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INSIDECOSTARICA | Monday 13 September 2010

The Safest Way To Travel in Costa Rica. A Primer For Tourists
By John Holtz*

You do need to read this because there has been a rash of tourist tragedy since spring of last year and I am not referring to natural tragedy such as the American caught and who drowned in his rented SUV a few weeks ago, but rather manmade tragedy.

I am inspired by the September 9th assassination of Steve Edelson who according to friends and his surviving wife Marsha, Steve was shot in the back of the neck/head only because he loved to visit Costa Rica, loved Puerto Viejo and trusted everyone he met.

Small blurbs have appeared in two English speaking and one Spanish speaking newspaper that do not do justice to this cold blooded killing.

Steve´s life and love of Costa Rica has come down to police who have no motive, whose first knee jerk reaction was a “hit” which alludes one to conclude “...he must be into drugs.”

Perhaps the police went to the “hit” thing because of too much television or that some time ago a man living near Puerto Viejo in Limon Province was actually interviewed and claimed to be a hit man for as low as $40 per body. Maybe just bravado, probably so. But I never read a denial.

The awful thing Steve was doing when shot and killed was playing his guitar under an almond tree, looking out at the ocean, according to his wife Marsha.

His crime? He had a back pack worth stealing that contained one beer and a book. That´s how cheap life can be.

Was he out late at night under the stars? No, it was morning under the sun. Marsha and another couple went to a different beach, one more populated leaving Steve to his own reverie.

Did anyone see the crime? That is possible, but I doubt if we will ever know because those who do not rob, steal and kill are deathly afraid of those who do. Getting a witness is very difficult in Costa Rica. And since a trial might take more than a year, both evidence and witnesses tend to disappear.

We think of these types of crimes originating in the city of San Jos! or Jacó where drugs, the cartels and gangs all call home. But not true. The lonely but exotic beaches and very misty forests high in the mountains make crime much easier to commit. After all, who would be there to complain?

Now, Costa Rica is looking for a 33 year old French-Canadian named Kim Paris who suddenly dropped off the face of the earth, also last week.

Was she walking at night, doing crazy things, intoxicated?

No she was riding a bike home after her shift at the Longitude 10, an upscale hotel around noon in quiet Santa Teresa in Guanacaste. Gone, no explanation, no motive and meanwhile a frantic husband and family plead for information that is not coming forthwith.

Crime, home invasions, hotel room invasions, drugs and deplorable killings are moving into the more rural zones of Costa Rica because either there is no police presence, minimum police presence or they have to travel a long way to get to the scene of a crime.

Prevention is not even in the vocabulary.

Sadly, very much so I am advising tourists to…..

• Try not to be alone at any time during the day or night
• Stay off the beaches after sundown, especially on weekends when the alcohol flows freely
• If you go to a strip bar (night club in Costa Rica), or bordello (massage parlour), make sure your back is covered
• Females, never ever even think about taking off the top of your bikini
• Always walk against traffic, not with it
• If in a car, make sure all doors are locked and the windows up. (Use the air-conditioning. It might use up a little more gasoline, but that extra cost could save your life.)
• Do not trust all car rental agency. It has been know for workers make copies of keys.
• Don´t drive at night unless absolutely necessary
• Make copies to carry, however, put your passport and important documents in the hotel safe along with any excess cash
• Put a temporary limit on your ATM or credit card like $500 per day
• Even at the bank, stay with a group of customers whenever possible because if a teller realizes you just walked away with a lot of cash... conspiracy and I personally know about that one.
• Do not misconstrue politeness for friendship
• Finally, if here for any length of time, register yourself with the US Embassy
• If a criminal wants your wallet, watch, etc., give them up and never look the thief in the eyes.

Now, does this not suck for such a popular tourist destination? It just does and we have few answers.

I have been told that a group of expatriates are attempting to form a chain around Costa Rica to create safe havens and organizations similar to community policing to protect tourists as well as us who live here. This is a work in progress.

Our newly elected Presidenta, promised during her campaign that personal security would be her number one issue.

Three months later, still more talk, more planning and no budget. The minister of security, is about in the same boat while we suffer from crime and corruption at every level.

Tourists should not think of themselves as a target market. We, who live here, have been victims as well, in fact robbed, stabbed or shot or not, as Costa Ricans and residents of Costa Rica, we are all victims but some to a much lesser extent than others.

There is this cloud over our country that is getting bigger and bigger and it is saying, “This place is not the paradise, the gentleness and the educated that it once was.”


*John Holtz is the Executive Director of the Center for the Studies of Modern Management www.modernmanagement.org and can be reached at: [email protected].

 

 

 

 
 
 
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