Voices: Making Costa Rican Friends With Coconuts and Cannabis

Foreign relations is all a matter of plant matter.

The cab driver pulled over to the side of the road in Costa Rica to the nearest Coconut Stand.

“Any of you girls like coconuts?” He inquired in somewhat fractured English.

Out of the three basic-looking white girls in the backseat of the taxi from Liberia’s airport, I was the first to exclaim, “Si, I’m coco for coconuts!”

I’m not sure if this was an icebreaker fail or not, but the cab driver seemed friendly. Having just departed chilly gray 50-something New York weather, I may have been a bit overzealous to arrive in a place of sunshine and 85 degree heat. That’s my excuse for my pun-related outburst.

My two travel companions were more wary of our detour to a coconut stand off a tiny dirt road in Guanacaste Costa Rica. I felt no bad vibes, even when the man taking a machete to the dome of the coconut remained expressionless. The coconuts tasted authentic enough, but I wasn’t completely under the spell. I could tell this cab driver pulled over to this stand a lot as a sort of tourist welcome-gift.

Image via TheMagicLadyBug/VSCO

“We have very good brownies here… and they are low calorie!”

The cab driver said, “Ok, five dollars each.” I wasn’t sure what that translated to in colones, but found the non-elective coconut pit stop entertaining. My two travel companions trended toward terrified.

Along we went down another tiny borderline-dirt road. The cab driver began talking about how proud he was of his country. His constant Spanish to English changeups, and the continual repetition of “Welcome to my country,” wove in and out with Justin Bieber’s "What Do You Mean" as it streamed through the car’s speakers.

I sat in the front and tried to make small talk, a little bit in Spanish and a little bit in English. The driver pulled out his phone. “You know another good thing about my country…”

The cab driver trailed off a bit and started to giggle. I peered to my left and noticed his text thread with two photographs. The first, a selfie of a girl in a bra and matching pink underwear, and under that, even more eye catching, a photo of a green box of brownies.

Image via Alessia Baranzini/VSCO

They were Costa Rican pot brownies, packaged with cheesy marijuana leaves and some sort of Spanish I couldn’t translate plastered on the box. The cab driver continued, “We have very good brownies here… and they are low calorie!”

I don’t know if he threw in the last bit as a selling point for a trio of 20-something girls, but I was more interested in the motive for the friendly tip off. Was this an extension of the coconut stand scam? A way to ensure that tourists spend the optimal number of colones during the taxi ride from the airport? Or was he just a friendly guy who liked to smoke weed?

I asked about the legality of weed in Costa Rica. The cab driver, in more words than he needed, said weed isn’t completely legal, but local authorities have a relaxed attitude to the consumption. Basically, no one gave a shit if you consumed marijuana.

Back in June, San Juan held the first Central American conference advocating for the benefits of medical marijuana. Called CANACOSTA, the seemingly well-organized convention took place over a few days, bringing doctors, politicians, and caregivers from Costa Rica and other countries to educate and bring awareness to positive facets of medical marijuana. 

Before flying down, Costa Rica in my mind had the same reputation as any other beach destination, where marijuana or other substances would not be hard to find. The more interesting factoid I took from my first 40 minutes on the island was that this cab driver found marijuana brownies to be a tourist selling point, one comparable to a coconut stand pit stop. It’s as if marijuana, gray, black, or white within a country’s legalities, has become a sort of olive branch between cultures. Marijuana, like a smile, seems to have become a code of friendliness regardless of language differences.

In short, my coco for coconuts quip fell far shorter of our cab driver’s boxed marijuana brownies outreach.

Before I exited the cab at my hotel, I asked: “What are your plans for later? Will you see that girl in the pink bra and underwear?”

The driver smiled, chuckled, and removed a brownie from his pocket.

He gave a wink and said, “No, mami, I’ll be doing this later.”