Books by People I Know: “Talking Tico”


Joe Baur is my doppelgänger. Or maybe I’m his. On paper, we’re practically interchangeable.

Joe arrived in Costa Rica shortly after I did, to study at the University for Peace. When I learned of his arrival, I looked up the usual sites—Facebook, LinkedIn—and was shocked to discover our similarities.

Joe grew up in Cleveland, while I spent most of my adult life in Pittsburgh. Like me, he’s a writer, videographer, photographer, podcaster, and traveler. He has produced sketch comedy, as have I. We both have Germanic surnames and personal interest in our Central European heritage. We are both avid cyclists and abhor automotive dependency, and we both refused to drive for many years. We were both avid contributors to The Tico Times, especially the travel section. We have both written for a range of publications about craft beer. We are both recreational runners and chronicled our first races in the tropics. We both married to our longtime girlfriends in streamlined weddings shortly before we became expats. We both moved out of our longtime homes and lived with our in-laws for a short period before the big move. We resided in Costa Rica for similar stretches of time, and our casas were located 10 miles away from each other, roughly on the same road. Facially, we could probably pass for cousins or even brothers, especially in Latin America.

And, to complete the Venn diagram, Joe and I have both written first-person books about our respective experiences in Costa Rica. Both volumes are essay collections, they are deliberately good-humored, and they both include a long chapter about the life of Juan Santamaría in the first third of the book.

Incredibly, Joe and I have only ever seen each other twice: Once, during a visit to downtown San José, and the second time at the airport, when we were both departing for the U.S. It’s hard to fathom the brevity of our interactions, given how prolifically we’ve corresponded and how much worldview we share.

So it was a particular pleasure to read Joe’s new ebook, because it covered such familiar territory. (At one point, Joe rides with the ChepeCletas, a bicycle activist group in San José. When he mentions his contact and friend, José, I realized he was probably talking about my contact and friend, José Pablo Avila Arias. As my—our—editor David Bodigger used to say, “Costa Rica es un pueblo.”)

While Talking Tico sometimes felt like a book I had written in a parallel universe (where I am fitter, a better Spanish speaker, and did my graduate studies in progressive leadership), the book is also very distinct from The Green Season. Our paths diverged quite a bit, especially where our professions were concerned. The most astonishing chapter, to me, is Joe’s account of a week-long simulation at UPEACE. Students acted as journalists and aid workers in a political hot zone, where cartels are actively kidnapping and threatening interlopers from other countries. The simulation is all fiction, of course, but Joe recounts getting blindfolded, taken to a mysterious location, and interrogated by hostile men. It’s a real nail-biter of a tale, and Joe allows himself to criticize his peers, whose indecision causes even bigger problems. It’s a tough cautionary tale for people who mean well but have no idea the risks they face in unstable regions.

So congratulations to Joe on his new book, and on all his achievements since leaving Costa Rica! One of these days, hopefully, we’ll actually get to grab a beer.

You can find Talking Tico on Amazon.


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