Aug. 9, 2010
Trip to the big city
Jack picked me up in front of my complex about 7 this morning and, after stopping for gas, we were on our way to San Jose. Turns out he had to go to the embassy also to pick up a new passport. His old one had run out of pages from all the cross-border trips he’s taken every three months for the last six years. Fortunately, the new highway was open, although we did see evidence of a few rock slides. I like to characterize the highway construction in some places as the mountains being held back by duct tape. In some places, the walls alongside the road went straight up 100 feet, seemingly bending over the highway. We encountered little traffic and arrived at the embassy 45 minutes early. Jack called my contact to let her know we were there and we went inside to get our numbers to get in line. After I made a fruitless attempt to get done whatever it was I needed to get done, I decided to wait until Mayanye arrived. Jack went ahead and picked up his passport.
The first time I was here, there was a line outside snaking for two blocks. There was no such line this morning and we were even able to secure a parking space right across the street. There are two lines at the U.S. Embassy – one for Americans and one for Ticos. The American line is considerably shorter. Most of the Ticos go there to get U.S. visas. Finally, Mayanye arrived and we went to the waiting room. Took forever for my number to come up. As I sat, I listened to Americans mostly trying to replace their passports or get new ones. Lots of passports stolen here. People were in there trying to get passports so they could get on flights back to the States today. The clerks all seemed very helpful and cordial during all this apparent chaos.
Keep in mind that I had warned Mayanye that I might have to wait until I actually get a Social Security payment before I could file. She did call the embassy last week to make sure we weren’t coming in too soon and they told her today was fine. Well, it wasn’t. The nice lady told me they had to have a record of the payment being made and I knew it hadn’t shown up in my bank account. I was not pleased. Mayanye apologized profusely, showed me the numbers she had called to confirm it was OK to be there today. Jack did some translating for me with his “Spanglish” because she does not speak good English. She made a comment to Jack that Ken needed to learn the language. We left and I have to come back in 2-3 weeks, which means hiring that driver I avoided today because of Jack’s ride.
The expat way here when visiting the big city is to stock up on those things you can’t find in the hinterlands, so we went shopping. First was PequenoMondo, which was like a dollar Store, only much larger. Lots of clothes and housewares. Found some wooden shelving and a cook pot but there was little of interest for me otherwise. Debated whether to spend $100 on a decent office chair. My wallet won that battle. Then we went to OfficeMax, where I spent a bit more. Found a headset and microphone to use with my Skype calls as I felt the whole neighborhood could hear me yelling into the laptop micophone ($26). Also got some small stuff and a printer cartridge – and priced TVs. They had a 20″ flat screen for about $440 but we were going to Walmart next, actually called PriceSmart but owned by Walmart, so thought I might get a better deal there. PriceSmart was one huge warehouse, half filled with electronics, appliances, furniture and stuff, the other half with food. The smallest TV was 32 inches so I passed. Didn’t buy a thing here.
Next stop was for lunch at the nearby Hooters. I have to say that all this is in the midst of one of the biggest expat areas in Cost Rica – Escazu. One of the priciest areas in the country, too. Anyway, I wanted to check out the differences between U.S. Hooters girls and CR Hooters girls. Down here, they have a better tan and don’t speak English, but georgous just the same. Our waitress looked like a double for Jessica Alba. When I told her so, she blushed. She knew who I was talking about. During lunch and pretty much during all of this trip Jack kept trying to insert some Spanish lessons. Phrases like, “Usted es muy graupa.” The girls liked this one as it means they are more than beautiful. I’m practicing it. Lunch was typical Hooters polla (chicken) wings and curly fries, with a Pilsner.
Back on the road
Jack wasn’t content with just going straight back to Jaco. Like Curtis, he wanted to test some side roads to other towns. First was Orotina, which is about 25 miles from Jaco and in the mountains. It looked like an improved and larger Quepos. Also noticed all the kids on the streets. Definitely a family town – as opposed to Jaco. In fact, a lot of the residents work in Jaco and have their homes in Orotino. Jack had a reason for stopping here. He knows this Tica who pulls a cart all day in Jaco trying to find discarded stuff that can be salvaged. “No one in Jaco works any harder than her,” Jack said. He’s known her four years and tries to help out in small ways. He noticed she was doing all this walking around with her cart in flip-flops and wanted to get her some sneakers. There are a ton of stores selling shoes in this town – don’t ask me why. And I guess the prices are good. After checking out several stores, he bought a pair of black sneakers for $12. She will be absolutely floored! like I said, he’s a good friend to have.
But we weren’t done exploring. Jack uses a local driver to bring his guests to his restaurant during the season – Gilbert. We went to this small fishing town where he lived and Gilbert happened to be there. Gilbert, however, was undergoing a marital tsunami and his mood reflected it. Gilbert is normally a good-natured sort, although with a huge flopping belly. He has three vans for moving turistas around. Guess his wife found out he cheated on her and he was very worried about his marriage, and feeling a great deal of guilt. They have three kids. He was clearly upset about his transgression and talked openly to Jack about it, with me, a stranger, listening. Gilbert obviously needed someone to talk with and Jack was the right person at exactly the right time. Coincidence? What do you think Kimberly?