Our day started innocently enough. Bright and sunny. Normal. Our schedule included a visit with our immigration lawyer at 10 AM to hand over our passports*, our brand new National Health Cards and four bank receipts for payments to the Ministerio de Gobernación y Policía, Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. These payments are for our ID cards and biometric registration, as well as for a security deposit – no doubt interest-bearing for the Ministerio – for our swift deportation from CR, should we ever behave in ways incompatible with Pura Vida**. Very practical people, these Ticos!
* Not to worry, this doesn’t mean we ‘surrendered’ our passports, simply have all documents registered with the immigration department.
**this is explained very nicely in this excerpt from Wiki’s ‘Culture of Costa Rica’ :
Pura vida literally means Pura = pure; vida = life, but “Pure life” in Spanish would be “Vida pura” instead, so the real meaning is closer to “plenty of life”, “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, “real living”,”Awesome!” or “cool!” It can be used both as a greeting and a farewell, to express satisfaction, to politely express indifference when describing something or even to say “thank you” or “you’re welcome”. The phrase has become universally known in Costa Rica and it has been used by many Costa Ricans (and expatriates) since 1956.
During the meeting with our Abogada, it became clear that we had to return to the Banco de Costa Rica office in Atenas. Our teller had inadvertently overlooked to stamp one of the receipts. After each transaction, a teller uses one of those large, ratchet-type stamps, the kind that makes such a satisfying sound, to conclude the transaction. The stamp states date, location and the teller’s name. Without it, the transaction may not be considered officially verified. The operative word here is ‘may’. Yes, the money is in its proper account. Yes, there are computer records. Yes, the receipt has all the required information printed on it. But, and this is the only truly important part about all of this, if the officer at la migra happens to have a cranky morning on Friday when our lawyer presents our documents, he or she could simply balk at accepting a bank receipt without its proper stamp. Period. As with any well-developed bureaucracy in the world, it always comes down to the human on the other side of the window. Always. I’m German, I know. After all, we invented bureaucracy and established it as a religion. Therefore it’s simply sensible behavior to just go back to the bank and ask for the missing ka-chunk on that little yellow slip of paper.
However, our return drive to Atenas was cut short by a different ka-chunking noise. We had a flat! Not one of those highly dramatic and dangerous tire explosions at high speed. No, luckily there wasn’t any adrenalin required to handle the situation. After driving a veritable slalom over the most potholed stretch of road in the entire province, I swear, Barry noticed a change in pitch and I pulled over at my first opportunity. Voilá, a completely flat front tire on the passenger side. I called our Abogada, Mónika Valerio de Ford, about our mishap and she was kind enough to quickly come over to lend a hand. Barry did need some of her tools because our jack handle was missing and everything else was too puny to be effective. For a while, Mónika’s father Fernando, who is also a lawyer, happened by and he joined our impromptu fiesta so that Barry’s mechanical endeavor was duly supervised by two lawyers. That’s what you call covering all your bases!
Our car insurance actually provides roadside assistance, and I had called our agent about it, but it might have taken an hour or more for help to arrive, so it was a do-it-yourselfer. Still and all, it was awfully hot for Barry to labor like that in the mid-day heat! Naturally, the A/C was blasting all the way back to Atenas, where we went our separate ways. Barry took the car to our Coope car repair outfit, while I talked to the teller at Banco de Costa Rica about getting my belated ka-chunk.
We met back at the house to take stock. Our original agenda for the morning had included handing over our documents, purchasing a Barbie doll for a little girl on the local ‘Su Espacio Angel Tree’ (Christmas gifts for underprivileged children) and roaming Santa Ana, a nearby town, to learn more about our area. Instead, we had spent a few hundred dollars on a new set of Dunlop tires. Oy vey! What to do? Swallow hard. Get over it. We knew a tire replacement was going to be needed in the near future … just not quite yet … but it is nice to feel safe again in and on your wheels.
As far as our to-do list was concerned, we started over from the top. Paperwork to Mónika first, then the purchase of a Barbie doll. I had no idea how expensive these things are and how, let’s say, undesirable, having hitherto successfully avoided touching one of them. But this unknown four-year-old’s only wish was a Barbie doll and we didn’t have the heart to disappoint her.
As far as exploring the area, well, we postponed that for another day. The traffic had been steadily building up, as we approached late afternoon, and sitting motionless in rush hour traffic wasn’t high on our wishlist. So we swung by Plaza Itskatzú in Escazu, where we tried a new restaurant for dinner, the BAHÍA Seafood and Grill. The Bahía is a stylish place in keeping with the neighborhood, contemporary in design, equipped with a warm and friendly waitstaff and lead by an inspired chef.
We chose a selection of seafood, leaving the grill menu for another visit. Our selections included ceviche, poached and au gratin fish dishes, and every single one was delicious. The wine list is still a little limited, however, we enjoyed a bottle of very nice Australian Shiraz, even if that’s against the fish-white wine rule.
We had a great time. ¡Gracias, Chef Manuel and crew!