Friends and Foes


We have been lucky in many ways so far in Central America, the first being that my Costa Rican friend, Jorge, picked us up from the airport.  I guess because I was raised in a small town, I noticed quickly how houses had fences around the properties securing them from the street and people passing outside.  I couldn´t help but wish it didn´t have to be this way, though it led me to enjoy the feeling of discovery once inside my friends house even more.  Other worlds existed behind the simple appearance from the street.

The first morning, Jorge´s mother, Maria, took us to a park to see flora and fauna of Costa Rica.  To get there we walked on the skinny shoulder of a main road where cars were driving from San Jose in to Heredia.   “The Costa Ricans have pledged to take care of the wildlife here,” Maria said while cars zoomed by on the hot black road.  It seemed to me that she was not afraid of anything.  She continued the talk while dump trucks down shifted and pulled up the hill.  We approached a bridge and the luxury of a sidewalk.

Maria stopped us for a moment on the bridge and we looked below at a shack.  All I could see was a rippled tin roof and other pieces of metal puzzled together, in the tropical bushes.  Then directly under me, I saw hands reach out, pick up a plastic bowl, and begin washing it in the tub of water.  I was standing in the exact spot as this person, but on the level above, and the hands that were reaching from under the shade continued washing.  They dumped water from one tub to another, over the bowl, then scrubbed it with a sponge, and dumped rinse water over it.  “This man is from Nicaragua,” Maria said.  “The police come here and take people away every few days.  It is empty for a while, then another person is living here.”  She clarified that those who occupy this hut do not have papers and they come to Costa Rica for work.   Is this situation better than in Nicaragua?  They have left the place that I am about to travel to.

In the biological park Maria spoke with wisdom once again.  When an iguana pooped on my friend she said, ¨You are lucky cows don´t fly.¨  We left San Jose the next day in a downpour.  In moments the streets filled with water and rivers gushed in the ditches.  ¨We have two big problems in Costa Rica,¨ Maria had said, ¨trash and pot holes.¨  Now in the car, Jorge dodged the pot holes as best he could on the way to the bus station.  The windshield wipers swooshed back and forth at the highest speed.

We traveled the rest of the day and arrived in Liberia, the last town before the border.  Flip-flops and hats were being sold in the tiendas even though Playa del Coco was still an hour away.  The next morning we continued on to la fronterra where we scurried in to Nicaragua with no problems.

Just over the border we got off the bus headed for Rivas and waved down a taxi that was going to San Juan del Sur.  I saw two passengers already sitting in the back seat and thought there wasn’t room for two more.  But, how silly of me! The driver popped open the trunk and made room for our two backpacks in amongst the stacks of eggs he was also shuttling.  I scooted in beside the two others and my friend took the front.  We arrived in the center of San Juan del Sur in ten minutes, while I learned about taxis ¨collectivo¨ which seems to be a great idea.

We´d read about options for studying at Spanish Schools and settled with La escuela de Rosa Silva.  Rosa was sitting behind her desk, the walls behind her papered with pictures of past students, teachers, and a cartoon map of the region.  She answered our questions, scribbled in the receipt book, and shook our hands saying warmly, ¨Hasta mañana.¨  She has spent twelve years in San Juan del Sur building her school which depends solely on foreigners.  Now her professors give classes all week long, starting promptly at eight in the morning.

Four days into the classes we were cheerful.  We studied in the morning and by twelve each day we were off to one of the many options for site seeing.  Surfing is the most popular activity, besides drinking during sunset at restaurants that line the beach.  Shuttles run back and forth to the nearby spots where surfers write their names in the waves.  Other businesses offer a canopy tour, similar to a high ropes course; the turtle excursion; booze cruise; and then plain old hiking in the mountains on the northern and southern points of the coast.  Anytime a tourist leaves the pack however, they must always be aware of their surroundings because they are putting themselves at risk.

Day one we walked the town and sat on the beach.  Day two, my friend surfed at playa Remanso while I guarded our bags and swam in turn for breaks.  Day three, we trekked up to the statue Jesus Cristo, who peers down over the beach.  At night the gigantic statue is well lit, constantly reminding us all to think about our choices.  From there we could see all life below.  Day four, we walked out to the rocks on the coast, also near the statue.  We sat in the sun and took some pictures, like most content visitors would.  I am sad to say though that our happiness was cut short.  Before we knew what was happening, we were at the mercy of two young men — at knife point, and they literally ran off into the sun set with our bags.

Nicaragua is a beautiful country.  Here they have beaches, mountains, volcanoes, and wildlife in flying colors.  It is a wonderful place until those few decide to steal, illustrating how we are all at the mercy of others.  It effected my mood to say the least.

Posted by Emolyn Liden, 03 Dec 2009

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2 thoughts on “Friends and Foes”

  1. Dear Emolyn, We are so glad you and your boyfriend were unhurt. Your Mom said you didn’t lose your passport. That’s a good thing! But underwear and a toothbrush may be an entirely different matter. Take care. Love, Celia and Jeff

  2. Likewise Emolyn, I am so glad that you are OK. My oldest brother had a similar occurrence in our sweet and beautiful Brazil. It is good to temper the wonder of the visit with a 360 degree view. I am glad that it didn’t ruin your trip. We can’t even imagine the poverty that creates the acceptance of this . I was always amazed that stealing was as pervasive in Brazil as it was and still is.It will be interesting to see what happens for the Olympics.

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