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October 17, 2005

Back in Turrialba

It's wonderful to be back in Latin America again. Every time, I am amazed how nice people are, which puts me in a good mood and people get even nicer. Which
is helpful, because as a result, I get amused over (and not annoyed at) the little things... like, for example, driving directions in Costa Rica.

Here is a typical situation:

Me: Where can I buy waterproof tanks with big lids to store stuff?
Tico: There is a place nearby here, they have lots. It's easy to find.
Me: What is it called, where is it, and how do I get there?
[Varios Ticos muttering and deciding the only thing they know is how to get there.]
Tico [walks outside, signaling me to follow, points at a bird sitting on a power line on the other side of the street]:
You go down there, then this way, and then you get to a roundabout, and you go like this, then you...
Me: Ok, so I go this way [point down the street], and then make a right where that green car is?
Tico: Yes, you go right [points to left] and then you get to a second roundabout and then...
Me: So, my first turn is to the left [motion turning left]?
Tico: [looks at his hands, as if trying to remember which one is which]
Hm, maybe I better draw you a map.
[goes inside. opens half-used notebook to random page, and starts doodling, while occasionally muttering something. The doodle starts out at a place where I have to pass between a park and a high school, on what he claims is the northern side of the park. The park is actually on the real map I have, so I get hopeful. I recognize two roundabouts, and the doodle continues over half the sheet, with many twists and turns.]
Me: Ok, so is this all one road and I just go straight, or do I have to turn?
Tico: Mostly straight, you just go like this[points to doodle]
Me: [asking a trick question here. This is a common technique I use. Ask a simple question
that they will certainly be able to answer and that will either confirm correctness of previous
more complicated explanation, or expose a major misunderstanding]: So is it further out of town than the train station?
Tico: Yes, it's further down.
[I observe that this is inconsistent with his explanation of the orientation of the
school and the park].
Me: [feeling like the dumb clueless gringo] I think I'll just take a taxi.
Tico #2 (#1's boss), to me: Maybe it's better if he goes with you. You can borrow him if you bring him back.
Tico #1: Ok, good idea.
Me: Perfect, thank you.

And thus, I found the place (la casa del tanque, Paso Ancho, El Carmen) without getting lost.

The amazing thing here is that I am so helpless in spite of being already used to the most peculiar aspects of getting around in Costa Rica. I find it pretty normal now when someone's address is "From the Fig, 800 meters south and 25m east" [Fig refering to a large Fig tree that was cut down in the 1970s, and 800 meters meaning 8 blocks, which can be 300m or
2km or anything else, and 25m meaning a few houses down.] And I know that there is no Avenida between Av 12 and Av 14, just houses, because Av 13 is on the other side of town, where all the odd-numbered Avenidas are.  And I am not surprised when a taxi driver, when asked what street I am on, says "I don't know, I don't do street addresses".

And yet... I still get lost. Now I remember why 4 years ago I decided to always take taxis in Costa Rica...

But back to my wonderful day. Luis at the Hotel Interamericano recognized me as I walked through town, and greeted my warmly when I arrived at the hotel. Mika, the cat, was also still there, and I pulled up a couple of pictures of Mika as a kitten in 2001. Luis got a real kick out of that. Mika did not recognize herself but started purring anyway.

Luis even remembered that I know Kayakera Chinita, and asked me to say hi. Blanca wasn't there, but has added many more signs to the interior design of her hotel. It reminds me of Germany, and then I remember that Blanca used to work in HR in the US, and the last place I saw that many signs was on the door of the HR person at a startup I worked for. Coincidence?

I was amazed that I remembered where the button for opening the front door is. And the computer at the hotel is still the same ancient Mac, with the
same sign telling people to not touch it without assistance, which they are happy to give.

Further events of the day were similarly pleasant, and included a visit to CATIE, buying seeds, and catching up with Manuel from Costa Rica Extreme, planning our expedition to the rivers near Las Delicias.

The only unpleasant part of my arrival was deciding what, if anything, to declare on the customs form, which warns that there is a fine of "100 central american pesos (US$ 100)" for not declaring things. The currency in costa rica is the Colon, and 100 of them are about $0.20. It further explains that you have to declare everything you bring in, except for luggage. Luggage is anything that you might "reasonable need for your business in the country". There is normally an exemption of $500 of things you don't reasonably need, but it is unclear when it is granted and when it isn't. I decided I need a wakeboard for my travels, and I never travel without my inflatable trampoline, but I don't "need" 4 identical NiMh battery chargers so I declared them. In the end, it didn;t matter, they didn't even look at the form, decided all my stuff looked camping equipment through on the xray, and let me pass.

So even this was entertaining.


Posted by rick at October 17, 2005 04:56 PM