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Blog…If You Dare

Recently, I logged onto an expat blog where a woman innocently inquired about a future trip to Costa Rica she was planning. It was obvious she was unaware that folks from the United States are prohibited from entering Costa Rica because of the pandemic. The responses to her were so vitriolic that a member felt the need to apologize for those “in this group” who were characterized as unhappy transplants considering themselves superior to everyone back home. The advisor suggested posing the question to a friendlier crowd.

For those of us who live abroad, local expat blogs can be either a life jacket or a cement anchor. Lurkers, like crocodiles at the Tarcoles River, pounce on a naïve query such as, “My husband and I plan to relocate to Costa Rica. We would like to build a house on the beach in a SAFE neighborhood near an active retirement community. Absolutely need a swimming pool and granite countertops. We are bringing our two French bulldogs so is there a quarantine period? How do we ship our car and belongings? What about health care there? Are there snakes?” 

The responses range from benevolent advice: “Don’t build or even move until you have tried out at least three communities. Check out the rules for bringing pets”… to incredulous explosions: “Stay where you are, you putz. Anyone contemplating moving with as little information as you have deserves what you will get. I’d answer more completely but I have minutes left to live after being bitten by a fer-de-lance, the most poisonous snake on earth. Pura Vida.”

Lockdown lifeline

In these days of quarantine, online groups serve as a lifeline. We all know we are mandated to wear a mask or plastic shield in public. With the ever-changing regulations posted in Spanish, blogs help us track other less obvious alerts. How can we unjumble the latest mandate on driving determined by the last number of our license plate? Can we get a haircut, eat in a restaurant or go to the gym? How many are infected, recovered or sadly have died in this, our newly adopted country? 

Blogs keep us informed. We learn that more than half of those infected in this country work in construction, or as maids, gardeners, handymen, guards and vendors. Younger than the expected demographic, they are usually between 20 and 49 years of age, and their mobility puts us all at risk.

Online journals for expats provide a meeting place, much like the central parks in towns. While these green oases are now off limits, before COVID-19 one could sit for hours on a bench and observe without participating, choosing whether to greet or ignore one another. As with the blogs, a few, like the old men in the parks, taunt, tease and call out to the pretty girls. Others are bullies who delight in provoking. These were the gang who did swirlies in high school bathrooms and now lie in wait like silverback gorillas to beat their chest and call attention to themselves. They have a polarizing effect that isn’t all bad since it unites and clarifies the thought process for the offended and for those who defend them.  

Island ignorance

Particularly vulnerable is any hapless soul who confuses Costa Rica with Puerto Rico. A recent question was posed about the best and cheapest way to get a Playstation game into “the island.” First, he was credited with stirring up chaos due to being bored in quarantine, an ironic response considering those that ensued. One person posted a map of Central America, while another offered a bridge for sale. One clever answer was that he might want to try a test mailing of the Rand McNally World Atlas first. And when someone said Costa Rica is an isthmus, another responded, “Gesundheit.”

Look online for advice on everything from finding a watch repairman to addressing the army ants that periodically march through one’s property, devouring everything in their path. Answers to the latter vary from, “I like to pretend they’re having a funeral. Take off your hat and play some music for them,” to, “Go out for breakfast. They are natural fumigators. Takes them about two hours. Nothing you can do. They kill every creepy crawler that is in their way. Happens a lot when the weather is changing. They are on the move and your house is in their path.” Invariably, some wit will add, “If we don’t hear from you by noon, nice knowing you.”

Blogs can be informational, educational or arty, devoted to a cause, or lean towards the profane and highly uncensored. Some photography blogs reveal the stunning beauty of Costa Rica. Others are guides on travel and transportation or cooking Tico style. Young families are united around raising a child in a foreign land, and retirees share their tips on healthcare. There is a forum for every taste, and many, including myself, have waded into one innocently only to be eaten alive by lurking sharks. 

Shortly after my arrival six years ago, I had heard about a Christmas concert and asked which church was hosting it. I was told in not the cleverest of retorts to look for a Buddhist temple. I had entered a microcosm of a diverse, rich community comprised of both Tico and gringo, where political colors fly (even when prohibited), respect or occasional disrespect for our host country is touted, and a great divide as well as common denominators are revealed.

Creature discomforts

A topic that surfaces frequently concerns insects and snakes, reviving the debate on euthanasia versus preserving the species. For every blogger who saves and relocates a tarantula, there are many others who prefer to hit and run. Chemical warfare is proposed as well as natural remedies.

Not long ago, my cats were playing with what I thought to be a ribbon. Alas, it turned out to be a snake. As someone raised in Texas, I don’t ascribe to identifying before disposing, particularly when the serpent is in your bedroom. Before sweeping it out the back door, I took a blurry picture and sent it to a private Messenger group. Most of the gang had retired due to the late hour. Finally, in response to my frantic, “People, where are you!” a friend asked if the snake had eyes. Turns out most blind snakes are harmless. Another person had an app on her phone that identified the snake as a common garden variety. At least, that is the interpretation that I decided to accept based on my bad photograph. This way, I can sleep at night.

Aside from devilish pranks, occasional feuds and venomous rants, blogs reveal how we transplants hold a common regard for one another that is genuine. Advice is offered on temporary housing, Cedula renewal, nursing care, car or appliance repair and how to establish a bank account. The disastrous fires in the dry season evoke a community spirit with updates about dangers and outreach to those needing help. In times of illness or catastrophe, the true character of bloggers is reflected.

Blogs resemble baseball games. By logging on, you take your place in the bleachers to either observe or to participate with boos or cheers for the players and the umpire. There may be joy in Mudville if the responses answer your question or support your team. There can also be anguish – if like Casey, you strike out. 

Go ahead and log on. You were courageous enough to move to Costa Rica. Blog if you dare.

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