Friday, February 18, 2011

Chapter 47 - New Shoes

           With our trip to Poas, we stopped first at a “Zapata” store by the Banco National.  That is a shoe store for Gringos.  The display showed a great variety of shoes from the States.  Melaney needed a new pair of sport’s shoes.  The pair she left behind was ready for the trash.  The only mishap was, she trashed them with her orthotic inserts still inside.  I heard her talking on Skype to her sister last evening, and I was sure that was what she said.  It was correct….Not right, but correct.  I thought she was without a shoe insert, but she has another one here with her as well as two for dress shoes.  That’s a good thing, otherwise she says she would be walking on the sides of her ankles. (My ankles are my one weakness. I get that from Grandma --Mel)
            I saw a sandal that would replace the ones that I wear every day.  I buy mine in the men’s department.
            It was hilarious trying to explain to the girl, who had absolutely no English, that Melaney wanted them to measure her foot.  I don’t think they had the gear for foot measurement. We couldn’t get the message across in our limited Spanish. The girl had to bring out three pair in the style that Melaney picked.  She had worn that brand before, and knew it had a long lasting sole.
            In the meantime, I was speaking with the other girl in the store, and had her bring out the next size to the shoe on the display rack.  She brought that out, and I tried it on.  It was a very good fit.
            Now we had two pair of new shoes.  We had the girls take them out of the boxes. We don’t need the boxes.  I was a great collector of boxes in Canada, but here I don’t really collect anything.  The girl asked for something, I am not sure of the word, but I told Melaney it must be the credit card.  When Melaney took that out of her money belt, the girl smiled, so I know that was what she was wanting. (At the same time I produced my new Costa Rican driver's license to prove that I am not a Gringa to be taken advantage of --Mel)
            It was just a fraction under a hundred dollars.  After the bank in Canada takes it’s pound of flesh for monetary transfer, we can pay it out of the Canadian account by way of the internet.  Internet banking is terrific.
            As we were leaving the store, the girls were chuckling to each other.  They think they did a fine sales job, I think, but we really just saw what we wanted and managed to get the word to them to go and fetch.  I was teasing the younger girl.  I know the words for torn pants and she had on a pair of jeans that was shredded up the front of the legs.  I told her she should get a needle and thread.  She just grinned. The words for torn pants are “rompe pantalones”.  I think she got most of her grin from my use of a Spanish expression.  I am getting a little more familiar with the written words, but I will probably not learn to hear the words when they are spoken.  We will communicate somehow.  By the time I am here a year or two, I will be able to speak enough so they can understand my wishes.  At least, we left two girls with smiles on their faces.

Chapter 46 - Tractors

            There is a great amount of traffic by our front window in the daytime.  Thank goodness, it ends about 8 in the evening, but it starts as early as 4:30 in the morning with Horatio Hornblower.
            During the day we have a steady stream of tractors.  The men ride them like a badge of honour.  I suppose it is, in reality, because it’s probably within the past 20 years that the agriculture of Costa Rica was in the horse and wagon era.
            The tractors themselves are no different than North American tractors, in fact I think most of them came from the States.  I don’t remember seeing any Japanese trade names on them like on the cars.  It is the addition of the accessories that make the difference here.  Almost all of the tractors have steel welded canopies over them, and most of them pull either a large rubber tired wagon with a box, or one with steel pipe cradle like fingers.  It took me a while to figure out the use of these cradle cages, until it suddenly dawned that this is sugar cane country. Sure enough, in a short time I saw them loaded to the tips with cane.  Sometimes there are multiple carriers in a row behind the tractor.  I saw four behind one tractor, and that carried a lot of cane.  There were usually a few men and boys riding the tops of the loads.  Behind one load with men on top, I saw two young boys on bikes hitching a pull on the sugar wagon.
            When the tractors come to town, they are usually without carriages.  The men just drive the tractors anywhere they want to go.  Sometimes, I think it is just to show everyone that they have a tractor.  It’s reminiscent of the young lads and their oversized half ton trucks up north.  You know the ones with the very large tires that dwarf a car when they pass. 
            The cane season is in full swing now, and we can see one field after another being cut and the produce carried to the factories.  Cane is processed through a Co op here.  Coffee is also by a Co op.  Also, the only kind of coffee that is allowed to be planted in Costa Rica is the Arabica Coffee.  This is a high standard coffee, and keeps the resulting crops uniform.
            This is a farming area where we live.  There is sugar cane across the road and we are surrounded by fruit trees.  The mangoes are getting bigger every day.  When the rainy season starts, we are told this orchard is abundant in fruit of all kinds.  The only problem is that there isn’t a regular caretaker, and now with Rita and Victor living most of the week in San Jose, it will probably be less cared for.
            I have read stories of cane harvest, and that included a slash burn before the canes were cut, to wipe out the insects and snakes before the men went in with their machetes, and I know they have done that here because there is a row of huge trees beside a cane field a half mile from here that are so blackened and damaged by fire that the trees are dead.  I wasn’t looking forward to the smoke, but I haven’t seen a cane field on fire yet.
             I just hear the tractors. (and trucks, and cars, and motorcycles).

Chapter 45 - The Driver's License

           For the second time in as many days, Melaney traveled to La Uruca, a small suburb out of San Jose, to get her Costa Rican driver's license.  The first time, they arrived just after 11 a.m. and were told that foreigners have to be there between 8 and 11, with no exceptions.  Our neighbour Johanna has been acting as interpreter for her.  Melaney doesn’t have enough command of the Spanish language to argue with arrogant government officials.  They were turned away.
            This morning, Valentine’s Day, Mel rose early with the intentions of getting a quick start at trying again to get the license.  She photo copied all the documents that she needed, including another copy of her passport.  At Johanna’s house, she was informed it would be another 20 minutes.  This made it past 9, and she needed to get the truck fueled before the trip.  Her intentions were to also stop in Alajuela and buy a pair of sports shoes so they can go walking out here.  By the time they got to the license office, it was just barely before 11.  The traffic was horrendous.  To top it all off, Mel’s vehicle license has a one at the end, and this means that travel in San Jose and environs is forbidden on a Monday, which this happens to be.  They do this to try to take the pressure off the roads.  Each end number indicates which day that travel in the city is off limits.  She didn’t think of it till she was there, and only hoped that she wouldn’t be stopped.
            After showing all the documents, they gave her a slip of paper with a sum of 4000 colones, that had to be paid before they would issue the license.  Johanna ran to the other end of the building compound, where the pay window was located.  It was closed for lunch.  She ran around the corner to a bank, stood in a long line, (the armed guards would only allow 3 people in the bank at a time, and there was only one teller open--Mel) paid the fee and rushed back to where Melaney was waiting for her.  That makes a total of $46. for a three year license.  I hope she doesn’t have to go through all that routine when it is time to renew it.

            There was a lot more complication than I have outlined.  However, Melaney got her license, and now she is an official Tica driver.  By showing this, we can get Tico prices for some things instead of their taking advantage of foreigners.
            The one thing I have discussed with people here is they need a few very good efficiency experts.  Where she was getting the license, there were two people sitting doing nothing, and one processor was taking care of the licensing.  By this method, the line up is difficult to deal with, and requires so much waiting time.

Chapter 44 - Our Neighbours

          This morning I decided to get up a little early and make a banana muffin cake for breakfast, and when Mel went out to walk the dog, I suggested she invite the neighbors over to share the cake with us.  I told her to explain that we didn’t drink coffee, so if they wanted coffee they would have to bring it with them, plus cups.  We have only two mugs here, and there were three extra people involved.  I also told her the cake would take a half an hour.
            In half an hour they came, mugs and coffee pot in hand.  First, John sat in my chair, and I had to move him.  We laughed about the lack of furniture, but it is meant for only the two of us.  Melaney donated her chair to John and she sat on a stool.  The other two, another John, and Johanna sat on the wicker chairs.  Once everyone was settled down, I brought in the muffin cake, still warm from the tiny toaster oven, and began passing it around.  Paper towel napkins and no plates was the order of service.
            John did the most of the talking.  This meeting was to get together as neighbours and get to know each other.  We learned a lot about them.  Johanna is a born Costa Rican, and John (though an American) was born in Germany.  Probably a military situation.  We all decided we really liked it here in the orchard, and hoped it would be so for some years to come.
            John had taken his truck in to get the safety sticker (Retive) the other day, and it didn’t quite pass, something to do with the brake pressure in one wheel.  At any rate, their big dog Machu is sick, and needs to go to a vet in Alajuela. Mel is going to drive them in, and while on the road, they can give her directions to the office that she needs to get her license.
            There are directions from Mom to stop at the big store in Alajuela and get some cheese.  I want to make Empanadas for tomorrow.  The Branch President of the Church in  Grecia and his wife and girls are due to arrive at three in the afternoon.  I hope they do or we will have a lot of empanadas to use, which is quite fine according to our neighbours.

Chapter 43 - The Doctors (Me and the real one)

           Melaney is as healthy as can be.  She is also a former medic in the military in Canada.  She needs to apply for a Costa Rica driver’s license.  We drove in to Poas and, as usual, Melaney thought she could find what she was looking for. We drove up one street, then the next and finally decided on a clinic close to the edge of town on the way into town.  The doctor and the technicians were very friendly, but no one spoke English.  Melaney was able to convey to them that she needed a blood test to show her blood type to get a driver’s license.  They were happy to do it for 4000 colones ($8).  Mel and I both know our blood types, we are the same, and have know it for many years.  She needed the paper to prove it.  We were directed with a name and phone number to a doctor in town who spoke English.  She gave us directions, but they were difficult to follow.  We drove to the vicinity and started to make the passes up and down the street. Then we decided to go further up the road in case she meant three blocks up from the bank and did a few passes there.  Then we decided to go back to the original area and check that more carefully.  She found one very nice house with the gate open and we thought maybe that was the place.  She got out of the truck and went to the house.  There was a very nice tiny lady there who walked Melaney down the street to the house of the doctor.  We were about half a block away. (Muchas muchas gracias, Con gusto was the reply--Mel)
            You could pass the doctor’s house a dozen times and never realize what it was.  There was a tiny name plaque near the front door bell that was hidden by green growth.  It was a house of no particular credibility.  She rang the bell.  No one answered.  She waited and then we decided to get back into the truck and go to a phone.  Just then a lady came out the front and I told Mel to go and try to talk with her.  It was Dr. Chanto and she spoke very clear English.  She wasn’t occupied at the time, and she gave Melaney a
thorough check over, and put everything down on the proper form.  Mel told her about me taking Coversyl, which is a drug to control my blood pressure.  The doctor gave Mel a sample box of ten tablets.  These pills are over a dollar a pill.  I didn’t have to pay for them in Canada, so I decided to lay off them here, and by Mel taking my blood pressure each Sunday, we were able to keep track of my pressure.  In the seven weeks, it continued to climb, so I started taking the pills again.  The doctor told Mel that I would have to take them forever.  So much for self doctoring.  Mel’s examination cost 15000 colones ($30), but the pills softened the cost.  That is $38 to make an application for a driver’s license and another $8 for the license.  I hope that doesn’t occur each time she gets a license.  The first license is good for only three years.  After that, they are good for 5 years. So far our expenses have been quite a lot in Costa Rica, it seems nothing comes for nothing around here.