A CHRISTMAS PARADE (small town Costa Rica style)
The biggest celebration of Christmas in C.R. happens Christmas Eve. That’s when the family comes together in one place, gifts (if they can afford them) are exchanged between adults and Christmas day is when the kids get their gifts. On Christmas Eve, in even the tiniest of towns, there is usually a parade followed by a fiesta. The fiesta can include food stands, a bar and dancing. Depending on the size of the town, it can really be a pretty big celebration.
I missed the Christmas parade and fiesta last year because I didn’t realize they even had one. I asked Nidia on Christmas day why I had heard sirens and that’s when she explained about the parade and other festivities.
So this year I was ready.
Now, before I go into the details, I need to give you a little background. I’m going to share a little of my history with you so you get the full affect of the juxtaposition and the fun that I experienced from that based on what I know about parades.
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So with that, the friendly cop and I took off for the place to copy my passport. When we got back it seemed that I should be able to hand over the order to release and the copy of my passport and they would hand over my license. Nope. The “desk sergeant” proceeded to study the order like he had never seen one before. The thought occurred to me that maybe he hadn’t. Because if it hadn’t been for the help of the U.S. Embassy and Cesar that license would rot there like the rest of them. I had already planned my plan B which was to report it lost to the D.M.V. in Ca. and get another. Incidentally, before the desk guy received the suggestion to look through the “recent” stack of licenses he was randomly pulling out stacks of licenses and I saw several others from the Golden State as well as other states amongst all the Costa Rican licenses.
Obviously I’m not the first to come up with that particular plan B but apparently those other victims of macho and bureaucracy, who’s licenses I saw, just gave up on trying to work through the system. That would be the easy solution if you were only a tourist, maybe never to return. I wonder about the ticos though. I guess they just keep on driving without a license.
You do not need to present anything other than your passport to exit the country.
Anyway, after he became convinced that he couldn’t quite fathom what that paper was about he called someone else over to study it with him. More rapid fire Spanish ensued and they finally got the meaning of the order to release figured out. Then he opened this ledger book that had 100’s of pages of hand written reports and began writing. Five minutes later he was done writing. I have no idea what he wrote, but when he indicated that he needed me to sign it and had my license in his other hand I knew that was the final bureaucratic touch.
I’m happily back home in Playa Junquillal with my license.
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I walked in the door of the cop shop and announced the purpose for my presence before they had a chance to draw their guns. You think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. I guess not too many gringos barge into their office because when I saw one cop flip the holster strap off the hammer of his pistol I knew I better appear to be friendly.
I handed the one who appeared to be the “desk sergeant” the order to release my license and he said that if they had my license they would only release it if I gave them a copy of my passport. Remember, I had just given the lady at the court, which by now was an hour behind me, the only copy I had with me?!
I did have my actual passport with me but they didn’t have a copy machine.
Esparza is hardly more than a wide spot in the road so it’s not like you just go to your local copy place in that town. But there was one friendly cop there who asked if he could get in my car and direct me to a store that had a copy machine.
I snatched that order to release out of the hands of that other cop immediately because that was the only security blanket I had and no way was I leaving there without it and said “wait a minute, before we go any farther, lets see if you actually have my license”. They pulled open a drawer and there must have been 300 licenses in there! They actually had them cataloged and grouped by date of confiscation. The “desk sergeant” started showing me licenses from stacks that were dated long before my incident and I saw lots of gringo licenses and of course tons of tico licenses. Finally, one of the other cops realized that this idiot wasn’t looking at the correct stacks and told him to go to the group that was only three days old and there I was, right on top!
Esparza just happens to be a town that I know the location of because it’s exactly half way between Sta. Cruz and San Jose and the busses stop there for a fifteen minute potty break. I asked the ladies in the court house where the police station was in Esparza. They had no idea.
No problem. I have an ace up my sleeve for that one. The ace is a gringo named Bob from New York that has a little restaurant/gift shop about ten minutes before Esparza and he makes a good old fashioned American hamburger and a not bad milk shake. If I happen to be driving to San Jose I try to plan my trips both ways so I can get my good old fashioned hamburger fix because Costa Ricans have not figured out how to make a hamburger (or a real milk shake). You’d think it would be pretty simple, considering that a hamburger is a pretty simple thing. I have no idea what their problem is but they have no idea what a hamburger is supposed to be like even though practically every menu here has one on it.
Anyway, I had a burger and a shake, got good directions from Bob and went to what I thought would be the final step.
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After about fifteen minutes some lady employee of the court calls me over and hands me an official looking paper. I have no idea what, in her rapid fire Spanish, she’s trying to say. Another person comes over and in Spanish that is much clearer explains that this paper is an order to release my license to me. I don’t need to stand before a judge!! Thank you Cesar! It appears that the U.S. Embassy is given some respect.
In the last phone call I had with him on Friday after I had found COSEVI and paid I asked him to call the court to inform them that I was on the way there and to confirm to me that they were aware I was coming and the reason why I was coming. When he got back to me he reminded me again that I would need to plead my case to the judge but confirmed that they were expecting me.
Ok, now I’ve got the official order to release my license to me in my hand, signed by a judge I never had to see, so I ask the lady to give me my license. No. It’s not there.
I must go to the police station in a town called Esparza. Except she kept pronouncing it Sparta. I know where Esparza is but I’ve never heard of Sparta. I ask her to show me this town on a map. That’s when another lady in the office took pity on me and pronounced it correctly and pointed to it on a map they happened to have hanging on the wall.
With that problem solved, as incredulous as it seems that my license wasn’t at the court as Cesar was told by the court that it would be, the next challenge was to find the police station where the people at the court said it would be.
Incidentally, Cesar really did save the day for me, so to speak. Even though he never got accurate information from any of the bureaucracy’s, he was diligent in getting what he was led to believe was accurate and got that information to me quickly. And he was also obviously influential with the court. I’ve emailed him a “thank you”.
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COSEVI is thirty minutes from downtown S.J. in a town called Uruca but the highway I need to be on Friday to return home goes by Uruca. I ask Cesar to confirm with the court in San Ramon that if I pay the ticket Friday morning at COSEVI that when I get to the court I will be able to appear before a judge. When he gets back to me he assures me that I will be able to see a judge and that I should plead my case and request immediate return of my license and reminds me that the court is closed from 12 to 1pm for lunch and then closed from 2:30pm until Monday.
I have a narrow window of opportunity because knowing that COSEVI exists and finding COSEVI in that conglomeration of convoluted streets in what is known as “the central valley” that contains a whole bunch of cities with 2.8 million people and no street addresses are two different challenges.
But I found it in time to make it to San Ramon at 1pm. Why so late you might ask? I left the hotel at 9am. By the time I finally found COVSEVI (remember, there are no addresses in C.R. therefore maps are basically useless), waited in the lines (yes, more than one) and finally got the ticket paid (about $50) and then drove to court it was 1pm.
What would you expect to experience in court with not real strong Spanish? Cesar recommended that I have a bilingual person with me. Skip that. First of all the tica wasn’t with me for the trip back home and second, she wasn’t bi-lingual anyway. I’m in my car on my way home with no bilingual person with me and I know it’s pointless to try to find a stranger, who would be in court for their own stress producing problem, to help me. First, of course, are the lines. There’s the one to get into the building since a whole pile of people are waiting for the 1pm opening and where one at a time each person goes through a thorough security search. Then there’s the one when you finally find the correct counter and take a number and wait your turn. Finally my number is called, someone takes all my paper work and the only copy of my passport that I have with me and tells me to go sit back down. I figure then is a good time to go over in my mind the presentation/plea that I will make to the judge in hopes of having him/her release my license to me.
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I arrived in S.J. early Wednesday afternoon, got checked into my hotel, had lunch and then headed to a BN branch near the hotel thinking that enough time had passed that my ticket would be in the system. Nope. After waiting a half hour in line at the bank the teller informs me that it takes 22 to 24 days for a ticket to be entered into the system.
Ok, enough of this shit… I’m a U.S. citizen and the U.S. Embassy is in S.J. I decide it’s time to quit playing the Costa Rican bureaucratic ineffectiveness game. I call the Embassy and get Cesar in U.S. Citizen’s Services on the line. He speaks good English, listens carefully and understands that I:
1. Am willing to pay the ticket
2. Need to visit the court on Friday
3. Am leaving for California in a week and a half and would like to have my license with me.
He puts me on hold while he calls BN then comes back on the line and tells me they told him I could go into a BN branch after 12 noon on Thursday and the ticket would be in the system so I could pay it. I wait until 2pm Thursday just to give them plenty of time. Nope. Same story. So once again I’m on the phone to Cesar. This time when he gets back to me he say’s the bank suggested that I go to the government agency called COSEVI (don’t ask me what those initials stand for). Apparently they get the ticket first and then ultimately get it into the banks system but Cesar assures me they say I can pay the ticket there.
Well, it’s too late to go there Thursday because since it’s a government agency they close at 3:30.