For women living abroad, the search for a chill-spot can be endless–and endlessly frustrating. The most obvious choices are bars and clubs, but let’s be honest: the kinds of people you meet there aren’t usually the type you want to hang out with in the light of day. There’s something tiring about it all: the same décor, the same played-out courtship techniques, the same progression of drunkenness as the night goes on. For daring travelers like you and me, there has to be an alternative.
Here in Costa Rica, another counterintuitive choice would be the pool hall. It’s cheap, relaxed and easy to find. This decision, though, leads to its own complications.
Pool is ubiquitous in Costa Rica. You can wander into any fire station (yes, you can just wander in and it’s no big deal) and find off-duty firemen joking around as they play; many hotels have a pool table for guests; most towns are likely to have a billiard room of their own called “Poole’s”—how the translation yielded a final e and as a possessive is a mystery of its own (usually called Pooles, incidentally; no one knows how that extra “e” got in there). In the typical hall, an hour at the table costs one thousand colones (about two U.S. dollars). The music is good, all the balls, cues and chalk are present and accounted for… the only downside for women travelers in pool halls is the simple fact of being a woman.
The pool hall is the perfect place for men to compare manliness with typically Latin American indirectness. It’s all very jocular, very familiar, just the guys hanging out and smoking. But in reality, beneath the appearances, every pool game is fraught with tension. The men seem confident as they bend to eye the angles; they strut around the table, run their fingers through their greased-back hair and heft their cue. Machismo swirls as they strike with precision and strength;. The whole place sends the message that women are not welcome: all the clients are men, and let’s not mention the frequent lack of a women’s restroom.
Sometimes, though, the smoky, unpretentious feel of the place is perfect for an afternoon with a friend. It’s best to go with a male friend to avoid unnecessary attention, but it’s fine for two women to rent a table for a while, too. Be sure to keep an eye on your belongings, too, since theft is a big problem in Costa Rica. You might get some glances, and you might find yourself a bit self-conscious about your gender, but adventurous souls like you and me must be willing to suffer a little discomfort for a good time. As long as you don’t let it get to you, you’ll find the Costa Rican pool hall or firehouse a decent, cheap place to spend a casual afternoon hanging around with a friend.