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I got on a plane to get home, but found out why my friend was murdered instead

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Today something very odd happened to me, and I’m writing it down here quickly to try to record every detail.

I boarded a flight in Denver, on my way back to Costa Rica this morning. I ended up sitting next to someone who looked familiar and I asked him if he played poker in Costa Rica. He said he had, and that I had looked very familiar to him as well. Then he dropped the bomb on me, saying “did you know Alvin….” He finished his sentence but I was a bit taken back and didn’t catch it. Alvin was a poker buddy who was murdered in 2007 and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “I was his roommate,” he continued and once again Alvin was the subject of the kind of surprise that floors you (when he died, a Costa Rican had joked to me about how the person in the news must be my friend because he was an American, and then I looked and it actually was).

Alvin had died in a gruesome scene that I won’t go into in detail except to note that three people had been found stabbed to death, Alvin had seemed to have killed two of them in the initial reports (that speculated about a love triangle gone wrong) and part of what made it hard for me was that I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t even know if my buddy Alvin had started it. And because he was a poker buddy, and I didn’t even know his last name or anything it didn’t seem like I’d ever get closure on this. He was just one of those guys you knew from seeing all the time but whose family and friends were strangers to me. It’s not like I’d hunt down his family to try to find out what had happened.

But today, serendipitously I found out what went down by happening to sit next to his former roommate and co-worker from Pokerstars on the plane. I won’t go in to the gory details (that were hard, but relieving to hear) but I will say that it appears to have been a case of Alvin being the kind Alvin I knew and that the other two had begun stabbing him in his sleep in order to rob his place. He was left for dead but got up and killed them both while they were loading up his stuff in his car to take away.

It’s hard to explain, but I am so very deeply relieved to find out that Alvin was the victim of their disgustingly stupid plan to rob him as opposed to what else could have been the case to make him kill two people. Back when it happened I thought it was the case, and I stopped walking around with a wad of thousands of dollars like he used to (it’s a poker thing, we need to carry money to be able to buy into the games), but the story the newspapers tried to sell about a love triangle left a little doubt in my mind that he might not have been the kind person I thought he was. It is insanely weird to find out this way so much later that this doubt can be put to rest, but it feels strangely peaceful to do so.

Rest in peace Alvin, you were good people and you went out strong against those fucking bastards. I may be a bad person for saying this but I’m glad you killed them, what they did to you was nothing short of disgusting after the kindness you showed them and how you let them into your home.

We bought a condo

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I have been quite busy over the last two weeks. I bought a condo from my buddy Tri and have been busy moving.

It’s in Santa Ana which I like more than Escazu and Moravia (the other places in Costa Rica I have lived) and we are trying to get everything settled (got the blinds, waiting on the AC, trying to figure out how to import a sliding glass dog door from the states…) and moved in.

We finished the moving, and because the elevator is not yet running (it’s a new building) we did it all up the stairs. It was a pain but on the positive side it kick started my efforts to get back into shape. I’ve now been walking the dog in the neighborhood (and there are some great walks right nearby) and sleeping better. I’m even waking up early and getting a full night’s sleep which I rarely did in the last years (I am a night person and don’t usually sleep much).

I started my lil’ garden on the balcony and am having fun in the new place.

Jazz Café in San Pedro, Costa Rica

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

After dinner with friends last night we stopped for a drink at Jazz Café in San Pedro. It’s the only spot in San Jose to listen to Jazz that I know of, and the only Jazz bar I know of in Costa Rica to be honest.

In any case, Tuesday nights are their “Jam Session” nights and some locals were playing when we arrived. There was a drummer (whose drums were too loud) and a bassist (whose bass was too quiet), a pianist (who played clumsily) and a saxophonist (whose sax looked like a child’s sax and who had no lungs).

It was amateur hour but still fun, they were jamming away and their enthusiasm was fun to watch and the moment I wondered if they’d play my favorite (’Round Midnight) they started playing it. They butchered it, playing it too slowly, too soft and with bad timing on all parts but I was happy to hear someone play it live for the first time in ages and ages.

I sense an hour of ‘Round Midnight renditions coming on….

Manuel Antonio (Quepos), Costa Rica

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Ok, so on Friday we decided to go to the beach (Manuel Antonio, in Quepos)  on a whim and took our dog Harry.  He vomited a bit on the way (he gets motion sickness) but he enjoyed the trip and eagerly took in the sights.

It’s a long drive, several hours, and we left pretty late so we got to the beach at around 11 and started looking for a hotel. Luckily, one of the first hotels with vacancies said having a dog would be no problem so we checked in and all headed out to dinner.

Dinner proved to be more challenging, as it was now past midnight and most kitchens were closed. But we found a restaurant/bar whose kitchen was still open and their food was not bad at all. They had no problem with Harry (the tables are on a covered, but open, deck) so he joined us for dinner (from under the table).

Harry woke us up early the next day, and we checked out and headed for the beach. We had a quick breakfast at a beach side restaurant and then hit the sand. We rented some chairs and a big beach umbrella that were setup all across the beach and took orders from the various waiters serving drinks across the beach (that’s alone is one reason I prefer living outside the States) and drank beer while Harry discovered digging. He’d tried digging at home on a tiled surface but at the beach it actually worked and he frantically dug a fairly impressive hole. This kept him busy enough for us to relax until he saw a large rottweiler run into the surf and roll around in the water. Harry went nuts and challenged the dog to a duel. We had to hold him back as he barked and thrashed and tried to get loose to quote “kick the dogs ugly ass”.  He’s a Maltese and loses his fights with our not-yet-fully-grown cat so I played it safe and held him off the ground.

I rented a jet ski for an hour and spent some time circling some islands right outside of the national park (where I was not allowed to go) which was a lot of fun, and then we headed back. The trip back was in the daylight, and the two narrow rusting metal bridges you need to cross to get to Quepos looked even more derelict than at night. Thankfully, they are being replaced with new bridges and it shouldn’t take the 15 to 20 minutes it sometimes does to get across in the future.

In San Jose, I had a bit of bad luck and was stopped by a traffic police. I hadn’t renewed the “right to circulate” (kinda like registration) for the car yet and the cop played hardball saying he may have to take my license plates. He was, of course, expecting a bribe but I would rather not pay into their corruption (I think tolerance for corruption is a huge impediment to economic progress in developing countries) and he took them away and ticketed me. Now I’ll have to go through a lot of hoops and pay a lot of fines to get them back and since I don’t have time or patience to do so I’ll end up paying someone else to do it. He would have let me walk for 10 to 20 dollars, but now I’ll end up paying a couple hundred and not being able to drive my car a week or two and paying a lot in taxis. The good angel on my shoulder (as opposed to the lil’ demon who gives the bad advice)  is avoiding me because he knows I want to kill him right now.

But in any case, we got home and the cat hadn’t partied too hard in our absence so all is well.

P.S No, we didn’t go to the national park. I’ve already been several times and we’ll be back soon enough so we didn’t bother walking over to ask if Harry could go. Given his enthusiasm to confront the dogs, horses, and cows he saw it would have been funny to see his reaction to monkeys but that will have to wait till next time.

Nicaragua and Visa Problems

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

As I previously wrote, I was planning a trip to Panama in December, as I have to leave Costa Rica every 90 days for 48 hours as per the requirements of my tourist visa. My fiancé was waiting for her passport to arrive, and it arrived late which ruined our plans for Panama so in my haste to get out of Costa Rica before I’m illegal I booked a trip to Costa Rica’s other neighboring country, Nicaragua.

I bought two plane tickets to Managua and then looked into the visa requirements to enter Nicaragua. I had heard visas were necessary but all the information I saw online indicated that Nicaragua had done away with the requirement to foster tourism. There were a couple of countries (e.g. “Palestine”) that Nicaraguan government websites listed as needing visas but neither the US nor Costa Rica were on those lists so I figured we’d be ok. For good measure I called the Nicaraguan consulate in San Jose, Costa Rica but despite trying 5 different phone numbers over several days was never able to get anyone to answer.

So on Christmas morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and took a taxi to the airport (a friend, who didn’t sleep all through Christmas Eve to take us), paid the airport taxes and were ready to go.

At the TACA desk we were told that US citizens don’t need visas but Costa Ricans need a visa to enter Nicaragua and we were not allowed to board. Furthermore I was told that my tickets were non-refundable. I was so upset that upon leaving the airport I tried to kill myself by eating Denny’s food (just kidding, their breakfast isn’t that bad even if it has enough grease to make someone not on an American diet queasy).

I’m not sure why Costa Rica nationals are required to have a visa to enter Nicaragua, but I suspect it’s some sort of reciprocal action based on the immigration tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Costa Rica has many Nicaraguan immigrants, with some estimates putting it as high as 25% of their population and there are some resulting tensions. I think all this kind of crap is just slightly-modernized tribalism. Countries are just lines in the sand and one should be able to go anywhere they want on this planet if you ask me.

Anyway, I’m now trying to figure out what to do next, and I’ll probably pay $100 to reschedule our flights in order to lose the least amount of money. My buddy Tri had agreed to house sit for our pets and came over on Christmas Eve and I’m a bit pissed that he made that sacrifice for naught.

Happy happy joy joy…. I may even hasten my marriage to get residency so that I’m not forced to make inconvenient trips outside of the country every 90 days.

GPS maps for Costa Rica!

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Yes! I’ve always been a fan of satellite navigation and the use of the GPS (Global Positioning System) with cartography to provide routing.

When I moved to Costa Rica, where there are is not an address system, I felt the need even more as I knew nothing about the country’s roads and without names it’s pretty hard to learn. Given that the traffic is also pretty bad in many areas it can often take an hour to go 10 miles and if you don’t know different routes it can be quite daunting.

Upon arriving in Costa Rica I’d intended to build a car computer with the usual GPS and the like but was dismayed to not find any Costa Rican GPS maps. Hell there wasn’t even a decent web-based map to use and it was hella frustrating.

Anyway, the other day I was stranded with car problems and the only good thing to come of it was that I noticed a Costa Rican car rental agency that had GPS units available to rent with their fleet of cars.

Today I drove out to their offices (having to pay a taxi for the last leg of the trip in order to find them) and bought their Garmin-based solution. I’m using it with Garmin Mobile on a Windows Mobile 5 device (Samsung Blackjack) through a bluetooth GPS receiver (Garmin GPS 10) and am pleased to report that it works as well as can be expected without addresses to input as destinations.

Coming back from picking up my fiancé in Heredia it came in handy as I was able to use a much better route that I hadn’t known that skips downtown San Jose and is much shorter. It used to take me up to two hours each way to go the 15 or so miles and this should only take me about 25 minutes in the future.

The routing works great and the cartography is solid, it had small streets and though it didn’t always know things like bridges being out I haven’t found any streets it doesn’t know. The points of interest are fairly solid, and they have pretty much any franchise in the database. Mom-and-pop joints aren’t always there, and there are more of those businesses than franchises (thank goodness!) so it’s not too great but the franchises are important for use to get where you need in lieu of addresses the country uses “directions”. These directions can be as cryptic as “200 meters north of where the old oak tree used to be” but more often they reference businesses like McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other franchises as franchises tend to have stronger display marketing than mom-and-pop joints.

So while it’s not perfect it’s flaws rest in Costa Rica’s lack of an address system and it works as well as can be expected. I’m more than happy with this solution and it’s going to save me lots of money (from paying taxis to follow when I’m lost) and time.

For the locations it doesn’t already have, I will input the coordinates and save them for future use and I hope that Costa Rica adopts an address system based off of longitude and latitude one day to make it all easy. Right now, there’s not much hope that all houses can be assigned numbers and that all roads will be named so for the tech-savvy it’d be good enough just to have people start learning their geographical coordinates.

Anywho, it’s enough of a godsend that I will try to convince my tech-savvy friends here to jump on board. If they get the same setup as me, they can text-message their coordinates to me when they want to meet and don’t have to bother with the million phone calls it takes to get me anywhere.

I have a bad sense of direction (don’t pay enough attention) and this is one of those things that will make a big difference in my day to day.

Today was not a good day…

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I’d only meant to quickly drop my girlfriend off at a friend’s house in Heredia but the trip took a decidedly nasty turn for the worse when my brakes (all of the bastards!) decided to desert me on Costa Rica’s busiest street during rush hour. That wasn’t too bad as I managed to avoid a slow motion collision by zig-zagging through the cars stopped at the intersection and using hand signals (looked a lot like the signal in Team America for the undercover operative being in danger) to persuade a bus that was making a turn in front of me to hang out for a bit in the intersection. The bus served as a nice shield to run the light and pull over and I called information to get a tow truck.

The traffic was bad so I was told it would take a while to get there and that they’d call me. Costa Rica doesn’t employ the luxury of a system of addresses and “directions” are used in their stead. So I was telling the driver that I was about 200 meters away from Pizza Hut on the other side of the street but he must have needed to do a verification fly-by since he passed me right up. I called the tow-truck company and they gave me the driver’s cellphone. I called him and he told me how he didn’t see “anybody” (mind you, this is rush hour) at the indicated location. I told him that I was quite there and I did, in fact, need a tow and he told me he’d give it another fly-by, though it’d take time due to the “tremendous” traffic he was engaged in across the city (just minutes after driving by). He said to make sure to stand out by the road at the indicated location so I stood there for an eternity and he pulled up right in front of me in traffic, then kept on going without looking on the side of the road at the store I told him I was in front of.

I called him as he slowly crawled away in traffic and told him I was right behind him and waved. He looked back and promptly told me he saw “nobody” and kept going, promising to give it another try. Not entirely convinced I wanted a ride with such a comprehensively-challenged individual, I began to look for options and called information again for a tow truck and they immediately sent me to the automated voice reading me the same phone number of the tow truck company I’d been wrestling with several times before I managed to get the operator to halt and give me a couple of options.

I called a few of the companies I was recommended over the next hours who all failed to show up, never daring to leave the side of the road to go to the bathroom. Waiting on foot by the side of the road was boring despite the number of odd folk who passed by (like the Japanese back-packer asking for directions in hillarious Spanish for a ridiculously far place to be headed to on foot). And waiting in the cold in a T-shirt got old fast with the whole having to go to the bathroom quite urgently thing so I just kept calling information and canvassing the Costa Rica’s tow trucks (maybe they are all just smarter than the rest of the country and avoid rush hour altogether) before one promptly showed up in 15 minutes as promised and we loaded up the car and drove off while I imagined a veritable swarm of tow trucks descending upon the vacated location I’d been waiting at.

I finally got home over 6 hours after I left more than a bit frustrated with my car. I even lost my temper momentarily and called it a harsh word that hurt its feelings. I don’t care and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with the car but I’ve decided to only find out long enough to fix and sell it. See, I have this rule about not trusting cars that try to kill me, especially when they try to do it at very low rush-hour speeds. That shows spite since they clearly want the death to be as painful as possible (the automobile’s equivalent of death by spoon).

Planning a trip to Panama

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I need to make a visa trip mid-December and it looks like I’ll be going to Panama (just looking for something nearby and Nicaragua isn’t as interesting to me. I’m not too excited about the whole thing, as I have to leave by the 15th or so and will have friends in Panama around the new years so I may even go by bus to make it more interesting.

My girlfriend is waiting on her passport so she can go with me but I’m going to get residency in Costa Rica just so I don’t have to make these stupid visa trips.

I think there was just an earthquake here in San Jose Costa Rica

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

It was just two waves of motion I felt and were probably only tremors but they were strong enough to spill water in two of my aquariums and make my dog bark.

They were easily the strongest I’ve felt here in Costa Rica so far and I hear car alarms in the distance.

Anywho… back to work.

Thanksgiving in Costa Rica

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal for me, I’ve lived most of my life outside the USA and am not big on holidays for the most part anyway (they seem like more work than fun), but one thing I do like about Thanksgiving is the food.

I’ve been bragging about Thanksgiving food to my girlfriend and told her it’s the “best American food there is”. I didn’t think we’d have a Thanksgiving feast in Costa Rica but my friend Tri called me and told me that at our friend’s bar they were doing a Thanksgiving dinner.

We went and it was, as usual, great. My girlfriend loved the green bean casserole, which is a very atypical dish for Costa Rica and it was the first time she ate turkey. Anyway, the food at my friend Steve’s bar (called The Timeout Tavern in Escazú, near the country club) is always top notch. It’s the best American food in San Jose, Costa Rica and if you are ever in town you need to come by a few days till you happen onto one of his fantastic daily specials.