CR Sex Tourism; Loving Gringos for a Living (Part 1)
Costa Rica Sex News – Costa Rica is fast becoming a top sex-tourism destination where prostitution is not only legal, it’s embraced. There’s an expat in a bar called the Blue Marlin, which is on the ground floor of a pink hotel in downtown San José, Costa Rica. He used to be a detective, did a bit of vice, enough to know how the world works, how people think. It’s late, and he’s drinking gin.
He’s partial to Latin women. Make it seven.
“Okay, seven. But, c’mon, a lot of them are beautiful.”
Conceded, assuming your taste runs to python-tight clothing. And, you know, prostitutes.
“Now look at the guys.” Another sweep with the glass. Almost every man in the place is a gringo. “Guys like them, to get a girl like one of these in the States, they’ve gotta have three things. They’ve gotta have a good job. They’ve gotta have a lot of money. And they’ve gotta be a nice guy.”
The expat takes a drink, studies the gringos again. “All these guys,” he says, “they’ve probably got one of those things. They might even have two of those things. But I guarantee you, none of them have all three.”
When you’re not drunk and the place is almost empty, this is what it looks like: There are tables just inside the door to the right, three rows of them between the windows fronting the street and the wooden rail that keeps people from tumbling off the raised platform that holds the main bar, which is huge, two peninsulas poking out in the shape of an upside-down U. There are TVs bolted to the walls and tuned to sports channels, because this is ostensibly a sports bar, and there are fish—stuffed fish, carved fish, and sculpted fish—mounted above the liquor shelves and dangling from the ceiling, because the “World Famous” Blue Marlin is also ostensibly a fisherman’s bar, even though it’s hours away from any place where you might actually catch a fish. Also, it’s a gringo joint: There’s a crinkled American flag, like the ones newspapers printed after September 11, taped to one wall, and dozens of shoulder patches, left behind by American cops and firemen, tacked up behind the bar—San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Boynton Beach, Waynesboro, a hundred other little towns you’ve never heard of. Eleven o’clock on a Monday morning during the Costa Rican rainy season and it’s all white boys at the bar, eight of them, except for one wobbly local named Fernando that the security guys keep trying to pour out the door.
Seven girls sit on stools in the back corner, smoking cigarettes and looking bored. Six more are off the to the left, just beyond the casino, in the lobby of the Hotel Del Rey. They’re working, but not very hard. Not much to choose from this early—not for them, not for the men. Wait a little while—say, five o’clock—when the sun’s still clawing through the rain clouds over San José and before the streets are lousy with beggars and peddlers. By cocktail hour, the place is jammed. There are a few ticos and the biggest Asian kid you’ve ever seen, but the rest of the men here are gringos. There are young guys in tank tops and old guys wearing socks in their sandals and a whole mess of graying middle-aged guys in polos and floral-print shirts. They’ve got the bar surrounded three deep, and most of the tables are gone, too.
And they’re not even half the crowd.
The chicas—Christ, there’s a lot of them. Black girls and brown girls and beige girls and even a couple of white girls, brunet and blond and redheaded and skinny and chubby and tall and short and stacked and not-as-stacked, and every one of them single.
Are they looking at you? Hell yes. A hundred brown eyes turn on you the second you walk through the door, trying to catch your attention before you even get past the security guard with the metal detector, like you’re Brad Pitt or something. When’s the last time that happened at the Bennigan’s in Parsippany? Never, that’s when.
Which is exactly why all these men are here. “San José: the very best place in the world to get laid, I am convinced,” an aficionado who calls himself La Muerte (literally, Death) wrote a few years back in one of the bajillion or so field reports that pop up when you search “Costa Rica sex” on the Internet. Even then, in 2001, the Blue Marlin was legendary among a certain sort of gringo tourist—the sort who likes a wide selection of pretty, inexpensive women in a safe place where the bartenders speak their language. But why stop at the Blue Marlin? That’s just one joint in a city of 300,000. There’s Key Largo and Atlantis and all the other bars, and the strip clubs that hang billboards—THE NEW NIGHT CLUB KUMAR: OH, YES!—in English along the highway from the airport, and the street corners and parks parceled out by gender and age and fetish. Cheap blow jobs from old whores with drug problems? The Red Zone, a few dirty blocks around the Central Market. Teenagers? There’s four by the pay phones at the edge of Parque Morazan. Transvestites, transsexuals, queers? They’ve all got their own turf close by, and the cabbies all know exactly where they are. “It’s very easy to become like a kid in a candy store when you first go to San Jos é,” as Death says. “There’s so much available talent down there, and it’s all done in wide-open public spaces. That’s a great feeling, but don’t lose your good sense in the original bliss.”
Yeah, don’t lose your good sense. Get a seat—one of the hightops by the bar rail is open. Have a drink. Take your time. The girls aren’t going anywhere. Sure, every few minutes one leaves with a guy, wiggles out the back toward the hotel lobby or out the front to a cab, but the selection never noticeably thins. The chicas, all freelancers and all 18 (or at least with papers to prove it), always outnumber the gringos. That’s the point.
They won’t pester you if you don’t want them to. They’re not like those girls in the Philippines who swarm your table, jabbering in broken English. You buy me ladies’ drink? You bar-fine me? Or the ones in Thailand. They’ll grab your junk right out on the street. You ready? Oh, you feel ready. Total whore scene. No, at the better bars in Costa Rica, at the Blue Marlin, you’ve got to give a girl a signal, make eye contact, let her know you’re interested. When she slides up next to you, she’ll ask if you’re alone or if you want some company. She’ll be charming and gently aggressive, in a way you only wish the women back home would be. So talk to her. She’s not going to ask you for any money, not right away. “Take your time, be selective, and get to know the chica before you do any negotiating,” Death says. “Look for someone with a personality to go along with the looks—someone who smiles and seems to enjoy being around you.”
Thing is, they all seem to enjoy being around you. Prostitutes are good like that. The best ones make you forget they’re even prostitutes, make you think you’ve stumbled into the greatest singles’ bar in the world. That girl you’re talking to, she’ll tell you that you’re handsome and sexy and intelligent, and she’ll make you believe it no matter how fat or dumb or ugly you are because she knows you’ve got a hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket. Back home, you’d spend that on dinner and a movie, and for what? A kiss on the cheek? Down here, that gets you laid, and by a woman who pretends she doesn’t think you’re a pig.
Have a few more drinks, let it get late, way into the early morning. The gringo crowd is clearing out now. Too many chicas and not enough customers. The tall one in the tight white pants, the one who’s been eyeing you for the past hour, she’s at the table asking for a light, but she’s speaking in Spanish, so you don’t realize what she wants until she grabs a pack of matches from the ashtray.
“Where you staying?” She knows a little English, enough to get by.
She smiles. Bad teeth, but otherwise pretty: slender, long dark hair, coppery skin that makes her halter top seem even whiter. “Where?”
No, it’s an average hotel with an intermittent ant problem. What’s nice about it, though, is that it’s a Holiday Inn. If you’re coming to Costa Rica to hump prostitutes, a room in the world’s family-friendliest hotel is good cover. Tell your wife or girlfriend you’re staying at the Hotel Del Rey and you might as well be sleeping at Heidi Fleiss’s offshore discount whorehouse. The Del Rey’s Web site is respectable enough—“Children under 12 stay free” is a nice touch—but the bad shit, the stuff that’ll get you in trouble, starts on the first link that comes up on Google. (“Hotel Del Rey and Blue Marlin Bar, the best known Sport-Bar and Casino of Costa Rica, are San José’s number one meeting spots, specially for single men looking for sexy girls, and night live activities.”) No, better to stay at the Holiday Inn. It’s just on the other side of the park, and the staff doesn’t care who you bring back. They see it all night, every night, gringos tottering in with hookers.
The girl keeps talking, asking questions. Small talk. Where you from? Married? Girlfriend? Want one? Lie to her. Or not. Like she cares. Ask her questions. Where’s she from? Cuba. How old? Twenty-one. What’s the tattoo, the one crawling up the small of her back?
“It’s a panther,” she says. “But the little girl kitty is lonely, and she needs a big, strong male tiger.” She means you, even though you’re neither big nor strong and have never been mistaken for a tiger.
It sounds better in Spanish.
The Costa Rican government, of course, would prefer that its wedge of the Central American isthmus not be so well regarded among American men trolling for sex. The tourist board is much more enthusiastic about their beaches, rain forests, and volcanoes, and the country’s official slogan—no artificial ingredients—would seem to have nothing at all to do with picking up prostitutes in bars. True, every horny American who comes down here is renting a hotel room, eating in restaurants, probably drinking, maybe gambling, and definitely paying the $26 departure tax on his way out; at least some of the money he’s spending on sex goes back into the local economy. But what self-respecting country wants to shill for those dollars? “You might be sure that this type of tourist are not wanted here,” says one Costa Rican official. “We only want the people that want to spend a ‘Pura Vida’ time.”
Yet the whoremongers came in droves anyway. And by the early 1990s, they’d branded Costa Rica with a reputation as a sex haven—a reputation that stuck and then exploded near the end of the century. Why that happened isn’t complicated. For one thing, prostitution is legal, or at least isn’t illegal: The business isn’t taxed or regulated like, say, casinos or bars, but there is no law against an adult selling his or her body for cash. So you’re not going to come down to San José and get busted by an undercover cop. Prostitution is also indigenously rampant and culturally, if quietly, acceptable—70 percent of those who pay for sex are locals—so you don’t feel all that awkward with your arm around a whore.
BY SEAN FLYNN, GQ