Splette's Travel Blog


My friend keeps this loaded gun under his pillow - 'for protection'

With a loaded gun under the pillow…

It’s no secret that Central America has a problem with street crime. Some countries are worse than others. Costa Rica is one of the safer countries which is part of the reason I decided to live here. I feel safe enough to walk alone at night in some places such as my neighborhood or San José downtown. Other places, though, such as the bus stations are scary at night. Many of my Tico friends living here have been robbed at least once. KJ got robbed by a gang of youngsters while walking from the bus stop to his home. Frank thought he did the right thing and took a taxi home after a night of drinking and partying at a club – until the taxi driver spotted his Blackberry, stole it from him and kicked him out of the car. And one night, my roommate almost got his car stolen when two young wannabe-thieves thought he would make an easy target. One jumped in front of the car to make him stop and the other guy opened the passenger door and threatened him with a knife. My roommate resisted successfully, got to keep his car, a tale to tell and, as a bonus, a scar on his hand from the knife.

Okay, I am digressing. I want to share with you the story of Alex, my sneaker-loving friend from Costa Rica. Alex is 23 and lives by himself with a dog and 2 geese (one black, one white) and a suicide shower in a tiny village an hour from San José. About a year ago he was visiting San José one night and walking down some dark street by himself. A guy came up to him and said:

“Give me your sneakers!”

Seriously? Who robs somebody for a pair of smelly sneakers? (As a side note, here they don’t call them sneakers but tennis like in ‘tennis shoes’). Anyway, my friend replied the same way I would have in that situation. He said:


Maybe, my friend would have decided differently if he knew what would happen next. The guy drew a gun, held it to Alex’ chest, pulled the trigger and ran away. The bullet traveled through the chest and exited in the back. He remained conscious the entire time and was brought to a hospital where they cut up his chest. The doctors found that the bulled had missed any vital organs such as heart (by 1 mm, they claimed), lungs or backbone. He had to spend another month in the hospital but was released without any long-term effects, besides the scars (two long ones from the operation – one horizontal and one vertical) and bullet entry and exit scars. (I wanted to take a photo but Alex is a little shy about that.)

A few months after he was released from hospital, Alex decided that from now on he needs to protect himself.  So he bought – guess what – a gun. And just to be really really safe he bought three of them. A shotgun, a 9 mm and the one you see in the pic above (easy to get on the black market in San José for a few hundred Dollars). He keeps that one under his pillow, loaded, of course. Believe me, I checked myself when I visited his house. The other two he gave to his uncle and his brother who live in the houses next to his. I’ve never felt safer *cough* …

One evening during my visit, Alex went shopping to the pulperia (grocery store) of the village to buy some food and Rompope. When he came back, he dropped his shopping bags and asked ‘Where is the gun??’. He then ran into his bedroom to get it and stormed out without any further explanation of what is going on. During the next 30 min or so, a number of thoughts went through my head. Is he alright? Is he coming back? How am I going to explain to the police in Spanish who I am and what I am doing here? Did he shoot anyone? But eventually, he did return. Unharmed. He said that on the way back from the grocery store he saw a guy who broke into the house of his friend and stole the computer a few months back. So, Alex decided to go after him and convince him to either return the computer or pay for it. He said he was successful.


So, what’s the moral of this experience?

#1 My friend Alex is a lucky bastard. He got to keep his sneakers! (I consider myself lucky, too: the thief of my sneakers stole them while I was asleep instead of shooting me).

#2 Gun violence is a vicious circle when people come to the conclusion that getting themselves a gun is protecting them from the guns of the other people…

#3 Surprise: Central America is different from Germany.


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