Monday, November 23, 2009

Dispatches from Costa Rica, Vol. 1

By Pauly
Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

"I'm liking Costa Rica," said Bobby Bellande.

"First time here?" I asked.

"Yeah. It's my first time in South America."

"Costa Rica is in Central America," I corrected him.

"My first time in Central America too."

* * * * *

I got robbed at San Jose airport by a sticky-fingered baggage handler from Sansa Airlines who thought that he stumbled upon the motherload when he removed a ziplock baggie with a bunch of electronics and wires. The airline forced me to check my carry-on bag for a puddle jumper (10-person flight) up north to Playa Conchal. I stashed all my essentials (laptop, iPod, pharmies) into a messenger bag and took that on the puddle jumper with me, while the baggage handlers rummaged through my shit the moment that my carry-on left my sight.

What the thief didn't know was that he stole a bunch of wires, cables, power cords, and a wireless mouse. He passed up on stealing my only copy of the latest draft of Lost Vegas, but he snagged the worn-down voice recorder that I used to record episodes of Tao of Pokerati. I had an exclusive interview set aside with Humberto Brenes' shark which posed some problems since the shark spoke Spanish and zero English. I speak very bad Spanglish from growing up in the Bronx so I purchased a book of "dirty slang" which I memorized and cracked up my Costa Rican colleagues.

* * * * *

Playa Conchal is one of the most luxurious places I visited on the poker tour. Kudos to the crew at the Latin America Poker Tour who relocated the Costa Rica event from the main city San Jose to a more remote area where the beach meets the jungle. There are moments when I'm wandering barefoot down the beach and it feels like I'm living one of those travel commercials with models roaming the white-sand beaches and a reggae soundtrack blares in the background. Other moments, I feel trapped in time like a character from Lost, almost praying that I get stranded in this paradise.

Fitting that the all-inclusive resort's name is called Paradisus.

Change100 and I were housed in a luxury hut and Otis was stationed next door. On our first night in Costa Rica, we headed to the LAPT Welcome Party where I sampled the local beer... Imperial. Out of all of my Latin American adventures, Quilmes in Argentina is my favorite beer, but Imperial is a close second which beats the piss out of Corona and Sol. I got very acquainted with Imperial since this is an all-inclusive resort which means all-you-can-drink booze. I told you this place is almost heaven. Oh and did I mention the monkeys, raccoons, multi-colored butterflies, and iguanas?

Most of the crowd at the party disappeared and headed to the convention center -- which was the base of operations for the poker tournament and poker room. On the eve of the LAPT Playa Conchal Main Event, Humberto Brenes hosted a charity tournament to help shark conservation in Costa Rica. Over $30,000 was raised (with Humberto & PokerStars matching the monies collected in the event) which is a significant amount of money for a non-profit marine conservation entity. Team PokerStars Pro Veronica Dubal from Argentina won the charity tournament that was a who's who of Latin poker -- which attracted the Costa Rican paparazzi. The Brenes clan was well represented along with one of the actors from the Mexican version (and original) Ugly Betty.

The biggest crowd standing five and six deep hovered around one table. I assumed they were sweating a famous soccer player or Mexican soap opera actress. I elbowed my way through the crowd and saw a guy in a wrestling mask, who turned out to be the son of Santos. His father was one of the greatest masked Mexican wrestlers of all time. Son of Santos happily posed for a picture.

* * * * *

I primarily went to Costa Rica for a well-needed vacation where I could unplug and relax on the beach. The LAPT event was an after-thought despite many friends were either playing or covering the event. I paid my own way here and hoped to write a few pieces just to break even. I also had plans on expanding my contacts in Latin America. My buddy Rey, editor of Bluff Latin America, wanted to introduce me to several important figures in the gaming industry. Ah, and I was also seeking to interview worthy translator for the Spanish version of Lost Vegas.

Otis and Change100 covered the event for PokerStars Blog and Shirley Rosario (aka Poker Babe) was scheduled to play in the Main Event. Her boyfriend, Sos, tagged along which was perfect because we both had someone to pal around with during the tournament.

It's funny because I spent as little time inside the tournament room as possible. And when I did, I was bullshitting with my friends. I considered that "my vacation" while sadly that's what 75% of the poker media does on a normal day of "work."

Sos and I hung out at the activities center. We shot pool and played ping pong. Within a few hours, Sos had become the most popular guy at the resort and I bestowed the moniker "The Mayor" upon him.

The best job at the resort is the activities center. The college-aged associates are paid to play games with the guests and run fun things. The chick who ran the yoga class was smoking hot and she told me that she wanted to move to L.A. to become a personal trainer for movie stars. I told her she needed to move to Las Vegas and whip most of the poker community in shape.

We originally went to the center to inquire about the Rifle Shooting hour. I wanted to shoot guns, but since that was scheduled for a later time we had to kill some time. Two of the guys who worked at the activities center challenged Sos and I to a game of doubles ping pong. I quickly learned the my teammate Sos was super competitive and he was a sick ping pong player.

We were evenly matched teams. And after the first game I realized that it wasn't just for fun. The Costa Ricans wanted to beat us... badly and vice versa. A small crowd gathered to watch the intense match. The rail grew as the game ran over into the Rifle hour. Our shooting instructor was one of our opponents, so he held up the session until we finished the ping pong game.

When it was over, we were deadlocked at 2-2. Yep, evenly matched over four games. We agreed on a rematch the next day and headed off to the shooting rage.

Sos is a former sniper in the Marines and he gave me some tips -- mostly on breathing before I pull the trigger and how to site a target. After some practice, they ran a tournament. Sos was the ringer and took it down. Me? I tied for last place with the only female in the competition. Plus she was from a city in Canada so I essentially tied for last with someone who had never fired a rifle before.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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