Gringo Santa does not restrict his outreach work to Christmas, but because he has a bushy white beard, he fits well with the season.
The Ovid, Michigan, man said he has been a frequent visitor to Costa Rica over the last 16 years. He has continued his trips despite a litany of medical problems, which included a recent stroke, loss of his right leg and two replacements of the left knee. He also contracted what probably was dengue on one of his Caribbean visits.
At first glance he looks like Santa after a particularly hard Christmas Eve. He has been so single-minded in visiting the countryside and handing out small gifts to all he meets that he won the respect and hearts of many, including San José hotel workers who help him.
The man is Ron Chamberlain, 70, and he generally stays at the Hotel Don Carlos when he is in town. Trips include visits to Cauhita, where he has friends he considers his family. New Year’s will find him in Boruca for the El Juego de los Diablitos annual festival.
Wherever he goes, Gringo Santa spontaneously hands out small gifts. At Christmas the gifts can be U.S. $2 bills. He said he brought $4,000 worth of these banknotes on this trip. Another time he purchased a jewelry closeout on eBay. That got him into brief trouble with airport customs here when he showed up with a suitcase full of trinkets.
Chamberlain said that he was inspired by his late wife, Marion, and his red shirt bears the legend Marion’s Gringo Santa. The former deep sea diver would leave his home and an acre in Michigan if he could find a buyer and make his home here full time. In the meantime, he uses a settlement he received from an accident to pay for his personal people-to-people program.