Our first few months in Costa Rica, we were taken aback by the intense security around homes: high gates, electric fences, massive bars covering every window and door. Many subdivisions (and some private homes) have guards, from casually dressed bicycle guards to uniformed and armed. Most U.S. citizens have a similar response to ours: we just don’t get it.
Fences are topped with all sorts of unwelcoming stuff: sometimes just a roof-over a gate or the fence to make it impossible to climb over. More often with strands of barbed wire and/or coils of razor wire, often a
double roll. Then there is the seriously deadly concertina wire. Apparently it’s coiled so that, if snipped, it whips out and makes the snipper wish he were someplace else. If he can wish at all.
Everyone has at least one dog and some of ’em don’t act that friendly. All are encouraged to bark. Businesses that keep equipment/merchandise out in the open overnight have plenty of vicious looking animals around, trained not to eat funny food. The work-around to a guard pet is a poison hot-dog… My biggest anxiety is that we’ll leave for the mall and someone will poison our dogs to get to the house. It’s been known to happen. So I leave them in the garage when I go, or crated.
Besides, who would be afraid of this face? Our guard dogs are much too sweet! A better idea for guard animals is geese and/or guinea hens. They don’t eat poison, they are vicious attackers and LOUD. You’d have to shoot them and you’d better be a really good shot! Wonder how they’d get along with the dogs?
thieves] are only after
stuff: computers, TVs, cameras, any and all electrical equipment, cash.
If you are gone for long enough, they will take the light fixtures, refrigerator, stovetop, toilets,
all plumbing fixtures, all furniture… they take EVERYTHING there is
time to take. They will most likely not hurt you, although this is not always true. And they will most likely not break-in while you are home. When you hear that ticos don’t like confrontation, that includes ladrones. That really is some comfort.
Believe it or not, you get used to seeing all the security. You get
used to the fact that when you leave your house to go to the movies, it might not be the
same when you get home. You just remind yourself it’s only stuff,
you’ll just have to bite the bullet and replace it. Or move. Or
something… at least you’ll be around to do so. You accept it to stay.
Costa Rica is such a peaceful country, no army, friendly locals, slow moving. All this security seemed totally incongruous. When we moved into our current fortress with it’s heavy-duty bars and the most expensive and up-to-date monitored alarm system available, we felt pretty secure, even without barbed wire atop our fence. That made me nervous but the house had been here for so long and it seemed pretty impenetrable. Hal sometimes talked about removing a few bars. I wasn’t having any of that. I like how impenetrable feels.
That feeling is gone for the moment. When we got back from the Caribbean, I was talking to Hal in his office when I looked at the corner window and saw the bars had been bent away from the house. Someone had tried to break in while I was gone! There’s an ugly feeling.
Two days later, we had the razor wire guy here installing a lovely, deadly looking coil of razor wire around our house. I wanted the concertina, but it was more than twice as expensive. This is $600 and completely encircles the house, including the roof next to the street. Odd how something that seemed so ugly a year ago is now SO lovely to behold…
Clearly ladrones have been watching the house. We were warned this would happen. The new gringos on the block won’t be as careful as they should be… You are told to leave your TV on loud when you leave, like there is someone home. Tint your car windows so they don’t know who all is in the car when it leaves. DON’T leave any doors open (which means the dogs have to be in or out…) Don’t tell anyone when you leave. If you leave for an overnight, hire someone to stay in your house. Tons of stuff like this.
At first, you think, "Jesus, these people are paranoid!" Like conspiracy theorists. You do it all, but you feel pretty silly.
It is extremely creepy to know this is not the first time our personal ladrones climbed that fence and looked in our windows. How else did they know the ONE vulnerable spot in the house where a skinny body could get in, not trip the
alarm, and get out with stuff?
Hal’s office, which is part of our bedroom, sports a laptop, a
monitor, a printer, all the excess electrical equipment, his camera and
assorted accessories… Our passports and extra cash USED TO BE in that
room. It was a gold mine.
They waited for the right moment and hopped the fence. But I guess Hal returned to the house earlier than expected because they ran before finishing the job. Leaving a baseball cap and plenty of fingerprints behind. Wonder if there’s a C.S.I. unit anywhere around with a lab like the one on TV?
A motion detector is also being installed in our room
this week. And all the eggs are no longer in one basket.
To a tico, $400-$500/month ($5,400/year) income is excellent… gringos are relatively rich beyond measure. The contents of our house, even discounted heavily, would provide at least a year’s income, a few years if they got the passports. Worth a day’s effort, really.
And why not give it a whirl? There is little to no enforcement and, when caught, there is little to no punishment. I’ve written about this time and again: stealing is accepted here. It’s a way of life. You gotta get over it, as tica teri likes to say.
The local police force is inadequate to deal with all the petty theft. You have to take care of your security yourself. Hence, all the bars and wire and armed guards everywhere. I prefer taking care of myself, actually, rather than leave it to a government body. You give ’em an inch…
The good news is: this is all I have to fear in Costa Rica. During the Republican debates yesterday morning, they were all talking about the tax code and the need for revision (you think?) Senator Blackball (or Blueboard or something like that) said U.S. citizens fear an IRS audit more than they fear ANYTHING. That’s our government scaring the crap out of us. Then listening to us whine about it. Although I don’t escape either of these goodies living in Costa Rica, I can’t hear the drumbeat of fear from here. Living with ladrones and razor wire seems a very fair trade.