A Night at Costa Rica’s Famous Brothel

I have spent a lot of time in San Jose, but had an extra day and night to spend in the city. As such, I looked for ideas as to what I could do that was a little bit out of the ordinary.  I wanted to write a story on San Jose, but was lacking creative material.  One of my friends jokingly said “why don’t you go to ‘Rey’ and watch old men acting like big shots as they pick up hookers?”  The ‘Rey,’ formally known as the Hotel del Rey, is one of the most famous hotels in San Jose, Costa Rica, not for it’s amazing rooms, but the fact that the hotel basically serves as San Jose’s largest brothel for freelance prostitutes.

For those who do not know the laws of Costa Rica, prostitution is a completely legal trade, and one that is quite prevalent, especially among foreign travellers. As long as a girl is of age, has proper identification listing when her last medical examination was, prostitution is a common, if not endorsed, trade in the country. What is illegal, however, is pimping, meaning that women have to freelance and lack what “security” a pimp can offer. Thus, the majority of women in the trade use massage parlours, strip clubs, and hotels like the Hotel del Rey as not only their office, but their source of protection.

For the record, I want to state that I am in no way neither condoning or endorsing prostitution in this post.

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Hotel del Rey

Hotel del Rey

As I step through the glass doors of this famous hotel my heart races as I know that everyone outside the doors, as well as inside, thinks they know the reason I am there. I walk to the reception desk as a pre-season NFL game plays on the television and smoke hangs gently in the air above wooden tables and green casino felt. As I register in the book of the hotel I can feel eyes upon me, both from foreign men and the women that sit grouped together at tables smoking cigarettes.

I check into my room and enter the huge space. I sit down on the bed and turn on my computer before wondering to myself how many times that bed had been “used.” As I try to get some work done my mind can’t help but wander and wonder about what’s going on below me in this famous bar.

“It’s still early,” I think as I assure myself that it’s probably business as usual.  Old men having lunch while paying for beautiful women to accompany them; as if anyone actually believes they’re really “with” them.

As the digital clock on the nightstand beside me flickers to remind me that the evening is approaching I feel my stomach rumble from hunger and know that I have to come out from my hiding spot to find food and drink.  Why did I come here?  My journalist curiosity has driven me to spend a night among the weary.

I leave the hotel with my head down, hoping no one will recognize me, even though I am in a foreign land, or perhaps just hiding my shame. As I eat my traditional Costa Rican casado (which ironically translates to married) as my mind is still set on the “Rey.”

When dinner ends, I race up to my room trying not to look around the scene which is starting to build in activity in the hotel. My two sides begin to fight with themselves as they always seem to do in these types of situations. My shy side doesn’t want to be seen downstairs, it doesn’t want to have to deal with telling women that I’m not looking for an hour or two of companionship. It is telling me that I can still write an article about this place without going downstairs. My journalistic side can’t help but be curious about what’s going on; it can’t help but remind me that there is no such thing as a bad experience, just a good story. I pack up my computer and breathe deeply before dipping the electronic key back into my pocket and sneaking out of my room quickly.

I walk into the main lobby of the Hotel del Rey and again feel eyes upon me.  But as I look around I wonder if perhaps it’s my own imagination playing tricks on me.  Everyone seems occupied.  A couple of young women sit at the bar flirting with a man no older than 40.  A table of older men, obviously American are sitting to watch the Sunday NFL football games decked out in their team gear.  I scan the scene quickly, without trying to look like a target and decide that the casino is probably my best bet for seclusion.

Hotel del Rey, San Jose

The infamous “Rey”

As I slide my way onto a busy table of blackjack and toss 60$ dollars down on the table I look back at a gallery of onlookers resting their arms on a ledge; they must not be allowed in the casino without being invited I think to myself.  They’re so beautiful.  Stunning, nearly all of them.  I wonder what gets them into this.  Sure, 100$ a night is great money for someone in Costa Rica, but can it really be worth it?  A friend of mine told me that the majority of them are girls trying to get themselves through university.  That it’s not a drug addiction or a lifetime career, but a means to an ends.

“I hope so,” I think as I toss 2 more 5$ chips down on the edge of the betting circle.

As the night progresses I hope that my 60$, which has now become about 100$, keeps me going.  I tell myself I’ll stay in the bar until my chips run out.  I would watch from a distance, like a bad journalist, until it was time to run and hide in my room for the night, alone.  The bar begins to fill, and the crowd isn’t what I expected.  It’s not just older men in the Rey, it’s young men, often younger than me engaging.  The difference between the old men and the young is that the young ones don’t waste time.  The older men sit at the tables with the women, laughing, touching, flirting, drinking, while the young guys head right to the counter at the Rey with their girl and head upstairs.

My head begins to fog from the Flor de Cana rum I’ve been drinking on the rocks since I sat at the table about 3 hours ago.  I look down at my stack of chips which has risen and fallen to about 200$ and decide that it’s time for one drink at the bar and then bed.  The bartender is the most beautiful woman I have seen in my life.  I sit and order my drink, the 7 year special reserve, and sip it gently while wondering what she must think of all this.  Does she think it’s shady?  Does she get involved? I’m approached at all angles by women asking if I’m looking for companionship while telling me how handsome I am, while trying to engage in small talk.  I turn them down politely while joking shyly with them that I have no idea what type of companionship they are talking about.

I take the last bit of my drink and thank the waitress and wish her a good night.  As the elevator doors begin to close I hear a shout to hold them.  A man enters with a girl on both arm.  He thanks me and then asks me where my girl is.  I look back and tell him I’m alone tonight, and that I won’t be partaking.

He laughs and says, “son, in Costa Rica, you don’t ever have to be alone.” The girls laugh too, although I’m not sure they understand him.

As the elevator doors open on the 3rd floor and they say their goodbyes as I continue to the 4th.

I slide the key into the electronic reader and look at my big empty room.  I am shaken by the realization of why some men engage in this: the world can be a lonely place sometimes.

As my eyes begin to weaken I hear the sound of a woman faking her pleasure and a man announcing his own in a room nearby.  I roll onto my side, place the pillow over my ears and attempt to shut the noise out.

I wake up at 6 in the morning pack my bags, and head out of this infamous hotel.  In the lobby, it is business as usual.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: Brendan van Son is a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. He has visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than he has the desire to count. Check out his profile on . for a little bit more about him.

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50 Comments

    • @raymond – I should have known a comment was coming like that. Here’s hoping I don’t get any hate mail from it!

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    • I’ve been the The Rey for a long long time. I will tell you one thing. With the quality of girls there, you definately had some good sex AND PAID FOR IT TOO.

      Don’t act like such a messiah!

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      • So flipping true, as if he passed up on an opportunity like that when your whole story is about how great the place is and why did you go in the first place. Anyway I’ll leave it to the gullible to lap up your bs. But it doesn’t fly with me son!!

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  1. I loved this post! Great story–really kept me reading. Excellent description, which put me/the reader right there. Refreshing look at things…

    I like how you ended it, too!

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    • @Lisa – Glad you liked it. It’s gotten over 1200 views and three comments… I think people are shyyyyy haha

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  2. LOL @Raymond.

    I really felt that conflict between wanting a story and being a gawking voyeur. Maybe that’s inevitable when you are on a mission, so to speak. it’s much easier when these things unfold around you unplanned.

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    • @Val – You’re spot on there. Did you get your photo print? Puralator emailed me to say it had been delivered.

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  3. Hi Bendan,

    Great post, and despite the title is is “safe for work” :-)
    You did a great job describing the atmosphere in the place and how you felt being there.

    If I would have been there, I would have “contracted” one of the girls there, just to talk and hear her story of course :)

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  4. Good to hear you survived the Flor de Cana rum express you rode! *laugh*

    Really enjoyed this post due to the story-telling style. Thnx

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    • LIKE TO TAKE U UP TO MY ROOM

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  5. Ewww!! The ending killed it for me. Dirty old men make me wanna puke!

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  6. A VERY entertaining read. Vivid descriptions, really put me there.

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  7. I’m super fascinated with prostitution – the arguments for and against legalization, who the johns are, why women get involved…. everything! I’d probably spend a night in this place to learn more as well… but like you I’d probably get shy, lol. It’s a little different being female, though…. I wonder how I’d be perceived and interacted with in that environment. Did you see other women there who weren’t obviously prostitutes?

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    • @Christy – When I was at the table another woman joined me who was dressed about as scandolously as you could. However, I’m pretty sure she was just there with a friend that was a guy. As far as I noticed, if you were anywhere in the lobby, bar, and not working as a casino table lady or waitress… you’d be perceived as a positute. I think if you were a foreign girl there the guys would hit on you, and probably, the girls would hit on you too.

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  8. Really interesting post! I had never heard of this place before nor did i know prostitution was legal in Costa Rica.

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  9. I really like this because it’s such a clear-headed look at prostitution in this one place. I’ve seen a lot of hookers in my travels, everywhere from Thailand to Colombia and I’ve never really been able to think about it objectively without my emotions and preconceptions and feminism clouding the way. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know really, but it’s a definite reality of travel.

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    • @Steph – I’m glad you got that from the article. I think when I went into Hotel del Rey I knew I would get a story, but didn’t know what it would be at the end. To this day, I’m not sure what the lesson was that was learned… maybe there wasn’t one. It’s kind of tough to think of though isn’t it?

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  10. Nice adventure, glad your journalistic side took over the shy one cause it’s a cool story. And you made some money at the casino thanks to that :)

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  11. Prostitution is a quandry in my mind. On one hand I hate the fact that beautiful young women feel the need to do it to make ends meet. On the other hand, I don’t like to tell people what to do. Two adults can do whatever they want as long as they do not hurt anyone. If a women makes the choice to sell herself, I am not going to be the one to tell her not to. I think you went about this piece the right way. Actually, I think it is interesting because you went in with preconceived negative ideas and ended with a certain understanding. Well done.

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    • Ted – You have the same idea of prostitution that I do I think. For me, as long as “pimps” or “boyfriends” aren’t in the equation pressuring anyone it’s free choice. At the same time, it’s quite sad that people (we forget men become prostitutes sometimes as well) feel the need to sell themselves.

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  12. Thanks for taking one for the team to share this with us, haha. It is nice to see an objective, factual post about prostitution – interesting read!

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    • @Laura – This was definitely one of the more difficult articles for me to write,.. I’m glad it has gone over well.

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  13. Great insight and observation into their world. With any issue, there are pros and cons. As in prostitution, there are countries who have learned to accept and to manage it, while some rather choose not to open the pandora’s box.

    Either way, it must be tough to observe in first person account while not losing money. Good job!

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  14. Hi, can i just first off say i’m really glad you didn’t partake in the “action” that goes on in that place. I was really nervous about posting this, after stumbling across this just googling about the hotel, but myy curiousity got the better. I was wondering…have you done any research or found out more about Hotel del Rey after leaving?? I was in San Jose for almost 4 weeks and got to see this place. It still haunts, and sometimes angers me..to be honest. We worked with a lady who has been going down there for years on friday or saturday nights to pray on the corner across the street til midnight. You get to meet a lot of the guys and hear some pretty interesting stories. Even the government had been trying to shut this place down, but couldn’t find any cracks in. Just recently lawyers are looking into it again. It’s RUN by an American and an English guy…and i know what every one is tolddd about this brothel, but there is definitely human trafficking going on there. Believe it or disagree, say what you want…this place WILL come crashing down, someday. Sooner than later i would say. God bless…thanks for having a better story than most i’ve seen posted.

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  15. Man that was lame you should have stayed home

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  16. I think you took that small profit and spent it on something nice. Nice try, maybe your girl will believe you.

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    • Not really my style Anthony… despite temptations.

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  17. Very good read Brendan, I loved the story telling and that ending. I am from Costa Rica. I know and completely understand what you try to communicate here. I like your point of view and unbiased review of the situation here. You are telling no lies and as a Costa Rican myself this kind of places ashamed me.

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    • Thanks for the comment Marco. The issue of Costa Rica prostitution is interesting… as is the case in general about prostitution. I did my best to cover this with a journalists eye, so I’m glad it came across as unbiased to you. Thanks for reading.

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  18. This is a very interesting read. I admire the fact that you actually had the courage to step into that hotel. I just came back from Costa Rica 3 months ago. In total I spent about a year out there but not once did I venture into ‘Rey’. Admittedly I passed it almost everyday but I felt it wasn’t my place.

    Its very revealing that its not only older men but younger ones as well because I, like many others, had this preconception in my head that its only older men and mostly Americans to be honest.

    One thing that shocked me in Costa Rica is that it is not frowned upon. Which makes me think its either well regulated or just part of the culture there. One thing I noticed is that in San Jose centre especially on Fridays and Saturdays, there are a lot of prostitutes walking around whistling at you and trying to make advances. Personally it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

    All in all its a good read and highlights one of my philosophies – #experiencedifference

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  19. Its refreshing that there are some decent men out there. I found out my boyfriend visited this hotel which he claims to not know was a brothel. what scumbags so many men are. makes me lose faith in humanity. do people not realize that condoms don’t protect against all std’s and that if they cheat on the person theyre with, they risk also spreading things to that individual. so selfish, ignorant and disgusting that “mongering” is a pastime of so many men

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  20. I went there once and although in my heart I didn’t feel like it I brought a girl upstars for the experience.

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  21. Don’t worry, Kelly, we go to places like this to get away from women like you !!!!

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  22. I am 3 weeks away from my visit to Costa Rica! Started off with an adventure group of 6 men and 13 women that initially met in San Jose airport hotel, then ventured off on excursions around La Fortuna and Samara beach! Loved doing the rappelling through the canyon, the horseback riding near the volcano, then the Bali hot springs that rivals most any oppulent play parks! Then the white water rafting and zip-lining, that brings one to the brink of fear, but you are overcome with the beauty that averts that fear! Then to Samara beach, that in on the Pacific, and has all manner of funky people that rivals the hippy generation of the late 60’s! And finally back to the airport hotel for exit from the country! However I chose to stay an extra week on my own! And quite frankly…, getting away from this group of uptight, politically-correct, completely totally disinterested in sex, America/Canadian women, was what I needed the most! Being brought up in the Northeast (Boston area) and so much wanting to get away from the same delineated attributes I defined earlier, I simply wanted to be around provocative women that were very honest about what they wanted and seemingly enjoyed doing it! Which with women from the group I was with, and also women of the Northeast, everything is a secretive interview to see if they will allow themselves to allow attraction to be something other then a choice! See, it stands to reason that “ATTRACTION IS NOT A CHOICE”, because when it is, all bets are off! And for most all women, sure, they may be attracted to a man, BUT there is always a catch! And for men, sure they certainly WILL be attracted to a woman, but there is not a catch! So the genders beat the crap out of the interaction, and what is a guy to do? Go to the Del Rey!

    So when I left this group of angry, PC, sexually impotent group, I stayed at the Del Rey! And man, was I liberated! I felt like I died and went to heaven! The staff spoke English, were polite and helpful! The ladies were immaculately dressed and behaved with manners becoming of heiresses seeing to your needs! And I just relaxed into this Mecca, and decided that I am going to like it here, and I did!

    To be away from the constraints of sexual expression from the Recession sensitive ways of America, where a woman ONLY allows herself to be attracted based on the same criteria as a prostitute does in Costa Rica, but a whole lot cheaper from the Costa Rican woman, is at least a revelation of truth! And not politically covered up by a lot of feminist jumble crap!

    That’s the simple truth! I stayed just 3 nights at the Del Rey, but will return for sure! Many of the statements I have read in the junket are mostly PC crap, and don’t cut to the stark truth staring you all right in the face! Older men prefer attractive women, that their station, or status in life can include, and very bluntly honestly! NOT the PC crap from the American way of life that covers up the obvious!

    Unlike Brendan, who seems like he’s whipped or something, I went for the obvious, and it was almost authentic, or at least attempted to be! The lines go like this:
    Me: “Excuse me, do you speak any English”?
    Girl: “Oh, a little”, with a broad smile, that makes me melt!
    Me: “Well great, we can get along; can I buy you a drink or something”?
    Girl: “I’m not that easy! I’m Camille, what is yours”?
    Me: “Hello Camille, I’m Steven, and I’m just so happy to make your acquaintance! Let’s get to know each other better, okay”?
    Camille: “Why thank you Steven, I’ll have a vodka tonic”!
    Me: It’s on its way Camille”!

    And so on and so on!

    I would generally take them across the street to the restaurant and have an appetizer and see if we can get along, which most always succeeds and we agree on a price and I then go through a checkin to the Del Rey which translates to an $11 charge to my room and we go to the room and engage! Engage in some pretty damn good fun loving sex, which leaves me senseless, but alert, and I always treat them with an immense amount of respect! And in getting to know them, ALL OF THEM have at least 1 child, and not any support of a man! I tell them that in America, a man is saddled with child support until the child is 18 and if married and divorced, an alimony payment! Their eyes go wide with this revelation! And two of the women I had were nursing students, and me being a type 1 diabetic they got a lesson in glucose testing and insulin administration! They, or we, had a great time of learning and having fun sex! Where the fuck in America can you get this? Nada!

    So, all you PC idiots, please try to exercise some empathy, if not for yourself, then for the sexually starved men of America, that get hardly an ounce of consideration, simply because of the economy and the sexually constrained values that are way overdue for throwing out! But that will never happen, so they go to places like the Del Rey!

    Viva, Del Rey!

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  23. Did you consider paying for a “talk date?” You would have learned, and been able to impart to readers, a much less superficial and more informative body of empirical research. If you were uncomfortable taking the woman to your room, you could have talked at a table, at a night club, etc. Many of the women will be your date for dancing at a nearby disco (some actually ask to be taken out that way, for no extra fee, after the sex). I appreciate the astute observations and fairness in your report, but absent some meaningful interviewing of at least one prostitute, I respectfully have difficulty referring to the piece as journalism.

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  24. What a load of sh*t

    Get a grip mate

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  25. In Costa Rica we hate rednecks and all gringos. Yanquis go home.

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    • No me digas… ustedes estan bien “pura vida, vengan todos los Yanquis tenemos playas y cervezas para ustedes!” Los Ticos encantan los gringos haha.

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  26. Interesting post, and even more interesting comments!

    I lean to free adults making free choice, but I also understand that most women who are prostitutes are making a very difficult choice. One that they would not make if they situation were better.

    That said I encourage men who are coming down to be safe and careful while in CR. This means only being in reputable places (like the Del Rey).

    Always using protection. That I even need to mention this is seems silly:)

    When you bring a girl to your room always lock up your valuables in the safe. Simple stuff but I have seen many make these mistakes.

    And if you are looking for a women online (Craigslist.org | CRWomen.com) be sure to meet them in a safe public place before bringing them to your room.

    Peace

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  27. A story with-out a happy ending! A very American society shaped individual would write a story like that one. Gambling and consuming hard liquor is perfectly purist but being with a beautiful woman is simply indecent and sinful?? I just dong get it..

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  28. I’m Costa rican, not every girl there is “prostituta” the most of the girls work in the hotel el rey are from others countrys.

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  29. good writer should of got one at six am
    the girls who replied this post should try this hotel out

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  30. Steven is right! In the USA if you don’t make good money women won’t go out with you. They want the money and tell you when you can have sex. I am planning a trip to the Del Rey on my visit. I’ll bet the women are beautiful.
    And there’s no catch when you want it. The reason they make Viagra last four hours is, it allows you time to beg. Whenever your begging your girlfriend shell give in. Usually that takes 3 hours and 55 minutes. If your married you usually run out of time. So you keep begging and taking the Viagra. Well now its the next day and you didn’t get any sleep. Why because you sleep on you stomach. Now its time to go to work. You pack your lunch by yourself. Peanut butter and jelly because she didn’t go to the grocery store. Well here she comes out of bed looking like a crack ho in the morning. And then, she gives you a kiss on top of your head. In a half sleepy voice says, have a good day. I’m going back to bed.
    ( mumbling) Go make me some more money! Now who’s the ho? You are! Because you get f—-ed everyday!

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  31. The Del Rey saved my life :) Thanks Del Rey !!

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  32. I will be making my first Costa Rica trip in 2 months and cannot wait.I did my research and booked at a hotel other than Del Rey because they have a chica(guest)fee for bringing someone to room.I definately plan on visiting the hotel for the ladies!Also i enjoy partaking in this fun without the fear of running into Vice(cop) stings in the &*(^*(&^ ED up USA.That,s the major reason i left Hawaii and moved to the Northeast where i can drive a few hours to Montreal and Canada where it,s also legal.However for those reading this in Canada it,s illegal to solicit in public only and cops do enforce that so use the escorts like on Backpage,i met the most wonderful lady in Montreal on Backpage and we talk and stay in touch even when we are not conducting business!Actually travel time to both from my home is the same Canada and Cost Rica 5 hours and for the stress free it,s well worth it.I will be retiring in a few years and plan on moving to one or the other with Costa Rica being more easy for Americans from my research,but then all my family that i stay in touch with are in Canada so i still have a choice!

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  33. the research would have been complete if you had interviewed at least one or two prostitutes

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    • Probably right, Ally. I had, on other occasions done so, just not at the Rey. I didn’t want to impose on them working or cause a problem for the hotel. I kind of just wanted to observe things. You are right, though, it would have been a better story had I done so.

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