Costa Rica, Tourism, Prostitution, and Lucy’s Money 2


Lucy heads down with a couple of jobs on her hands: one, to do the guidebook; and two, to figure out an investment scheme for a group of her friends who want to buy into the country, Costa Rica being a relatively safe, stable offshore place to park and make money. This second “assignment” naturally complicates the first assignment, and also draws Lucy into a seriously fraught situation involving  real estate exploitation, cocaine, child theft, illegal adoption, a really nasty “boot camp” for wayward American teenagers, leftover contras from the Nicaraguan war, and, well… on the other hand, some really good times surfing, volcano-watching, bird-watching, and other such activities.

There’s some short term romance as well, with a man who is based on a guy I met down there while standing at a bus stop in dingy downtown Puerto Limon on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side. This guy was an Indian American from Huntington Beach, California. We started talking and within fifteen minutes became fast friends. I saw Suresh Krishnan every time I went back to Costa Rica for years. He decided to live there permanently, and started up a successful adventure travel company. I used him in the book in a major way. If you should happen to be headed to Costa Rica, look up Desafio Adventure Company in La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, say hey to Krish for me.

I also based a character on Michael Kay, the founder and owner of the largest tourism travel company in the country. Michael first went to Costa Rica around the time of the Viet Nam War, in an effort to avoid said war. He found some rivers worth running and some waves worth riding and some mountains worth climbing, and stuck around, sensing an opportunity. Now he’s a mini-mogul, the king of Costa Rican travel. I also created characters based on a couple, Louis Wilson and Marianela Pastor, who had opened an eco-hotel on the beach at Playa Grande. These two were instrumental in creating the Las Baulas Marine Sanctuary, established to protect the nesting sites for the world’s largest turtles, the leatherbacks, which have been nesting on Playa Grande for millennia. They remain a threatened species, but the work Louis and Marianela did several years back has been instrumental in raising people’s awareness of these amazing creatures.

The stories these “characters” tell in the context of the book are fundamentally true, or true with a little added spice. The bad guys are also based on true stories I heard, about so-called “investment companies” which were fronts for all kinds of illegal activities ranging from money-laundering to weapons smuggling. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica, with its mix of Rastafarian Jamaicans, low-budget European hipster tourists, and the usual array of outlaws and shifty characters, can be a dangerous place, especially for travelers who feel entitled or privileged.  One could spend months there and never even notice the dark underside of Costa Rica, but if you start turning over rocks, all kinds of stuff comes squirming out. And as we know by now, Lucy Ripken never met a rock she didn’t want to turn over.

As per usual with my books, I started with some three-quarter truths and blew them up to fit my story. But any exaggerations are likely understatements compared to the reality behind Costa Rica’s relatively placid façade. The country’s crossroads location and relatively stable civil society make it a natural destination not only for nature-loving tourists but also for all manner of marginal characters looking for a place to blend in, go legit, or just disappear into the jungle. And Lucy Ripken, naturally, manages to find her way into the middle of some crazy shit. In the end Lucy wins another round in her fight for truth, justice, and the righteous path, but it doesn’t come easy, ever.


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