In many ways, we have been lucky when it comes to theft here in Costa Rica. It is not to say that we have not been ripped off, or the victims of other crimes while living here, but those are different tales to tell. The story for today is about the sad reality of theft in Costa Rica. I am no fool, I know that crime is all over the world, and I am sure that it is much worse in other parts of it. However for anyone considering trading their quiet suburban community for any part of Costa Rica, be prepared to guard your stuff.
We have felt fairly protected where we are. We have a small, non assuming house with bars on the windows. We have a dog. What we have of value is not much to see, no TV, not too many gadgets. Although we have more than our neighbors, we don't look flashy in any way. In line with the look, for the last four years we have had no problems with anyone trying to break into our house, until last Friday night. Like many other times, we went out for a BBQ and brought along our beloved dog to have a good run. When we got home, our electricity was turned off and, sure enough, our house ransacked.
Normally in Costa Rica any theft that amounts $500 or less won't be prosecuted and quite frankly the process isn't worth the precious time and expense. These were thieves banking on this, they took only cash, and a few other things. Here is a list of what we lost:
- One Canon digital camera
- One hundred dollar bill that I withdrew (apparently for the thieves) earlier in the day
- One cordless drill with it's charger
- Three flash cards
- One precious ring from Scotland given to my daughter by her cousins *
- One new bottle of vegetable oil
- One unopened carton of milk
- One half kilo of frozen ground beef
- The laptops were left untouched.
When I have been a victim of theft before, in the United States, I was always left with a feeling of dread, one of being violated. I was left in shock, and felt insecure. I remembered just these feelings watching my daughter react to the invasion. She was scared, and saddened by the loss of something she treasured greatly. Even though I could not sleep, my reaction was not the same. This event had been anticipated. While we have come and gone without much worry, the fact that theft is rampant in Costa Rica has always been in the back of our minds. It just took four years for it to finally happen.
You may say, "Oh, theft happens everywhere, what they took from your house was a song. They were considerate to not take anything of REAL value." It is actually funny to think of one of my poor neighbors breaking in to raid the fridge. But discussing crime in Costa Rica should most definitely exclude our example. The real crime is really scary. An acquaintance of ours was tied up at gunpoint, his house completely cleaned out, his car stolen and later found burned. More stories of the same have been hitting the message boards on the Internet. All of the bars, razor wire, threatening dogs and armed security guards are here for a reason. In all fairness, most of this crime seems to be in popular urban and beach areas.
When people ask us about crime here, we are always happy to say that the crime in Puriscal is not as bad as it is in other parts of the country. Still, we add, it is imperative that one be prepared to defend their belongings. The best way to do this is to have a care taker. Someone who is present at your property at all times. Some of our friends have a caretaker who actually slept in their garage when there was suspicious activity in the area. Another friend has a caretaker who watches from his own property with binoculars any and all activity at our friend's property.
Another good deterrant is a guard dog. I'm not talking about huge vicious animals. Unfortunately, some foreigners here keep dogs who terrorize the surrouding community, dogs that I would never allow my family around for their reputation of biting. A well mannered, loyal dog does a lot. I am certain that our medium sized street rescue would have been serious enough to make the theives think twice. It's also a good idea to have valuables well hidden. This is just something that people moving here have to be prepared for, the sad reality that for the vary fact we are from a more privileged place, thieves are going to feel entitled to take their share.
So dear readers, until I replace the point and shoot that was swiped away from me, you may anticipate more computer enhanced drawings rather than photos. Maybe it's a sign that I need to draw more. Through everything we have experienced here, we continuously search for a reason why we are living the unusual circumstances we have. Just like so many things in life, lessons are learned and we grow from the experience.
* Two weeks after the break in, my daughter found this ring. She had forgotton it was inside of a little plastic toy. When she had seen her jewelry box sifted through, she immediately noticed that the ring was not where it should be. One of the few times I was thrilled that she had not kept track of her things.