The Miami Herald
March 19, 2000
Recklessness of tourists alarming Costa Ricans
Many women put selves in danger, residents lament


 PUERTO VIEJO, Costa Rica -- The sight of the young blond gringa, standing on
 the roadside in the gathering dusk with her thumb in the air, made Ricardo
 Gonzalez bang the steering wheel of his truck in fury.

 ``Two girls murdered, and still the rest of them are out here like nothing
 happened!'' he exclaimed. ``I'm telling you, señor, we don't have a crime problem!
 We have a problem with American girls who go looking for trouble.''

 A week after two 19-year-old American women were murdered and their bodies
 left in the jungle underbrush a few miles north of here, the little beach towns
 strung along Costa Rica's southern Caribbean coast are ricocheting wildly
 between grief, anger and fear -- partly of criminals and partly that publicity over the
 killings will strangle a blooming tourist industry in one of the country's most
 underdeveloped areas.

 Emily Howell of Lexington, Ky., an Antioch College student working on a school
 project in Costa Rica, and Emily Eagen of Ann Arbor, Mich., a former Antioch
 student who was visiting her, were shot to death at such close range that police
 have called their murders executions.

 Authorities have no indication the victims were involved in any illicit activity, and
 two hotel owners said they knew the women well and had never known them to
 engage in risky behavior.

 But some residents of the area were quick to condemn many of the young
 Americans who frequent the quiet area away from Costa Rica's better-known

 ``We have too many tourists who go looking for danger,'' said Manuel Marena, a
 fishing guide in the town of Cahuita. ``They go looking for drugs, or they go
 walking on the beach with someone they just met, or they do both, and then
 something happens, and people say we have a crime problem.''

 Costa Rica's southern Caribbean beaches are the victims and beneficiaries of a
 long estrangement between the country's politically powerful and predominantly
 Latino Pacific coast, and its politically weak and predominantly black Atlantic

 It was nearly the end of the 1940s before blacks from the Atlantic side were even
 permitted to travel to the cities on the Pacific without a special pass. The first
 highway connecting the two coasts opened in the 1960s.


 The result: beautiful and nearly pristine beaches, mostly untouched by the frantic
 tourist development on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Perfect surfing waves break
 onto a gorgeous patchwork of black and white sand. Dolphins frolic off the
 shoreline. The hotels are small and intimate, rather than the big resorts that
 dominate the other side.

 The rustic feel of the Atlantic coast, coupled with its distinctive culture, attracts a
 different breed of tourists. And one strain of that breed is young women seeking
 romance, often leavened with generous helpings of marijuana and cocaine that are
 readily available -- the payoff from passing South American drug traffickers to
 locals who help them.

 It's a potent mixture that many business people in the area say makes young
 women take risks they would never dare at home in the United States or Europe.

 Some of the most outspoken critics are hotel owners who say they frequently
 shoo away the men from the beach brought home by their young female guests,
 only to find them slipping in through windows or over fences.


 ``I feel embarrassed to see the young girls come here and involve themselves with
 these guys they meet on the beach,'' said Alphaeus Buchanan, who owns Surf
 Side Cabins in nearby Cahuita, barely a mile from the scene of the murder. ``You
 give one of these guys a dinner or even a cigarette and a drink, and he follows you
 around like a dog. And the minute you look away, your purse is gone.''

 Even more blunt is Arline Diaz, who owns the small Tropical Gardens Cabins in

 ``Girls come here looking for sex, and they don't always know who they're having
 sex with,'' she said. ``They need to take more care. This can lead to big, big

 Many of the hotel owners say the lack of care taken by some tourists, coupled
 with a hostile Costa Rican press that delights in publicizing crimes in the
 Caribbean area, has given the beaches an unjustified reputation for danger.

 ``Look, I moved here from Boston,'' said Charlie Wanger, who with his wife,
 Shannon, runs the Cabinas El Tesoro here. ``Boston's a great place. I wouldn't
 have moved here if this was a war zone or a no man's land. And tourists wouldn't
 keep coming back if they weren't having a good time.''


 The Wangers said they knew the two murdered American women well. They said
 ``the Emilys'' had stayed at their motel several weekends. And while the Wangers
 agree that many tourists walk a potentially dangerous line at the beach, they
 don't think the Emilys were among them.

 ``I never even saw them intoxicated,'' Shannon Wanger said. ``And they didn't
 bring guys back to the hotel.''

 Added Charlie: ``A lot of the young clients ask us where to buy marijuana, but
 they never did.''

 The Wangers said the task of boxing up the women's belongings to send home
 was one of the saddest of their lives. But even worse are the seven little
 half-Rottweiler puppies the women left behind, who even now go to the door of
 their motel room to scratch and whimper.

 ``That's my last memory of those girls,'' Shannon Wanger said. ``Sitting on the
 back porch of the cabin, laughing and giggling and smiling, and they had all these
 puppies jumping all over them. . . . I always try to find a higher purpose in things.
 But I'm fighting myself finding a higher purpose in this. It just seems like a totally
 useless waste of life.''

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald