Lessons Learned While Living Abroad

I had just moved to Costa Rica, I had fallen in love with this place, the sun, the surf and the seductive women made it quite simple to do. I was living in a small mountain town called Escazú, which had the densest concentration of expats in the country. It was a 3-hour long excursion by car through very windy narrow mountain roads to get to the nearest beach city, Jaco.

I didn’t know much about this place, except that it was close to some of the most famed surfing destinations in Central America. My friend had always been intrigued by surfing but hadn’t had much experience, so we decided to make the trek. One of the times we made the trip and as we were winding down one of the large mountains we noticed a car behind us on the wrong side of the road gaining speed, it was right before we crossed a one lane bridge so we last min decided to pull over on the shoulder and watched in slow motion as the car smashed into the vehicle in front of us, pinning it to the edge of the bridge, everyone was OK but it was quite a shock. This was no journey for the faint of heart as nature was ready to shift at every turn.

After finally arriving to the city, we decided to explore the nightlife seen which were were told was really the only place it existed in this side of the country. An acquaintance of my friend was DJing at a local bar so we decided to check it out. I would have much rather stayed and continued flirting with the receptionist at our hotel, a beautiful local surfer chick with a sleeve consisting of exotic flowers and birds, but she had to meet a friend later, and instead gave me a rain check for the following morning.

The music was actually quite good, and there were plenty of cute girls there, a much needed escape from the voyage we just endured. I was quite relaxed, feeling a good buzz, and my friend was doing even better as he seemed to have attracted a beautiful woman to dance along side him. That was the last time I saw him that evening…

I was ready to search for a partner of my own but first I needed to “break the seal”. I had maybe one or two over my usual amount so I was ready to burst. The bathroom was tucked out of the way at the end of a very narrow hallway, and I immediately queued up before it was too late. It was a single person restroom so it took quite some time to make my way to the front. As I stepped in and turned to close the door someone rushed in behind me to accompany me in the bathroom. Unfortunately it wasn’t one of the many beautiful women there, instead it was a shifty looking local, who as I was about to kindly ask to leave, pulled out a baggy, dipped his claw like pinky finger inside, with complete disregard for my presence, and proceeded to snort the substance profoundly. I immediately left him too it and exited the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

As he opened the door to leave, something triggered a rage inside him to attack me. I remember feeling a blunt force hitting my face which immediately resulted in deep fury washing over me. The nerve of this asshole to attack me after remaining calm and without notifying any of the staff (in retrospect probably would have been better, but the way I was raised didn’t allow for such behavior). Before I realized I was fully mounted on top of this person, pinning him to the ground and swinging my arms at his face like a wild savage.

A bouncer at the bar took notice and forcefully withdrew me from the establishment. As I was worried about being kicked out and finding my friend again, the kid must have grabbed a bottle from inside, snuck up on me and smashed it over my head. Adrenaline kicked in at high gear and I immediately prepared to defend myself. I had trained in karate for over 10 years and I was ready for whatever danger lied ahead. Or so I thought…

As I became aware of my surroundings, people crowded around as usual but a few more agitated faces seemed to be drawing near. Was this guy not alone? My head was throbbing but I still had my wits about me, as the first guy drew near I kicked him square in the face, surely if the ring leader goes down fast they will be more hesitant to attack… Another ill drawn conclusion, another bottle found its way on my head but this one seemed to strike with a little bit more precision right at the crest of my head causing it to split open. Blood began pouring down my face and my vision was significantly obscured. Not that it mattered because the sheer impact caused me to lose all sense of balance and I dropped to the ground stunned.

As I fell, a continuous rhythmic pounding of feed began landing on my torso…it felt like eternity as they say, your mind leaves, and your body accepts the tortures its about to endure. All hope had vanished, there was no happy ending. No triumphant rise, so sidekick or super hero who came to the rescue. I was defeated. A useless sack of meat on the floor being kicked around like kids playing soccer with discarded trash. They must of grew tired or bored but the beating stopped, it was instead replaced with hands all over my body, feeling for anything they could take off of me. Was this what it felt like to be raped or sexually assulted. I lied there helpless as they took whatever they wanted from me.

The disgusting sensation had passed, I lied there in a pool of my own blood looking up at the crowd around me…staring..in awe at my lifeless body. I managed to lift my arms and touch my head and they were instantly covered with a thick red layer dripping down. They continued to stare in horror and pity, but nothing was done. Where was my friend? Why can’t I get up? I closed my eyes and accepted my fate to be bound to the floor. My lowly stature beneath everyone who was too good to do anything for me. Will there be any justice if I perish? Surrounded by strangers ogling my existence like some failed experiment, what a way to go.

My surrender was interrupted by some peculiar soul picking up my disgusting limp body and proceeded to full sprint down 2 flights of stairs to get me to the plaza and call for help. All I recall was this kind black man struggling to get me to an ambulance and even falling at the base of the steps. As we came crashing down meeting the cold hard cement I attempted once more to will myself onto my feet to render myself less of a burden but alas, it was unproductive.

As I was in the gurney the world began to fade away and when I awoke, I was in a dark room with a doctor sewing my head back together. I blacked out again and awoke to find myself lying in our hotel room, could this have just been a nightmare?

The throbbing pain reminded me it was real. My whole body ached and my back felt as twisted as a rung towel. I needed to use the restroom but walking there seemed impossible. With a sideways I was able to inch myself to the bathroom. As I was in there alone I was replaying the events that unraveled previously…What did I do wrong? How could this have happened to me? I was furious for not being able to defend myself but the anger quickly turned into sadness, and as I sat there realizing the ramifications of what unfolded, I weeped. The trip was ruined and so was I. I kept wishing I could have just stayed with the beautiful young receptionist all night and I knew I would never see her again.

That night changed my perception of this world entirely. Never will I assume I am safe, never will I trust the strange faces around me to behave like human beings. The world can be extraordinarily cruel and sometimes the consequences of your seemingly justified actions can be fatal. I was only 19 and I would like to say that was the last traumatic event to happen in my travels, but darkness is always lurking, ostensibly bound.

In some aspects, I was quite fortuitous. I was carrying a small knife with me all day and I misplaced it just before setting out. I can’t fathom how drastically different the story could have been if I attempted to defend myself with it that night. I would have likely ended up rotting in a foreign prison locked away, beaten, extorted, or likely gutted with it and left for dead. As unfortunate as the night was, I am happy to still be here, lucky I lost the knife and thankfully that my friend was not there to be involved.

In the end we are the minorities in this country and we would do best to keep to ourselves and avoid confrontation. Territory is one of the oldest reasons for violence in this world and to everyone else there we were foreigners, invaders, we posed a threat to there very culture way of living. When we travel we should do our best to be respectful of these things.

A more composed, less agitated and more sober individual could have avoided such incident by not retaliating with such anger. Not finding someone to help and taking the matter into my own hands was arrogant and ignorant. It is for all these reasons I still bear the blood that dripped down my arm as a reminder of what pride, arrogance and aggression will reward you with in this world. My roses are a symbol of beauty and innocence in this world being bleed from it, the skull represents the poisonous state I was in, the snake represents my soul escaping me, and the candles represent those who merely looked on without any action.

Shoutout to my amazing tattoo artist, Vinny Valdez, who helped me capture my story with nothing but words: https://www.instagram.com/_vinz_/