Es weihnachtet sehr – Christmas Atmosphere, where ever we go. Twinkling lights and decorations in all the shops and many homes. In San José, they even have banners on the lighting poles of highways, sponsored by ICE, the national power company. However, we had absolutely no Christmasy intentions, when we grabbed Mildred and headed for the Capital yesterday.
Previously, I had only been to San José by bus or being driven by someone local. But it all looks easy enough on the map. First, you connect from Atenas to Rio Grande on Hwy 3, where you enter the toll road ‘Autopista General Cañas’, which I usually refer to as Autopista del Sol, even though that’s actually the name of its Spanish construction company. The tollway leads you straight to Hwy 39, la Circunvalación, San José’s ring road. One more right turn after a few kilometers on 39 and you’re on Hwy 108, in el barrio La Uruca, a neighborhood of San José. Here one finds the MOPT headquarters or El Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes. Part of this huge complex of a multitude of interconnected and free-standing buildings, including traffic police and a branch of the Banco de Costa Rica, is dedicated to COSEVI, as the ‘Consejo de Seguridad Vial’ the road safety council is called. And if you’re a foreigner, who wants to get una licencia de conducir costarricense for the first time, this main COSEVI office is definitely your destination. Interestingly, La Uruca is also a neighborhood sporting a multitude of car dealerships. Everything from a Hyundai to a Maserati can be purchased along 108, La Uruca’s main drag. Back in Texas, you’d go to the DMV, stand in line endlessly and have the world’s ugliest picture snapped for your driver’s license. Here you stand in line endlessly at COSEVI …. or not.
When you check online with the multitude of English language blogs, which accidentally on purpose dispense advice on life and death in Costa Rica, you read one horror story after the next about COSEVI. It’s convoluted, it’s confusing, take a chill pill, expect a wasted day, yadda yadda yadda. But back in June, before I went to La Uruca for my own license, accompanied by a CR-smart girlfriend and using buses and cabs [see post 06/21/2011], I remember seeing a satellite picture of the area in one of the useful websites about CR. It included directions to the one and only parking lot in the area, which would be very handy information for us now. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the darn thing again, so I had to avail myself of my own ingenuity. I google-earthed around La Uruca and memorized the location of two businesses, which were listed in the map, Siemens and Yamaha – the Axis of Evil of old, easy to remember for a German – located right where the turn for the parking lot should be. Additionally, COSEVI itself has an excellent website, where you can read in great detail about the requirements for a new driver’s license for foreigners. One always has to be prepared for personal interpretations or plain orneriness by an official, naturally, but you can’t beat hearing it directly from the horse’s mouth!
You know, preconceptions and biases are a funny thing, predictable and ever-present. In some of those US or Canadian owned blogs, expats are warned never to believe the directions given by a local. Always get a second opinion, they counsel. Not because Ticos are prone to lying, but because they want to help you too much. Instead of admitting that they don’t know where your desired destination is located, they allegedly rather send you off in the most likely general direction. This may or may not be true, it’s one of those generalizations, humans are so quick to dispense. We haven’t yet experienced this particular behavior. When we were cruising the same quadrant of downtown Alajuela over and over in a desperate attempt to find the clinic for Barry’s scheduled ultrasound procedure last May, we asked a bunch of different pedestrians for directions, who either told us, they didn’t know, or gave us clear instructions. The problem was our’s, not their’s. Our inability to understand their instructions properly, plus passing by the clinic without recognizing it, repeatedly [see post 06/11/2011]. Equally, I want to caution you to believe anything important, as in CR Government procedures, you might read about in a number of these blogs and forums, without at least triple checking the facts. Most of their members have good intentions, but either lack the expertise to advise or they extrapolate wildly based on a single personal experience. Some just repeat anecdotal accounts by others as fact, but mostly, many of these reports floating about in cyberspace are simply woefully outdated.
Our drive to San José was uneventful and fun. Instead of la Autopista, we took Hwy. 3 all the way to Highway 1, the world-famous Panamericana, to hit a gas station. There aren’t many filling stations in the more rural areas, so you better watch that gage! We experienced a couple of traffic jams and we kind of jumped the gun taking the earlier west-bound ramp, rather than the later east-bound entrance to the circunvalación. So we had to turn around, big deal – sorry, Mildred! Siemens was exactly where it was supposed to be, as was its ally Yamaha and the right turn toward the customer parking lot. So all in all, it really was a piece of cake to drive to La Uruca.
After we had parked our car, I looked around and confirmed, what I had suspected and hoped for since studying that google earth map. Customer parking was right next door to the building, where Barry was supposed to apply for his license. Whereas poor me, back in May, having taken a cab to the main gate of the MOPT compound, had to hike the whole distance from the gate to the very last building, where those little máchinas biométricas spit out las licencias de conducir. While Barry was busy, I discovered this crèche in a central area of the facility. It looked very similar to the crèche in the Mercado Central courtyard in Atenas. So now I have to find out, if there are certain design elements, which dictate the proper appearance of a Christmas display – other than the main characters, of course.
Barry really had all the luck. La máchina dispensed his licencia in 45 min, including a trip to the bank building up front, near the main gate, to pay the required ¢4000 fee. Forty-five minutes, unheard of! And customer parking was free. Now I could claim that parking is free in San José and getting a driver’s license takes less time than ordering a mocha frappuccino at Micky D’s 🙂