Four Ironic Things I’ve Taken for Granted

1) Speeding tickets

In the states, there are cops whose sole purpose is to watch you drive and stop you if you’re not doing it right. I know!  I’m the queen of speeding tickets.  I’ve had so many over the years and taken that stupid driving course so many times that I could teach it in my sleep- eyes closed, one hand tied behind my back.  In Costa Rica, cops don’t seem to care how you drive; they don’t know what “speeding ticket” means as far as I can tell.  But it’s not so much the tickets that I miss, or even the cops stopping me.  What I miss is having the option of speeding.  The roads here could rival Swiss cheese for holes, and the concept of wide, safe lanes doesn’t exist.  Pavement itself is an option in many areas, as are gentle down-sloping switchbacks on steep inclines.  The road that passes my house?  The one that’s the only way to Montezuma?  7kilometers of rock hard pot hole. The good thing is, you can’t possibly drive fast enough to speed!  And it certainly makes you slow down; you don’t rush here, because you can’t, and everyone seems to have a good concept of what “waiting your turn” means.

2) Septic tanks

Gross.  Everyone avoids thinking of septic tanks and sewage lines.  It’s poo, and decaying TP, and dead gold fish, and all kinds of other things.  Not here.  Here, the only thing that goes down is what came out of you.  Paper, and everything else, goes in the trash b/c otherwise it all comes back up.  I miss septic tanks.

3) Lawyers

I’ve never liked lawyers, per se.  They have a bad rep as being money hungry and corrupt.  They aren’t, of course.  Like every other profession I’m sure there are good ones and bad ones.  But that reputation still sticks in everyone’s mind, especially for those of us Americans from the Grunge era.  I don’t know that I’ve ever used or wanted a lawyer in the states.  But, here in Costa Rica, you don’t buy a car or house, open a bank account, get a telephone line, or much of anything else without the assistance of a lawyer.  When I bought my new SUV, I couldn’t just go to the DMV or tax collector to pay the taxes and get the title transferred.  We- the broker, the seller, and I all three- had to go to a lawyers office to handle the entire transaction, pay the taxes, switch the registration, etc.  He was nice. And willing to work late. And helpful. And at the hourly rate he charged, he should have been!

4) Bank teller lines

I almost never go into banks.  I don’t think I’d seen the faces of any of my bank workers until a month ago when I started this whole Costa Rica process in earnest.  My bank has perfectly good ATMs where I can deposit and withdraw money, my pay check is automatically sent to my account each month, I can get my statements and see my account information right on-line, I get an email with my balance every day: why on earth would I need to go inside or meet my bank’s employees?  It’s a hassle.  You have to go when it’s open, get out of your car, go inside and wait in line, be quiet and not talk on your cell phone the whole time…blah.  Even my bank employees wouldn’t go to a bank often if they didn’t work there (I know, she said so!).  But in Costa Rica, I miss those lines and that brief hassle.  At the bank in Cobano- the only one on this end of the peninsula- there’s an armed guard at the door.  Not just a rent-a-cop guard with a tazer; this is a uniformed police guard with a high powered rifle and the obvious know-how to use it.  He checks your bags and your pockets if you seem to have large ones.  He looks you in the eye, and then lets you through the door one-by-one.  And it’s not just any door.  It’s a double-sided glass box with doors on both sides.  He lets you in one.  You wait 10 seconds, and the others slide open to let you into the bank.  You get out the same way.  And he won’t let more than 10 people in the bank office at one time.  If there are 10, you wait till someone goes out.  Then you go in, pull a number from the little ticket box, sit in a chair and wait.  You don’t use your cell phone in there.  You don’t text or fiddle with your iPod.  You don’t just get your money and run.  The teller, when he or she calls you, is behind glass in a cubicle.  You hand over your identification documents, sign everything in triplicate and have the teller stamp everything- even your receipt.  Then you wait while the teller unlocks his cubicle door, goes to the vault, gets your money or makes your deposit, comes back, uses a key to get back into his cubicle, and finally completes your transaction.  This is not a quick, 10 minute affair you do on your lunch break.  I miss the ease of walking in, waving hello to Jasmine and Jamie at the front desks, and getting in and out in no time.

Bank tellers here all wear a uniform, too- long sleeves, long pants, ties, vests for the women, etc.  It’s a whole different world.  But I bet these banks never get robbed.  Who’s going to rob a bank when the only way out is past an armed guard who has the option of just locking you in a glass box?  There’s something to be said for the rigmarole that keeps tellers and money safe.  My sister-in-law works in a bank.  Over the years she’s been through at least 3 robberies- some at gunpoint.  I can’t say I’m frustrated at a process that would certainly keep her safer if we adopted it in the states.

Three Ironic Things I’m Coming to Love

1) No screens

Very, very few houses here have screens in the windows- even fewer have glass.  My house has wide, open squares in the walls, covered by heavy wooden shutters that pull in and hook to ropes hung from the ceiling.  Closed they simply push shut and are fixed with simple wood blocks nailed loosely to the frames. No screens.  No glass.  When they’re closed they block almost all light, all air, and a lot of the noise.  When they’re open you’re suddenly a part of all outdoors.  Moths fly in at night.  You can lean out to talk to someone around the corner.  Light pours in and illuminates everything until the sun goes down.  It feels like camping.  It feels like letting the rhythm of nature run your life.  It’s peaceful.  It makes me only turn on the lights I have to, to keep the moths from invading too much.  It makes me more aware of the world.  I thought about buying and installing some screen, but there’s no real reason to.  I’ve seen 10 mosquitoes in the week we’ve been in Costa Rica- so why bother?

2) No A/C

It’s humid here.  It’s rained almost every evening, and all the world is green, but mattresses and pillows and couch cushions get sticky.  Skin gets sticky.  My tile floors take on a clammy tack.  A/C would suck all that humidity out and make our towels dry nicely.  At home, I’d have used it for just that purpose.  But not here.  I don’t have it, so I don’t have that option.  Instead, I sit outside on the porch.  The evening breeze is cool, and I feel like I’m a part of the jungle out here.  I can hear the monkeys making their nightly trek up the hill past my house to their nesting tree next to where I park my car, and have discovered that their watchman hates the big trucks and buses that sometimes pass by.  I hear cows down in the valley and dogs on the far hill.  I hear birds I’ve never seen before, and the soft brush of butterfly wings.  I’d never hear anything if I had A/C to shut up the house and run.  And while it’s warm, so far it is not too hot.  We sweat but we don’t swelter.  There’s too much breeze for that.  And the air is so clean you can feel it.  You slow down and listen with the windows open and no A/C to keep you from Mama Nature’s ebb and flow.

3) Pot holes & Dirt Roads

It takes forever to get anywhere from here.  I drive 10 miles an hour down the road to and from my house- because any faster would rip my tires apart.  My road is a mess.  But it makes me slow down.  It makes me consider walking the 3km into town rather than bothering with the car.  It makes me plan ahead and go only when I have to.  It will make me contemplate just how badly I want chocolate or a meal at a restaurant- is it just easier to stay home and cope?  It makes me decide there’s no reason to rush.  It will make me leave early to be places, for knowing I won’t be able to get there very fast.  This seems healthy to me.  This seems sane.  This seems like the “check out” I need from the hurry and fuss of life in America. I needed this.

“I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and where I’m supposed to be is exactly where I am.”

Peace and love,