. The cops stood around with the rest of us, watching. I asked them why wouldn’t they do something, to which they responded, “Those guys are crazy, man. I’m not getting in there.”

I have many, many anecdotes along these lines, but I have to work now. So you’ll have to ask me in person.


A Great Sunday

December 19, 2010

I made the difficult choice of getting up before noon today, and thus rewarded myself with a trip to the farmers market. Every weekend in towns all across Costa Rica, local farmers set up tables under tarps to exhibit their wares. It’s always a beautiful affair, a smorgasbord of bright fruits and fresh vegetables. And it’s cheap. I went with just over $6, and I spent every last cent, but not before eating a delicious gallo pinto with eggs, fresh bread and pineapple juice; buying four lovely tomatoes; a head of broccoli; onions to hang on my wall; four sweet peppers; and some celery. Oh, and a large bag of strawberries.

With my last 400 colones, I bought the Sunday edition of La Nacion, and now I’m at home, where it’s 75 and sunny, about to do some gardening and lounging  before the big soccer game tonight: Heredia vs. La Liga. I don’t care who wins, as long as it’s not La Liga. Porque La Doce me cae mal.

Walking Around Chepe (con disculpas a Pablo Neruda)

December 16, 2010

Sucede que me canso de ser tico.

Sucece que entro en las pulperías y en los chinamos

machito, forestero impermeable a la lluvia, como un yiguirro de fieltro

navegando sin rótulos en calles de lágrimas y hollín.


El olor de las cloacas me hace llorar a gritos.

Sólo quiero un descanso de birras o de chemas,

sólo quiero no ver chonetes ni ventas callejeras,

ni pequeñas zonas verdes, ni viejas con frenillos, ni accesos limitados.


Sucede que me canso de vigilar mi salveque y mi espalda

y mi cámara y mi cédula.

Sucede que me canso de ser tico.


Sin embargo sería delicioso

asustar a un guachimán con un gallo pinto

o dar muerte a un funcionario público con un pichazo a la jupa.

Sería bello

ir por las calles con un machete verde

y dando gritos de Pura Vida hasta morir de miedo.


No quiero seguir siendo sombra turística de mentiras

vacilando, quebrado, fuera de lugar, sin dónde dormir,

absorbiendo las pachucadas y abrumado por el volumen de todos los días.


No quiero pasar más desgracias.

No quiero continuar sin rumbo y de picada,

de dólar andante, de burdel de gringos

ateridos, muriéndome de pena ajena.


Por eso el día lunes se regocija como un viernes de feriado

cuando me ve llegar con mi cara de perdido

y aúlla en su trancurso como una corrida de toros,

y da pasos encima de la basura caliente hacia la noche.


Y me empuja a ciertos búnkeres, a ciertas casas enrrejadas,

a ventas de tiliches donde el pollo en salsa sale por la ventana,

a ciertas zapaterías con vendedores gritones,

a calles espantosas con huecos y grietas.


Hay pájaros que no vuelan y horribles ladrones

viéndome desde las puertas de negocios donde no quiero entrar,

hay monopolios estatales sin sentido,

hay tombos muertos

que debieron haber muerto de vergüenza y espanto,

hay paraguas inservibles de dos mil pesos, y taxistas, y guaro.

Yo paseo con prisa, enjachando a todos, con zapatos mojados,

con furia, con olvido,

paso, cruzo lotes baldíos y tiendas de ropa íntima:

lencería colombiana, paños baratos colgadas desde las tapias, y lloro:

lentas lágrimas sucias.

Letters to the Editor

February 19, 2010

Every day, I enjoy reading the opinion pages of La Nacion, Costa Rica’s only semi-respectable daily newspaper. And every day, the letters to the editor space is full of people complaining about bad service/experiences. Here are a couple I selected and translated from a few days back, because they are illustrative as to how the police and telephone monopoly work here.

In front of the Solon Nunez Frutos Clinic in downtown Hatillo there is a stoplight at a pedestrian crossing which drivers always speed through, even if the light is red. I myself have nearly been run over several times. On February 7th I was crossing with my husband and five-month-old. The light was red, and two motorcycles ran it, one of which nearly hit me. I shared my concern with the police and asked that they send an officer to observe the stoplight behavior for just 20 minutes. What they told me was to file a complaint with the Transit Police, then that it would be better to talk to the other police station in Hatillos central plaza. A few minutes later they told me not to file a complaint with the Transit Police, because they don’t do anything. I explained that even police officers run the red light, in the middle of people crossing, and he told me that the same thing happens at all the stoplights, that nothing can be done. Then, to my surprise, he asked me for the license plate numbers of all the vehicles and motorcycles that I had seen run the red light. It seems incredible, but that’s what he asked me. I felt indignant and left the police station without even an intention of wanting to help.

Cindy Dayana Madrigal Jara

San José

Here’s another one.

My telephone, number 2232-4624, has been dead since February 5th. I reported it to 119 [the phone company’s repair line] on the 6th. The recording told me that it would be repaired in 24 hours. I reported it again the 8th. Again, the recording told me that it would be repaired in 24 hours. I reported it again the 10th. This time the recording told me that they had my report since the 8th and promised repair in 14 hours. Today, the 12th, it doesn’t work. When will they fix it?

Fernando Montero González

San José

Thoughts on Antigua, Guatemala

February 5, 2010

Hey, this will likely be my last post on this site regarding Guatemala, and then I’ll be back to more in-depth Rot posts. In the meantime, check it out.

Another Post on CR Traveler

February 1, 2010

Go here to check out my thoughts on the vigilante religious groups roaming the streets of San Pedro de la Laguna, Guatemala, imparting justice and the word of the lord.

I´ve been riding the chicken bus

January 30, 2010

Here´s a blog entry I did here for Costa Rica Traveler Magazine on my bus rides through Guatemala this week. Keep looking for more updates.

I Went to the Bank With My Coins

January 21, 2010

Going to the bank seldom is a happily anticipated chore, but dealing with financial institutions in Costa Rica push the limits of the human existence. Long llnes, byzantine procedures and a distinctly Latin affinity for paperwork and clunky stamps form the backdrop. My foray into Citibank yesterday was no different, except that I made a lot of enemies. I brought in my coins.

There were precisely 38 people in line when I went through the door, on a Wednesday, at 2pm. Children scampered about, folding brochures titled “Withdrawing You Cash” and “Loan Options” into paper airplanes, as we adults waited nearly motionless in the curved queue, shuffling one step forward about every 69.5 seconds. I know this to be true, because it took me exactly 44 minutes to reach the counter. The two open windows, looking distant and isolated amid the ten available teller spaces, stamped and thudded papers, counted bills, tapped numbers into their computers. Up until this point, I had yet to make any enemies.

The coins. I set down my impressive collection of coins. “Hello,” I told the teller. “I have 114,975 to deposit, all in these coins. I assume you have a machine that will cont them?” I knew that these machines did not exist, and even if they did, they wouldn’t work because there are several sizes, metal types and weights for coins of the same  denomination.”Coins,” said the dejected cashier. “We must count coins by hand.”

The other teller closed up shop.

“OK,” I suggested, “how about this: I have already counted the cons, as well as separated them by denomination, each in a separate bag. Can you count them later, when the line (still 28 people long, all waiting for me and only me to complete my deposit) has died down?”

“No, they must be counted by hand, at the moment of the deposit.” She wasn’t smiling, and the crowd behind me began to grumble.

And so she poured out my five-colon coins on the counter and began: “cinco, diez, quince, veinte, veinticinco…”

I turned around and faced the crowd. Should I make an announcement? Apologize publicy? Unleash a scathing criticism of the banking practices to a captive audience? In the end, I chose an embarrassed shrug, and remained with my back to them the rest of the time.

On to the ten-colon coins: diez, veinte, treinta, cuarenta…

Hundreds of coins of twenty, twenty-five, fifty, one-hundred, five-hundred.

The total: 114,975 colones.

Deposit made, sign, stamp, clunk. “Watch out,” the teller told me as I handed back a triplicate form that said that I had deposited 114,975 colones. “The people are mad. It’s almost been an hour.”

When I turned around, I think there were 114,975 people waiting in line. It stretched out the door. Then the alarm went off, and the guards couldn’t figure out the code.

This was fortuitous, as the angry mob had another evil to discuss, and I slipped into the parking lot, into the Lesbo Rider and made my way back home.

The Monetary Dregs of My Hobo Existance

January 16, 2010

When I arrive home for the evening, I toss my spare change into a jar on my counter. When that jar gets full, I hide it and begin to fill another one. The idea is to have a reserve of metal currency that, in a pinch, will temporarily fill the void. Today that void has begun.

I have not been paid since October 15th. My business is floundering, and even though there are mildly positive prospects on the horizon, I can’t hold out much longer. My other freelance jobs have dried up. Needless to day, the bank account is dwindling. Which is why I spent the last two hours sorting and counting coins.

Why do all that manually, you say, when at the bank they have automatic coin counters? Well, I say, in your land of 24-hour electricity and cheerful waitresses perhaps you have such technological advances. But we’re talking about Costa Rica, which just imported their first Blackberrys (even though the 3G network doesn’t work yet). And yes, they do have coin sorters: they call them bank tellers. Since many coins of the same denomination are different sizes and weights, the machines don’t work too well. So I spent my afternoon counting greasy coins in hopes of making it through the week.

The result:

  • 114,975 Costa Rican colones
  • 2 Euros
  • 3.22 US dollars
  • 3 Nicaraguan cordobas
  • 10 Mexican pesos
  • .56 Panamanian balboas

Translation: I now have around $218 in cash money to keep this monkey fed. It’s all sorted out on my kitchen table, in neat bags and jars and with slips of paper detailing the amount inside, ready for the teller to verify by hand my counting when I go to the bank on Monday. My hope is that my newly counted fortune isn’t stolen in the meantime.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

January 13, 2010

There’s a large government building near my office. Today I walked past and found workers sprucing the place up with some deep-beige-colored paint all over the four-story edifice. Much to my surprise (?), however when I walked to the front of the building, which had already been painted, I saw another worker filling in cracks along the facade with a cream-colored substance. So, the newly painted building is riddled with crack-shaped, off-colored accents. Which begs the question: Why didn’t they fill in the cracks before starting to paint?