The Sad Lonely Tale of Prostitution in Costa Rica

One only needs to fly a few hours south in some discount sardine can carrier airline, from one of the Southern states (seems like where most of them come from…) and chat with other like minded and morally inept passengers when the topic comes up “Where you stayin’?” and The Del Rey Hotel, or simply the “Rey” can be heard by several new comers and seasoned veterans who go there to feel like a bad a*s.

The Pink Hotel that has become a Mecca of legalized prostitution (yes, it’s legal across Costa Rica) dominates the San Jose, Costa Rica downtown skyline, a skyline shared by Banco Nacional and Recope, two other corporations that constantly have their hands in the pockets of most Costa Rican citizens.

At least the average Tico and Tica (names for male and female Costa Ricans) won’t set foot in the Del Rey Hotel’s many front doors, as the beer is more costly and the display of women is disapproved by the heavily Catholic influenced citizens.   The hotel security (who all pack a gun) tend to keep the nationals out because, after all, there’s not much profit in someone who orders one beer and sits for two hours hoping to chat up a Chica.

The average monthly wage of about $600 US is the norm for many Costa Rican workers as opposed to the greater number of ego stroked Americans who can blow that much cash in about 15 minutes by the time drinks are ordered and a financial arrangement struck with one of the working girls.  These are just a few of the reasons the locals stay away. Many times when I have taken a taxi from the bus station to my hotel, I like to practice my poor Spanish on the drivers who generally have a broken knowledge of English and at least appreciate my attempts, but when I tell them that $100 US will get them a girl for a half hour and the beer is extra, they are amazed. It’s like I have told them what is on the dark side of the moon.  That is about how close they will ever get to one of the girls.

The Chicas at the Del Rey Hotel are of course street hardened, understand how to manage “their business,” and have heard it all before. It must be tough to make a smile and pleasant conversation with a guy 100 pounds overweight, bad teeth, no Spanish with his hand inching up her leg.  I can’t imagine a darker vision of hell. Yet I have been there and naively thought I could find love.

After all, I was always “mi amor,” as long as the drinks flowed and I kept the conversation light but directed towards how much and for how long. Yet the guys keep coming, and the veterans have wing men who cut out their favorites from the herd, then begin a downward negotiation of fees and limited “propina” (tips).

The Chicas all seem to have “babies” and a mother at home, rent to pay, food to provide and some guy who used to be in their lives and is now gone with the wind.  The attraction to work at the Del Rey Hotel is strong and many girls start in their teens (19 is the legal age), creating a fantasy image so they can pry more money from the Gringos’ hands.

In reality it is a business, a tough business, full of dangers,  physical, mental, and medical, but there are few other ways to make a serious living wage where rent, food, clothing, utilities and many other necessities cost as much as North America.  There is a waiting list to work at the Del Rey Hotel.  From 9:00 in the morning when a hotel resident feels a little frisky to 3:00 a.m. in the morning, when some of the partiers want a companion for the night, many Chicas will work those hours in the effort to keep afloat. Yet you can’t truly look into their hearts and ask why, because the smile is fixed in position, their strong wills cannot be broken as they focus on the Dollar.

The Chicas of the Del Rey Hotel can and do separate love from sex from money, and can twist just about any man around their finger and bed post. The Costa Rican government does little to police the trade with the exception of under-age workers, and any violence. The last place any man wants to be is a Costa Rican jail when he has fallen for, taken advantage of, sought out, or believed the fake Cedula (identity card) of a minor. As the legal system in Costa Rica favors Napoleonic Law, he is guilty as soon as the complaint is made and the abogados (lawyers) circle around and wait to assist, as long as the gold card has a healthy available credit balance. Bail is often non-existent, and it’s up to a judge to decide whether to allow the fool to leave (although his passport has been surrendered…he’s not really going anywhere).

All this because a man wants a freedom he can’t generally have back home in the good ole’  US of A. But it’s really like shooting fish in the proverbial battle, because as the brothers on the chat groups on Costa Rica have said, “If you can’t get laid at The Rey… you must be dead…”  All it takes is cash and a little eye contact and you are on the crazy train. Oh what the tales must be made of when he goes home a lot lighter in the wallet, and full of conquest.

Yes, there are other places to find the earthly pleasure such as The Sportsmen’s Lodge and Hotel Little Havana (where the cigar bar is run by a guy who calls himself “Wise Ash”) but none as concentrated and legendary as The Hotel Del Rey. Ask any taxi driver within 50 miles how to get there, and it’s no problem, in Spanish or English.

I am not against what these places sell because it’s a business, and not something I personally need to experience.  But I am getting tired hearing the same stories about how great the experience is. I find it sad and hollow and lacking in soul satisfaction, but that’s just me. It’s a successful business experience that generates huge cash inflows for a country, where a few minutes out of San José you will find tin roofed and dirt floored shacks.  The cash earned at the Del Rey Hotel  helps put food on a table where the lack of social programs fail to provide.  I guess until something better is offered to this highly educated but poorly under-employed workforce, the pleasures of the flesh will prevail. In the land of Pura Vida as Costa Rica is fondly known – one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, it’s a shame and, an unspoken one at that, that women still must be a source of entertainment for the lazy men from the North.

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