Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shoe Tossing, Shoefiti....Why do those shoes hang from Power Lines?

Next time you are traveling in Latin America, or practically any country nowadays for that matter, as you pass through some of the small towns or find yourself in the inner cities, take a good look up. Chances are you will see a pair or pairs of the famous “hanging shoes” drapped over the power lines high above you.

What do they mean? How do they get up there? Good questions that curious people have been asking for many years. Let’s explore some of the history and folklore behind the obiquitous “hanging shoes” and we’ll let you draw your own conclusions in the end.

Shoe tossing or "shoefiti" as it has come to be known in many International circles, is the worldwide phenomenon of throwing shoes whose laces have been tied together so that they hang from overhead power lines or telephone cables.

In some neighborhoods, shoes tied together and hanging from these power lines signify that someone has passed on and the shoes belong to the dead person. Legend has it that the reason they are hanging is so that when the dead person's spirit returns, it will walk high above the ground, meaning they will be that much closer to heaven. Another superstition holds that the tossing of shoes over the power lines outside of a person’s house is a way to keep the home safe from ghosts. Some countries also believe that it signals someone is leaving the neighborhood and moving on to better opportunities.

There are a number of more sinister explanations for this shoe tossing practice. Some claim that shoes hanging from the wires advertise a locale where drugs are sold, while others claim that the shoes mark gang turf. These explanations may have developed over the years as inner city crime increased, but fail to explain why the practice occurs more often along relatively remote stretches of rural highways or throughout most Third World countries that are for the most part unlikely scenes for gang murders and drug dens.

Other random shoe tossing explanations include shoes that are flung to commemorate the end of a school year, or an upcoming marriage, or some claim it even signifies the loss of one’s virginity. It has also been suggested that the shoe tossing custom may have originated with members of the military who are said to have thrown military boots over wires as a rite of passage upon completing basic training or upon leaving the service.

Perhaps the most likely reason for the practice of shoe tossing, at least in most rural areas, is simply the act of bullying, or as a practical joke played on your “amigos”. Lastly, others simply say that shoe tossing is a fun way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted and pose great challenge and fun while attempting to get them in place on the high wires.

Naturally, only each individual “shoe-tosser” knows why his/her pair of shoes are hanging from the wires, but the practice has become a common one throughout Costa Rica and now just serves as another display of modern art or to many a form of environmental pollution, all depending on your own perspective or sense of humor!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.


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  2. Nice little expose here maam.

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