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Thursday, October 13, 2011

All's Well that Ends Well, Even If It Takes All Day

It had to happen eventually. After all our months of successful bus and taxi trips traveling around the western part of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, the day had to come when our reliable transportation system just didn’t work. We hit that rough bump in the road last week when we tried to combine a trip to get our Costa Rican driver’s licenses with another run to Heredia to meet with the Partido Verde Ecologista (Green Political Party) guys and my publisher at The Costa Rica News. The meeting was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and the license issuing office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. so we weren’t entirely nuts to think we could do both in one day. But that logic failed to consider both the charmingly slow and inefficient Tico bureaucracy as well as the possibility of bad traffic. Add in for good measure the absence of street signs or numbers, a rainy day and a taxi driver that was clueless and I suppose it was inevitable that the day would be fouled up.

We planned to be among the first in line at Coseví, the driver’s license bureau located on the main road through Uruca, a suburb of San Jose, because we had been warned that the process could be slow. But surely, we thought, three hours would be enough and then we could easily get to Heredia in time for the meeting at 1:00 p.m. We had learned from the ARCR folks that we could catch a cab at the bus stop in front of Hospital Mexico, along the San Jose bus route that we use often, and be at Coseví within minutes. So we were up early to catch the 6:50 a.m. bus into the city, expecting to arrive at the Hospital Mexico stop well before 8:00 a.m. But traffic along the Panamerican highway at that hour was a bear, much worse than we expected, so it was already past 8 o’clock when Hospital Mexico came into view. OK, so we won’t be the first in line. Not that it mattered as we soon discovered.

Coseví is a big complex but we were quickly met by an English-speaking Tico in front who instructed us to walk to the last building on the right to apply for a first-time license. It was quite a distance and I was, unfortunately, not in comfortable walking shoes, but we hurried along anyway, still hoping for a place at the front of the line. When we reached the Coseví office, looking a little bewildered no doubt, as I was mentally formulating the needed Spanish phrases, a Tica was quick to offer help -- in English, thank goodness. She led us up to the official-looking fellow at the door who, after checking over our paperwork, informed us that although we had the right documents -- our California licenses, our Costa Rican cedulas (residency cards) and our medical forms, which had been completed by our local medic, Doctor Candy -- we also needed copies of these documents. The place to do that was all the way back at the main entrance where we had started.
We walked...

And walked...

And walked!
Finally... the Cosevi office!
We thanked our Tica Samaritan and began the hike back up the sidewalk to the front where the copy office was. Copies made, we hiked back to the Coseví office (our third trip, now) and were seated in the back row of a hospital-sterile room with five rows of perhaps 15 seats each. As we watched, persons in the first four rows quickly moved along, as lights came on above one of several cubicles where the first set of bureaucrats was waiting. But our row never moved at all. After a half hour of this, Layne and I looked at each other with concern. Were we in the lepers’ row or something? What was the deal? A young Nicaraguan man sitting next to me seemed to have the same question and when he asked the Tico next to him, we learned that foreigners wait until the locals file through. With a shrug of our shoulders, we settled in for a long wait.

So we waited. And waited. Until finally, at about 10:15 the uniformed official led the first four people from our row to the upstairs office. When it was our turn, Layne and I watched as a bored bureaucrat stamped our papers, then scrawled his very intricate and time-consuming signature.

But we were far from done. The next step involved our fourth walk back out to the main road to pay our 4000 colones, or about $8.00, at a bank. First we went to Banco de Costa Rica, but there we found all the windows closed for lunch. We hurried on to Banco Nacional, paid our fees, and once again, trudged back down the long sidewalk to the Coseví office, where we at last had our photos taken and got our new licenses.

But by now, it was after noon and we would be hard-pressed to make our 1 o’clock meeting. We hopped in a taxi for what we thought would be a quick trip to the Heredia bus station in San Jose. Silly us. Even at noon, traffic in the city was a nightmare. Our taxi driver turned down one street only to find a big truck blocking the entire street as it eased backwards into a driveway. Minutes ticked by, as did the taxi meter, while our driver tried to squeeze through the pile of cars. Finally, the truck moved enough for us to pass and on we went to the location we thought was the right one. But when we arrived, it was not the Herediana bus company so we urged our driver on, hoping to find the yellow buses, which would take us directly to our destination. We wandered aimlessly it seemed to us but eventually, the driver found the buses and finally we were on our way to Heredia.

We arrived at The Costa Rica News, amazingly only 25 minutes late, and spent a couple of hours discussing how to help the Green Party raise the money they need for an upcoming trip to Brazil, where they will be inducted into the Federation of Green Parties of the Americas, quite a big coup for them. As the meeting ended, torrential rains began. Oh great. Layne and I had not had lunch so huddled under our umbrellas, we scurried into the next-door restaurant for a bite to wait out the rains. Another big mistake.

By the time we caught our bus, it was rush hour and the bus was frequently delayed in our drive across the city to the Alajuela bus station, hoping to catch the 5:30 bus back to Atenas. Not a chance. In fact, with the rain storm, streets full of traffic and apparently an accident ahead that had us at a standstill for many long minutes, we were actually lucky to get to the station in time for the 6:30 bus. When we finally made it back to our cozy little apartment, we sighed in relief. At times like this, Pura Vida is an elusive concept. 


  1. Ahhh, you have brought back memories. Our trip there was equally confusing and probably took just as long. Besides getting the license itself the other bonus was that I'd gotten the best damn photo of myself on any ID I'd ever had!

    Well, you get to renew locally in 2 years if you have a license place in your area, but ... if your passport number changes in the meantime you will get to visit an even more obscure office in San José to get that straightened out. Once renewed you'll then get to breathe easy for six years.

  2. Yep. Same here. We didn't have copies either but the parking lot where we parked offered copy service! We used the bank on the Cosevi premises to cut down on the trudging.
    Waiting until there were enough of us to make it worthwhile for someone to process us was tedious.

  3. Question: is it possible to pay the fee first, before getting in the lines and starting the process?

  4. Hi Anonymous...
    Good question! And I really don't know the answer. Knowing CR's charming bureaucracy, somehow I doubt it. ;-)