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My Evil Twin Tomás

By Matt Casseday

My given name is Matthew, but for better than 20 years I have also been known as Mateo, the Spanish equivalent of Matthew. In my early years here, like many wishing to reinvent themselves in one way or another, I sought to be called only by my new Spanish name. I became Mateo—to my wife, kids, friends and acquaintances of all nationalities. Over time, I have introduced myself as ‘Mateo’ to countless people. Most remember my name, but for some unexplainable reason, there are a number of Costa Ricans who upon seeing me a second time, call me ‘Tomás’. It is not as if this has happened one or two times—indeed, it occurs with such startling frequency, that it makes me wonder why I am never misremembered as ‘Marco’ or ‘Miguel’, or another name that begins at least with the same letter as mine.

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La Pobrecita

By Matt Casseday

We live in a sort of throwback time here. Things taken for granted in the “developed” world–uninterrupted electricity, watching your favorite team play online, well-lit thoroughfares, mandatory high school education—are still considered a luxury—at least to those living in rural Costa Rica. Recently I was driving from Dominical to Quepos, on the “new “ road, the paved road, remembering how absolutely giddy I felt the first time I drove the new 40 kmstretch, grinning nonstop now that the bone-jarring 2 hour travail had been transformed into a 25 minute breeze. As was my custom when the road was bad,  I stopped for a break at the Savegre River bridge. There is a space with a ledge, right as you turn in toward the mountains, and it is a good place to sit, maybe have a long drink and a short smoke, and watch the river. At that spot, the Rio Savegre is bottoming out from its long savage run down the mountain. In the late afternoon grayness that followed the day’s rains I saw that the river, even here, was swollen and rushing and mud brown, carrying branches and small pieces of zinc and wood. Something had been destroyed upriver, possibly somebody’s rancho, another lean-to built too close to the riverbank.

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Road Tranquility

By Matt Casseday

A few years ago, I was on the receiving end of the only “road rage” incident I have experienced in over 20 years in Costa Rica. It was near the airport, at night, at a stoplight on the multi-lane highway from Alajuela. I had unknowingly moved in front of another car while coming to a stop at the red light,  concerned with positioning myself for the upcoming airport exit. While awaiting the green light, the driver began flashing his high beams and blowing his horn. When the light turned green, he blew around me, cut dangerously in front of me and braked. When I attempted to pass he sped up and when I returned behind him he slowed down again. Obviously whatever I had done while approaching the previous stoplight had angered him enough to risk an accident while he worked out his anger toward my benign driving error. (He was actually very lucky, as I was driving a sleek, compact rental car, on the way to pick up my teenage son and daughter at the airport. Had I been driving my Trooper or Pathfinder—whichever aged and battered model I owned at that time—I might have just rammed into him when he cut in front of me and slowed abruptly).

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Juan Santamaría Must Be Rolling Over in His Grave

By Matt Casseday

Every April 11th, Costa Rica celebrates Juan Santamaría day. On that date in 1855, young Juan helped defend Costa Rica’s northern border against the forces led by the American mercenary William Walker, whose goal was to annex Central America for the ignoble purpose of the slave trade. The image of the humble young campesino, torch in hand, giving his life to ensure that Costa Rica was not tarnished by any kind of occupying force is in the heart and mind of every kid who grows up here; so great is the remembrance of his deed that the country’s largest airport is named for him, and a large statue of him greets every arriving visitor.

Flash forward 156 years to a little piece of land called Isla Calero. Part of Costa Rica, the isla has been technically occupied by Nicaragua for the past few months, while they allegedly work to improve the navegability of the San Juan River, which flows between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but is considered part of Nicaragua.

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Strange?

By Matt Casseday

Someone recently asked me to describe the strangest thing that had ever happened to me during my 20 plus years of living in Costa Rica. My first memory was of an incident that occurred in downtown San Jose in the early 1990s. I had spent the night in a pension in Barrio Mexico. The following morning I walked the kilometer or so toward the small, congested center of downtown San Jose. The most direct route took me through a bedraggled district of cheap all-night bars populated by loud and broken-down street people, but as I was walking among a multitude of pedestrians all en route to downtown, the scene—which was right out of Hogarth’s Gin Lane—seemed harmless. At 6 feet 1 inch, I had no problem seeing over the heads of the people walking in front of me, and ahead I saw a small, boisterous woman, standing in the street and clutching a sort of bedroll. The first thing I noticed was that she was missing an arm. The second thing I noticed was that she was staring right at me. Her wild eyes locked onto me as I approached and did not waver. I glanced away and glanced back and the look in her eyes suggested that I might have been a walking composite of every man who had ever wronged her on her life’s tortured path, As I passed where she stood, I saw a sudden motion from the corner of my eye, then was struck hard on the side of my head by the thing she had been clutching. If it was a bedroll it must have been of the cement lined variety. I reeled and grabbed the shoulder of the person in front of me to keep from falling as she continued whacking me with all the force her one arm would allow. She was saying something as she swung, but I did not understand. Within a couple seconds I was out of her reach, absorbed by the flow of the pedestrians. I heard laughter coming from across the street as I regained my senses and continued toward the city.
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Getting Tough with Tourism

By Matt Casseday

This current situation with Nicaragua makes me feel like I am witnessing some mean, underfed yet frightening school bully stealing lunch money from the timid, studious kid the next barrio over. The powerless one—Costa Rica– offers no resistance, hands over his change, and looks about pleadingly for help, for some authority figure or big brother/mentor to step in and make things right but no help is forthcoming. Meanwhile, the dull bully –Nicaragua– flexes his angry anemic muscle as Costa Rica waits and waits patiently for someone to come and put the meanie in his place. I love this country, but I don’t love the wimpiness, the “turn the other cheek for we are a trembling but proud people of peace” image we seem to be cultivating. Our answer to this illegal occupation of a small piece of Costa Rica has been to….wave flags. We lack toughness. It’s a brutal world out there and too often the Costa Rican response to turmoil is to seek immediate refuge. And while I have no solution to aggressive neighbors, I do have an idea how Costa Rica can assert itself and show some huevos on the international stage.
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THE SCORE

By Matt Casseday

It was my first month in Costa Rica. I was living in Dulce Nombre de Coronado, a suburb in the hills northeast of San Jose. It was October, the rain fell daily, and the temperature early in the morning hovered around 50 degrees when the sun was obscured by clouds. I was living in a standard Costa Rican 2 bedroom, 1 bath, cold water cement block bunker. The rent was 11 thousand colons a month, which at that time was around 110 dollars. The neighborhood was Tico working class. From my front door I had a view of the narrow street running in front of the house and a sudden drop beyond that widened into a 100-foot deep chasm. The locals used this depression as an impromptu landfill.
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Sharing An I.C.E. Moment

By Matt Casseday

I recently received an afternoon visit from a squat, unsmiling man who arrived at my house on a small motorcycle and without a word of warning cut off my electricity. His bright yellow shirt easily identified him as one of the seemingly tens of thousands of people employed by ICE (which for the uninitiated, is our national electric and telecommunications company). A visitor to my house saw him removing the cap to the meter and came inside to alert me. By an amazing coincidence, I was at that moment attempting to pay my electric bill via internet. It was not easy, as I only have one option for internet where I live (controlled by ICE) and the speed with which I receive the service puts me in mind of those old time room-sized univacs that probably took a couple days to warm up once they were turned on.
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Say Goodbye To My Outie

by Matt Casseday

So there I was, strapped to a gurney in the Quepos hospital. My bata was askew, private parts exposed, and a self-assured man in a green surgical suit was fitting a breathing apparatus over my nose and mouth. “Respire profundo”, he ordered, and I took one, two, three deep breaths. As consciousness slipped away, brutally and rapidly, my last thought was: `This must be what its like to die.´

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The True National Religion

by Matt Casseday

One day last week, I had to pay visits to three different government offices. I spent a lot of the day seated, waiting and waiting for my number to be called. Each office was similar: A casher seated behind a plexiglas window; an armed guard seemingly ill-prepared should he – God help us all —  ever have to actually use his gun; a number of sober-faced Ticos behind desks; and a much larger number of patient citizens awaiting their numbers to be called. I had forgotten to bring something I had recently purchased to avoid long waits: My own roll of numbers just like the ones you pull off from the dispenser in order to receive attention. Mine were the real thing, courtesy of the ´´Take-A-Tab´´ company. The trick is to wait until they call a ´dead´ number, that is, a number no one responds to. Then quickly and surreptitiously leaf through your Take-A-Tabs until you get the number you need. Much time can be saved employing this method; all you need is your own personal roll of numbers, but I had forgotten mine.

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Crazy from the Heat – Review

By Jim Parisi

Crazy from the HeatWriting humor is a cruel, nasty and thankless endeavor more times than not. Trust me because I have tried. Telling a humorous story in person to a group of people is completely different because the speaker can control the pace, the cadence, the intonation and eventually, the punch line. Writing these same words onto a page, handing it to a complete stranger, walking away and allowing the writing to convey humor on its own takes a leap of faith and a unique storytelling talent for the humorist to succeed. And Matt Casseday has pulled it off.

Sr. Casseday is a fifty-something ex-pat who has been calling Costa Rica home for more than two decades. He has been living in the Quepos area for about half that time and writing columns for Quepolandia, the local monthly magazine there, for more than five years. He recently culled through his collection of articles, selecting fifty-four of them to compile into a publication of his own, titled Crazy From the Heat. I think the operative word in that title is the first one, and I mean that in a good way. Matt takes a wry look at the trials and tribulations of living within another culture, specifically, being a “gringo in Ticolandia”, as he calls it. Sr. Casseday has lived and worked in a few different locales as well as owned a car and a business in Costa Rica, is married with a Costa Rican woman, and in short, has easily garnered enough material for his book with first-hand experience.

Jaime Peligro Books and Music

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Soon to be Seen on You Tube?

by Matt Casseday

When last seen, my old friend Dedson was leaving the area in a battered Range Rover, bound for a ‘tour’ of Latin America. This was years back and the ‘tour’ he had planned revolved around the dented left rear hubcap that he swore bore an image of the Virgin Mary when the angle and lighting was right. “People will pay good money to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a dented hubcap,” he assured me. “Especially humble God-fearing Latinos always on the lookout for the latest Our Lady of Fatima.”

I had studied the hubcap at length, from all angles and at various hours of the day, straight and sober, unstraight and unsober, but the alleged vision never materialized. There was one occasion when I caught a fleeting glimpse of an image that strikingly resembled Moe of the Three Stooges, but it turned out I was staring at the hubcap of a different Range Rover. I wrote off my friend as another hopeless expat lunatic, brains fried from too many hours in the equatorial sun. My last sighting of Dedson was of him behind the wheel of the Virgin Mary Express, heading north on the highway toward San Jose, plumes of dark diesel smoke streaming from the tailpipe.

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A Message from Costa Rica to the Sons of Al-Qaeda

Crazy from the Heat by Matt Cassedayby Matt Casseday

On the other side of the globe suicide bombers are blowing themselves up more than ever, and although it may sound politically incorrect, even appalling, I must admit I typically feel a bit of sympathy for these desperate young men. I can not imagine what it must be like growing up in that part of the world, living an existence so cloistered, so bleak, so futureless, that the notion of blowing ones self up to kill other people because you have been promised 72 virgins in the afterlife seems a good option. Any time I read or hear about yet another of these acts of terror committed by relatively innocent kids, I consider what, in a perfect world, could be done to dissuade them.

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The Pervert

by Matt Cassadey

Back in the 90s I lived in the southern Costa Rican city of San Isidro del General. I owned a car, but my preferred mode of transportation was the bicycle. I rode almost every day and one of my favorite training runs was to the top of El Alto, the highest peak between San Isidro and Playa Dominical. The climb was over a thousand feet in a distance of less than ten miles. I did it as much for the exhilarating high-speed ride back down the mountain as for the exercise. The last couple of kilometers before beginning the ascent wound through a neighborhood called El Hoyon. I would psych myself while passing through, preparing for the torturous climb. It was here, in a spot along the road that overlooked a warehouse of some kind, that I began encountering a man who hid himself in the high grass on the embankment above the warehouse. When I passed he would often be there, lurking, visible only from the waist up. He would shout something to get me to look, and when I glanced over while passing he would make odd, slurping sounds, sometimes saying, “ooo, que rico”, always those words. Though I couldn’t tell for sure in the couple seconds of view, he often appeared to be playing with himself.
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