San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Working at the Tico A Remarkable Experience

It was the summer of 1980 when I boarded a plane from Wisconsin and landed in San José about midnight. I was worried about how my new editor, Dery Dyer, would feel about picking me up at this hour.

As I walked into the airport, a petite young woman walked up to me and asked with a smile, “Are you Jean?’’And with a welcoming abrazo, she launched me on a life-changing journey.

I immediately knew I hadn’t stumbled onto some ordinary reporting job with ordinary editors. After we arrived at Dery’s house, in the dead of the night, dinner was being prepared. I assumed it was because of my late arrival. It wasn’t. Dery and her dad Richard – I later learned – gave new meaning to the word “night owls’’.

Working at The Tico Times was a remarkable experience during the 1980s. Central America was President Reagan’s front on the war on communism. Journalists got a crash course in U.S. foreign policy, CIA operations, refugee resettlement, counter-revolution.

Salvadoran refugees were cramped in camps along the northern border. Nicaraguan contras were setting up bases. And businessmen were being kidnapped in San José. The Tico Times walked a fine line during this era – an ominous cloud that hung over an otherwise upbeat TT.

But The Tico Times was also a place of much laughter. I gleefully recall a salesman for penile implants showing up at the door, and Dery “reluctantly” printing an article on this Costa Rica first. In fact, I recall all sorts of odd and interesting people showing up at that little pink house that served as the newsroom – foreign journalists, real-estate scam artists, peace activists, and the wayward children of some of America’s most rich and famous.

My most disgusting memory: Walking several miles – barefoot – to a remote village on the Atlantic Coast to write a story about the “New Alchemists.’’ Because there was cow dung in the fields I was walking over, several of my toes became infected and turned green. Thanks to my trusty Swiss Army knife, I was able to save the toes from further decay. Never again…

So thank you, Tico Times, for green toes, excellent coffee, the bathroom “wall of fame’’ and so many fond memories. Happy anniversary!


–Jean Hopfensperger

(For nearly 20 years (gulp!), I’ve been a reporter at The Star Tribune in Minneapolis – land of blistering winters, dense snow and until recently, few Latin Americans. I’ve mainly covered social issues at the state Legislature and in the real world. But, thanks to the explosion of Latino immigrants to Minnesota recently, I now report on immigration and international communities. I love it. Haven’t met one Costa Rican yet, but I’m sure they’re out there.)


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