Another day – another Central American Adventure!
Today was my second attempt to get a Costa Rican driver’s license before the three-month-past-entry-stamp deadline rolls around at the end of the month. Again, our Canadian friend Molly offered her guidance and company, and the two of us set off for San José on the 7:50 h bus. It costs ¢810 for the one-way trip, which is about $1.60 for the one hour ride on a kind of tired greyhound bus with nice cushy seats. This time, I made sure to have every conceivable type of document with me, plus copies thereof. The MOPT, the equivalent of the ‘Department of Motor Vehicles’ in the US, is a sprawling complex of buildings, including a bank, off a major road in the San José barrio of La Uruca.
One of the requirements for getting a driver’s license is a medical examen, including a vision test and a blood test for group and rhesus factor. All of which can be done in a neighboring facility specializing in the required tests. Usually, this is where the fun of queueing begins, but I didn’t have to stand in line there, because my local doctora issued my medical certificate ahead of last week’s failed attempt. Thus, I could proceed directly to the first line outside the licensing building, way back in the MOPT compound. Only a few people were in line, but, encouraged by my friend, I excused myself and went directly to the little desk inside. Here I presented my paperwork with my request for a new license. And before you cuff my ears, please understand that the people in line outside were waiting for their license renewal, which is different department altogether – just in case anyone thinks I’m a brazen line jumper! The desk person then directed me toward a group of three guys sitting in the back of the building, who were already waiting to apply for a new license.
One was a very chatty Australian with Costa Rican roots, a Ticussi, so to speak*. The next one was the opposite in nature, a very quite Panamanian student. The last one remained a mystery. He clearly understood English but voiced only sparse Spanish sentences. Our group waited a while, maybe 20, 25 minutes, until we were asked to climb upstairs for processing. ‘Upstairs’ consists of a large landing, cramped with two cluttered desks, each with a computer station and desk chair, plus a separate computer station on a shelf contraption, four client chairs, a file cabinet heavily burdened by an industrial size printer and, thankfully, a wide-open door leading onto a balcony and fire escape. There were five further doors off this landing, all but one closed. File room, employee baño, break room, mystery no-entry room, all nicely labeled. Through the one open doorway, I could spy an office, furnished mostly with wall mounted shelves laden with files and folders. There was also a desk, equipped with a computer, a fingerprint scanner, a camera and an electronic signature pad. A full biometric set-up!
Back on the landing, a solitary clerk processed our information. Laboriously creating handwritten entries in a loose-leaf binder, in which she copied all the particulars from our different identification papers and certificates. I suppose everything is transcribed to computer files later because, during my session with her, she answered a phone call and searched in her computer for answers to the caller’s questions. After her station, we were asked, one by one again, to sit at the biometrics desk and divulge telephone number and address to a surely and grumpy clerk, who pretended not to speak English. Ok, so he might have been just tired at 9:30 in the morning, after a night of carousing with his five girls friends, but he was the guy, who dismissed me last week! He gave each one of us, in turn, a slip of paper, which we had to take to the before mentioned banking institution near the entrance to MOPT. There you have to pay the fee of ¢4000 (not quite $8) for your license. But only one cashier’s window, presently it’s #7, is allowed to serve you. Should there be an endless queue at window #7 and absolutely not a single person lined up at any of the other windows, you will still have to wait your turn at #7. Such are the rules, don’t quibble. Then you take your bank receipt back to Mr. Grumpy, who will go through the biometric routine with you. After another short wait, a machine will spit out your brand-new, pristine and laminated-to-perfection Costarican Driver’s License or licencia de conducir.
I want you to know that my person has now been biometrically captured in three different countries. Big Brother is definitely watching me!!!
(* Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas)
Newly authorized to drive, we immediately grabbed a taxi – it is sheer lunacy to drive in San José 🙂 – to take care of some of Molly’s business at the Canadian Embassy. That took us to the barrio of Amon, from where we needed to return to the bus terminal called ‘Coca Cola’, to catch our ride back to Atenas. We flagged down a city bus, that’s right, a bus, not a taxi – both stop more or less on demand – and asked the driver if he was going toward the Coca Cola Terminal, which he confirmed. It was an enjoyable ride, sure, but it did seem to be going in the wrong direction, then again, what do I know? When suddenly the bus stopped to allow us to disembark at the … Coca-Cola Bottling Plant! Oy vey, very much NOT where we needed to be! Now a bus-wide discussion began, regarding our fate. This lively discourse included the driver, who had left his position behind the wheel, to be better able to dissect the pros and cons of varying courses of action. All the while our bus blocked one lane in a pretty busy street. But there was no angry honking of horns or shouts of displeasure, nor was there any shaking of fists. Motorist either patiently waited for our bus to resume its route, or cleverly circumnavigated the obstacle. In all their different opinions of the best way to reach the bus terminal, this outspoken bus community was unanimous in this: we were not to leave the bus, because this was no neighborhood for gringa ladies to wander about looking lost! One lady passenger even said, the driver should give us our money back, because he lured us onto the wrong bus! Priceless!! Eventually, we continued our bus journey for several more blocks in the wrong direction, until we reached an intersection, where everyone shouted for us to get off now, right here, immediately. It turned out that another bus had entered the crossroads of this intersection, and that was the bus we needed to get to the Coca Cola bus terminal. Our former driver advised our new driver over the radio about his unexpected passengers, while we hoofed across four lanes of traffic toward our new ride. Isn’t Costa Rica amazing? Or rather, it’s beautiful people!
P.S. Along the way we encountered an amazing array of urban graffiti art.