When I first moved to Costa Rica (they told me it was the “Switzerland of Latin America”) I was surprised to find that everyone lived behind razor wire fences, gates and iron doors. Every window had bars. Every door had deadbolts.
I rented a small townhouse in a middle class neighborhood. I had virtually no furniture, except for a cheap (cheap!) sofa, a mattress that was on the floor (I didn’t even have a bed, yet!), a camping chair, a TV and a card table. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay there, so I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in furniture and then have to leave.
When I brought the TV home, it worked for about an hour and then shorted out. (Probably more a fault of the crap electrical wiring in CR than the TV). Regardless, I took it back to the store for a repair but still had the empty box sitting in the middle of my also-empty living room.
I had bought a bad ass Rottweiler I named Einstein about a week earlier. But even as a professional dog-man, Einstein was more hassle than he was worth, so I returned him to the breeder, probably a bad decision on my part in hindsight.
Two days later I was upstairs lying on my mattress doped out of my head on migraine meds. I had every light in the house on and Einstein’s giant dinosaur bone was still on the welcome mat out front. (Out front was a patio enclosed with iron bars and a deadbolted gate door with razor wire up top).
It was 7 pm and across the street some neighbors were having a party for their kids.
In my half-awake stupor, I heard a car pull up, fast. It sounded like maybe they bumped into the gate out front or perhaps the neighbor’s gate. I continued my migraine trip, figuring I’d check it out in the morning.
Then I heard another, “Bang!” and this time I knew somebody was in my house!!
I hadn’t been in-country long enough to get a gun permit but I did have the forsense to buy a machete. I grabbed the machete and started to run downstairs. Then I stopped, realizing that if they saw a crazy gringo running at them with a machete, they’d just shoot me if they had a gun.
I ran back upstairs and crouched behind the door, ready to chop anybody in half before they could shoot me.
As it turns out, they were cowards and when they first heard me running down the stairs, they turned and ran out. Or perhaps they just saw the empty TV box and ran. I’m not sure.
Neighbors called the police for me but it took them 3 1/2 hours to show up. Literally 3 1/2 hours.
Turns out the crooks pulled up fast in front of the gate door, drilled out the lock and kicked it open. Then they drilled out the lock of my front door and kicked that one open, too.
I was doing a lot of kicking, too… kicking myself for getting rid of Old Einstein.
The next day I moved to an upper class neighborhood that had a gated complex with a 24/7 armed guard. Eventually I left the “Switzerland of Latin America” because it was too dangerous. And I later found out that some crooks paid off the guard and robbed my neighbors at the new place, too.
Hopefully the U.S. won’t get as bad as Costa Rica. The Ticos pretty much won’t leave the house unless somebody (like a maid or an uncle) is at the house all the time. Most people are surprised when they hear me say that because they’ve been to Costa Rica on vacation and had a wonderful time. But dig deeper… talk to the people who aren’t trying to sell you something or who haven’t invested every dime they own and are self-deluding themselves about the security situation… and you’ll hear a whole different story.
I’ve heard all of the excuses and they usually start and end with, “Crime happens everywhere.”
Yeah, that may be true. But isn’t it interesting that they don’t let the embassy people in San Jose, Costa Rica walk around at night… even in the “Beverly Hills” of Costa Rica? By comparison, the State department doesn’t have a problem with it’s workers walking around in North Bogota, Colombia (I’m not kidding!) … which should tell you a little bit about the security situation in Costa Rica.