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Published on February 1st, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Can I Pay You In Pain? Derby Adventures In Costa Rica

By Vanessa “Dee Spies” Keen

This weekend I ventured solo to San Jose.

I’ve never taken a public bus before, and I’m terrified. I’ve never done any extensive exploring in San Jose other than flying out of the airport, but traveling by bus is a whopping $8 each way. Central Valley has the reputation of being extremely dangerous; moreover, there are very few road signs, so it’s easy to get lost and wind up in a bad part of town. But I suppose this is what happens when you put 3 million plus people in a metro area. This is my only option to play derby, so a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.

But before I set sail, I’ve got to go pick up a ticket at the Alfaro station. I was told it’s near a beachfront restaurant in Tamarindo, so I venture into town. After searching and not finding it, I ask a shopkeeper who points me in the right direction (behind the restaurant). As I trek across the beach, I hear someone shouting my name. It’s Claudia, the first (and really only) friend I’ve made on my own here. She’s having drinks with coworkers, but that doesn’t stop her from hopping out of her seat and obliging to walk me to the terminal. And thank God she did because I never would have found it. It’s literally a boarded up shack next to an abandoned club with a dubious reputation. I get my ticket for 5:30 am, thank Claudia, and return home to pack with knots of sheer excitement and terror in my gut.

The morning came early. Too early. I said my good-byes to Adam and boarded the bus. So far, so good. A few gringos about my age take seats behind me, but it’s too early to talk. My original plan was to take the 1:00 pm and get there at a time where I could be scooped up by my hostess, but the bus only makes that trip on Sundays. My mind was racing, and I was in a mild panic trying to figure out how I was going to spend my time in San Jose until my ride could pick me up. Claudia informed me the terminal wasn’t in the best part of town either.

The bus ride was fairly uneventful. I told the driver it was my first time on a bus, and I spoke little Spanish. He was kind enough to put my in the seat next to his and checked on me from time to time. But once we arrived in the terminal, mild hysteria ensued. As I collected my bags, I mustered up the courage to ask the three gringos their plans and told them the predicament I was in. This is how I met Mike, Piers, and Rennike. They were going back home tomorrow to Europe (sans Rennike, who was headed to Panama), and invited me to tag along with them for the next few hours.

We hopped a cab to the hostel they were staying (The In & Basic: highly recommended) to let them unload to figure out our next move. The mall a few streets over seemed the safest bet to pass the time and grab a quick bite. Unfortunately, everyone else in San Jose seemed to have the same idea. Even though the food court was two stories, it took us 30 minutes to find a table. And that was only half the battle. Once we secured our location, we ventured out in twos to wade through the grease and condiments (I eventually overpaid for a grilled chicken salad, but it was well worth it).

After wandering through a strange assortment of shoe shops, designer clothing stores, theaters and even one shop that sold kid costumes, sex toys and bongs all within arms reach, we had our fill and left. Three blocks west we stumbled into a bowling alley that had an all-inclusive lane cost of 1200 colones per hour (about $2.75). Even though there were about 20 people there, no one was bowling. We decided to scrap the idea and head back at the hostel. A few hours of playing air hockey and watching a few Brazilians play soccer on the xBox and it was time for me to leave. I said my good-byes to my new Euro friends and hopped a taxi to Teatro Melico Salazar to meet Siouxsie Wheels, the stranger who graciously invited me into her home.

Siousxie lived in a neighborhood and house that was both practical and perfect. It was a cozy place tucked away in one of the many blended cities of the Central Valley. She had basic amenities close by, and even a nice spacious park for her two puppies to go nuts and wear themselves out. She lived with her boyfriend, Andres, and her teenage cousin Andrew, who was visiting until April. The entire weekend reads like a Hallmark greeting card: good times, good laughs, good food, good people– thanks a mil.

Practice came early on Saturday morning and was, needless to say, an enlightening event for all parties involved. I’ll go first: it was the first real situation I had been in where I was completely inhibited by my lack on language. I can get by in Guanacaste. I can get seafoods and chicken from markets, order in restaurants, haggle with road vendors, and fill up the car. None of that was even remotely useful here. I had no idea what was going on. But everywhere I go here, Lady Luck smiles down on me. Even though I had the only English mother tongue, two of the skaters were trilingual Europeans, and the coach spoke some English too. To my utter surprise, the floor was the most perfect surface I had ever skated on: smooth, polished, sticky concrete– a total dream come true. Between the four of us, we ran a highly successful practice full of squats, sprints, falls and stops.


I could have gotten on a bus right after practice, and the whole trip would have been worth it. But definitely glad I didn’t. Somehow Sunday’s outing topped my high from Saturday’s practice.

My adventure started out at Paseo Colon– the main artery running through downtown San Jose. Paseo Colon is famous for it’s parades, festivals, and all around good times. This weekend was no exception; it was Domingos Sin Humo (Smoke-free Sunday). The festival spanned over a km with street soccer and volleyball, a skatepark, inflatable water slides, a zipline, baby mechanical bull for the little tykes, a host of kiddie contests like hula hooping and sack races and of course a main stage with bands, DJs zumba, cheerleaders, and of course roller derby.

I had been told we were passing out flyers, but when we arrived, we collectively learned that we were also expected to do a demonstration for the public. So we quickly threw together a few drills to wow the 300+ people waiting to see what roller derby looked like. The crowd loved us!


Roller derby is not a sport that fits in particularly well within the paradigm of Tico culture, who are by nature, passive people. (No army since 1949.) But nevertheless, right now there are about 20 girls and one coach that are defying cultural norms and have taken a shine to derby. After the demonstrations we passed out flyers up and down the streets and were warmly received with questions and a few people even wanted pictures.


The girls were stoked to have received such a positive response, and decided to celebrate with some more skating. About four blocks away, we went to a park, that I would classify a skater’s Mecca: Parque Metropolitano La Sabana. It had a blue asphalt track filled with runners, dog walkers, skateboarders and rollerbladers; a smooth concrete speed track with banked corners; and a flat surface in the center for a hockey rink (which we got to skate on once the game was over).



Sadly, this was my last leg of the adventure for the weekend, but I knew I’d be back in two weeks. We hopped a bus that took us to the Alfaro station, and Siouxsie and I said our temporary good-byes. I boarded the bus and settled in for my 5+ hour ride back home.


On the way back, I slept most of the way, but got off for the routine pit stop. Surviving off of a little gallo pinto and an apple for the day, I was on the hunt for some food. I was all out of colones and had a few USDs to my name. My pronunciation was a little off when I asked the food vendor if I could pay in “dolers” (the Spanish word for pain) instead of “dollars.” Of course he laughed in my face and repeated it to another Tico customer who snickered as well. I suppose I woulda done the same.

Looking back now, I should have hipchecked him to the floor and run off with my pipa fria and apple, shouting back as I ran away, “Well, I asked if I could pay in pain.” Next time.

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