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But not everyone is happy about the increased competition, which, along with a contracting economy, has required some prostitutes to lower their prices by as much as 40 to 50 percent. The problem is competition. Like many prostitutes, Mayela, a year-old single mother with an unfinished education, first started selling her body for sex in her early 30s to support her children.
After several years of prostitution, she made enough money to buy a small house and get her three daughters into decent schools.
She eventually found an unskilled assembly line job at a factory, which paid less than prostitution but got her out of the skin trade, which she despises. But when she got laid off earlier this year, Mayela said she had no choice but to return to wearing short skirts and working long nights. Ana, 34, said she worked in the fashion industry in Colombia and came to Costa Rica to find similar work when the economy started to slow in her native country.
On a recent Saturday night, both spots were packed with hundreds of North American men, who flirted at the bar with curvy women or shuffled drunkenly and uninhibitedly on the dance floor to live music.
But while business in the Gringo Gulch appears lively at first glance, some women say more men seem interested in window shopping than making a purchase. As for Mayela, the Costa Rican woman who returned to prostitution after losing her factory job earlier this year, she said she is willing to make the personal sacrifice to protect her daughters from following in her footsteps.