Saturday, July 24, 2010

The secrets we keep from our spouses

(I admit I'm a cheapskate, but my wife didn't fare much better.)

Violent crime against tourists is not common in Costa Rica, but rip-offs happen all the time.  A number of years ago, my wife, son, and I pulled into the Hotel D-Galah in San Pedro near the university to check into our room.  I was about to start another 2-month field season studying understory birds in the southern part of the country, and our first stop was always the capital.  We parked the rental car, a Suzuki, immediately in front of the entrance of the small hotel and we went inside to check in.  A decade ago, most tourists rented Suzukis, which were notoriously easy to break into, and thieves knew you were a relatively wealthy, relatively naive gringo if you were driving this model. 

The thieves obviously staked out tourists just like us.  As soon as we went inside the hotel, they jimmied the back door of the Suzuki, grabbed our bags, and off they went.  We returned to the car to get our luggage only to find that there wasn't any, or at least very little, which made getting to our room easier than normal.  Surprising how liberating it is when you have no clothes.  The most valuable item in the car were my binoculars, and fortunately they missed those.  But they got nearly all my field clothes, underwear, T-shirts, and shorts, and much of my wife's wardrobe as well.  They also got my son's homework and several textbooks for his two months of upcoming home schooling.  He was not that unhappy, and I'm sure the thieves wanted to study American history.   Of course, I felt like an idiot, but we had assumed the car was safe only 20 feet from the check-in desk at the hotel, and we were inside for no more than 10 minutes.  We reported to the hotel staff that we had been ripped off; they acted unimpressed, and uttered an unconvincing "lo siento".  Welcome to our hotel.

We had homeowner's insurance, which covered items stolen while traveling, but we needed a police report to turn in to our agent when we returned home.  So, the next day, we went to the Hall of Justice in downtown San Jose, or whatever it was called, expecting to see Batman and Robin or their latino equivalent flitting about the place.  Instead, we found dozens of ripped-off gringos just like us trying to file a report of stolen possessions---State Farm Insurance must have been busy that year back in the states.  Our turn finally came, and we proceeded to itemize for the police official what we could remember must have been in our stolen luggage, and its approximate value.

Six pair of underwear--$15.  Four T-shirts--$50.  One pair of sandals---$20.  And on and on.  But then it got more interesting.  Silk shirt that my wife had gotten me for Christmas: my wife answered, $12.  "What?", I exclaimed.  "My Christmas gift from you only cost $12?"  Management acted a bit sheepish, but we continued.  We got to some jewelry items.  My wife listed a pair of earrings that I had gotten her for her birthday, she looked at me for the value, and I said, innocently, $15.  "You cheap bastard!", she shrieked.  Geez, what an idiot I am.  I could have told the cop $125.  Who would know the difference if I committed a little insurance fraud in order to maintain domestic tranquility?  Any male insurance adjuster would certainly understand and look the other way.  I was so stupid that I deserved to be ripped off by some Costa Rican slicky boys.  Take my watch, take the wallet out of my pocket.  Honesty is not always the best policy when dealing with your spouse; I'm living proof of this.  I'm not just a cheap bastard; I'm a stupid bastard as well.  Cheap and stupid!!

I learned a lot during those two days in San Jose.  Watch your possessions like a hawk.  Never leave anything of value in a car unless you stand nearby to watch the two Great Danes you keep inside.  Never travel with expensive underwear; they may be stolen, and then you have to go to a foreign store and buy their skimpy togs.  I hate shopping, but I had to replace the under garments that I lost.  So we went to a store where the only men's underwear they had was the size of a small handkerchief---black with pin stripes.  Boy, this burglary has become a hassle, although I did feel extra sexy whenever I sported my tico briefs back home.  And most importantly, when your wife asks you a question where the answer matters to her happiness, consider your response carefully before you open your mouth.  And prepare your face for the untruthful answer that you may be about to give.  Pretend you are young and innocent again, and try to orient your countenance to resemble that 7-year old boy you used to be.

The following year when I presented my wife with her birthday gift, she gave me that "was this only $15 look?"  I had conveniently left the receipt for this $125 purse in the gift box, although I acted as if I were embarrassed when she found it in there.  "Oh, sorry, I thought I had filed that away, in case you had wanted to return it for an even nicer model."  Of course, she refused.  She was happy and I was happy.  And if this purse was ever stolen in a foreign country, I would gleefully fill out the police report in front of my wife, looking forward to the part where I tell the official its value.


  1. To this day, after living in Latin America for 15 years, I never leave stuff in cars, even in my own garage!

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  3. I agree Vance. But I was a bit more naive then, and we parked within feet of the entrance to the hotel under a covered awning. The guard came on duty about 15 minutes after we parked there. The thieves were watching the place or they followed us there.