I have lived in Barrio Otoya (just north of downtown) for more than 10 years. Great place! There are eight hotels in this neighborhood of about five blocks. Otoya is a quiet, secure barrio where most of the San José-bound tourists end up eating at Café Mundo, visiting the Sportsman’s Lodge or taking photos of the historic old homes. The ministry of foreign affairs building (La Casa Amarilla) has round-the-clock security, and we are only a park away from the downtown walking boulevards.
Despite the great day, rain had been threatening all afternoon, so we carried umbrellas on our visit to el centro. About 6:30 p.m. we started the five-minute walk from downtown to home near the Casa Amarilla. We were talking about normal things, focusing more on avoiding the rain that what we had to say at the moment.
My brother was a few steps ahead of me. Having lived here for 15 years, I’ve finally developed a perspective on which hands to shake and which to slap. The key to surviving the short walk from downtown to Barrio Otoya is to keep strangers at a safe distance. For years, I’ve carried a licensed handgun just in case. As we walked in front of the Peruvian School (directly in front of the Holiday Inn) we noticed a crowd of teenagers pounding on the metal doors. We didn’t think much about it. As we passed by, two teens started harassing my brother – asking for money, provoking him in an aggressive and unusual way.
I saw the scandal and jumped in to break things up. They were way too close to his billfold and passport. I warned them several times to back off, but they continued the harassing, seemingly more aggressive than before – annoyed that I had suggested an ultimatum.
Finally, at point blank range, my brother pushed one of them back with the umbrella. The second kid jumped in and tried to break it. They were tiny punks, but they kept up the pursuit – definitely provoking a fight and possibly trying to steal the low hanging fruit on our belt packs. We were surprised at the kids’ bravado, given their limited physical attributes. A few more seconds of the nonsense and the kids got out of control – dancing around wildly, screaming and threatening to attack us. One of them jumped in the air and kicked my leg. Then he spit on me. I took the umbrella (the good one) and belted him across the face, knocking him down, slicing his face in a diagonal across one cheek.
At that moment, a mob of more than 20 teens came racing down the street, attacking us from all angles. The kids were afraid to get too close – running at us like they do at the Costa Rican style bullfights around Christmas – jump kicking and punching from a distance as they ran by – none of them risking a head to head encounter, but everyone anxious for their slice of drama. The pursuit escalated from a couple punks harassing tourists to something starting to look and act like a riot.
Once we were surrounded by dozens of hostile teens, some smaller and some bigger than us, I drew my stun gun. It is a hand held device that shoots a stunning voltage charge from a hard plastic base. It is designed for a last chance ally at close combat range. By now, there were more than 20 kids around us, and twice as many running down the
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hill to join the rumble. Combat was the only option. The situation was taking on intensity. By now it was two against 20+. The odds were bending quickly out of favor.
No matter how many we took out, within a few more seconds, we would be on the ground, taking sissy kicks and who knows what else from dozens of over-revved teens en route to a soccer match at 8 p.m. Like the intoxicated fans who tip over police cars after a bowl game victory, the mob converted into its own little team of spastic warriors. The odds of two dozen teenagers against two 40-something American guys inspired a momentum frenzy that was swiftly raging out of control.
Then, in an amazing display of precision and timing, a bizarre number of armed policemen came charging onto the scene like a cavalry surge without the horses. Costa Rican police had teenagers in headlocks, plowing them to the ground. The crowd instantly scattered – teens sprinting in reverse, running sideways, back tracking towards the Peruvian School. The crowd thinned, re-grouping like pellets of mercury dropped on a wet table. The metal police wagon rolled in and loaded up several individuals. The policemen were courteous with us. We thanked them and continued towards Barrio Otoya. One hundred yards away, a “Meeting of Ministers” had convened on Wednesday night at the Casa Amarilla. Bulletproof cars and armed security escorts talked outside the historic steps, waiting on their diplomats. Everything normal!
An hour later I walked back across Parque Morazán between the Holiday Inn and the north entrance to the Sleep Inn (Casino Colonial) – curious to see how things looked after the show. As it turned out the crowd was waiting on a bus to visit the soccer game. The crowd was rowdy, unusual for this area. “Basico 48” from the Distrito Carmen Unit reacted to a call and dispatched 80 armed policemen to monitor a suspicious crowd of teens, only moments before our coincidental arrival. Some of the guards had been watching the whole ordeal. Once the punches started, more than half of them came sprinting from the Gazebo Monument in front of the Holiday Inn to join the thrash. Just in time!
The spokesman from Basic Unit #48 showed me some of the drugs confiscated from the little rebels. He assured me that the kids had been sent to the detention center downtown for administrative check-in. “Seis meses probation, he said…..at a minimum.” He was one of the first to help. I congratulated him on the maneuver and told him that I was going to write an article about this experience. “Gracias,” he said, proudly as I walked back towards home.
I’m writing the story to congratulate the Distrito Carmen Dispatch on an excellent job. Had they not arrived on the scene within a few seconds, a lot of bad things would have occurred. I’ve been here for more than 10 years and have noticed that the police force in this area has increased drastically over the past couple years.
I applaud this administration and the group of policemen for their good and timely work.