Meet and Greet

puris busI travel into the capital, San Jose, fairly regularly….if not on the trek to government offices or courts then just to go shopping…and it all starts at the local bus station.

The bus company have invested in modern, less gas guzzling coaches and I loathe them.

Not only is the leg room minimal but they are also stuffy, leaving me miserable and bunged up at the end of the hour and a half run. It used to be just one hour…but the traffic congestion is such these days that the jams begin as soon as you come down from the hills onto the autopista where traffic from the coast joins that from this side of the Central Valley.

And, worse, the first step into the new coaches is a long way from the ground.
Grannies now have to be heaved up by a combination of the inspector at ground level and the driver from within with much giggling and innuendo and extracted on arrival by a reception committee of security guards. If grannies wish to leave the bus at unmanned halts the driver calls to people waiting there to assist, and, this being Costa Rica, they do.
With the old buses I could swing up with no problem…now it’s more of a heave. Should the day come when the heave has no effect I shall either:

A. Take a chainsaw to the avoirdupois or

B..Send for a team from the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition ….

The Navy never could march….(ducking howitzer shells from those with naval connections)…..Come on, Pompey!

Once arrived in San Jose I start the walk from the terminus….first exchanging greetings with the lady who sells newspapers at the entrance.
Heading uphill into the centre I am still surprised by the number of people with whom I am on exchange of greetings terms.
I asked the chap at the fish stand how on earth he could remember me with thousands of people passing every day.

None of them are gringos…

He has a point. Most of the American expats regard the area of the city where the bus terminal is situated as being an place where babies are barbecued to order and men with machetes leap from the shadows to chop off your ring laden fingers.
As I tell them – well, the few that speak to me – they seem to be confusing it with Paris.

With one man – the wheelchair bound beggar opposite the Banco Nacional – I am on snarling rather than greeting terms.
Having seen him legging it for his bus one evening, chair under arm, he is off my giving list and will remain so as he apostrophised me as a ‘puta de gringa’ when I passed his pitch without offering a contribution.
I told him that had I been a ‘puta’ of whatever skin colour, I should not be walking but could have afforded a taxi.
He was neither persuaded nor impressed.

And then comes the street seller who greets my approach with a happy smile and an enquiry as to how things are going.

He has not seen me for a while….?

I explain that I had been in Spain for a month…

Ah! That’s why you’ve put on weight! Now, how many pairs do you want?

This gentleman is my supplier of reading glasses…the cheap ones that I can leave lying about for emergencies to avoid having to look about for the proper ones.
I first met him when we had not long been in Costa Rica and he offered us glasses at 1,500 colones a pair (about £1.50). My husband – veteran of the floor of the London Stock Exchange – fixed him with a look and replied that the very same glasses were being sold outside the hospital San Juan de Dios for 1,000 colones a pair.

Did he swear? Was he unpleasant?
No, he laughed and said that we could not blame him for trying…we were gringos after all…and lowered his price.

Since then my trade goes to him, rather than the other offshoots of the glasses empire which are situated outside the hospital, the cathedral and the HQ of the Caja – the health service.
SJ cathedral I settled on two pairs – having left a couple of pairs in Spain for future emergencies – and checked the strength I required against the back of a packet of dried plantain chips which seems to be the standard test material although the outlet in front of the cathedral uses a Bible.

Having a document case with me I was having trouble getting at the purse in my handbag and my supplier whistled up the young lad who sells eucalyptus sweets further down the road.

Hold the bag; can’t put that down in the street… and no she doesn’t want any of your sweets, she’s put on weight!

Let no one say that customer service is dead!


45 thoughts on “Meet and Greet”

  1. “As I tell them – well, the few that speak to me – they seem to be confusing it with Paris.”—Ha, that made me laugh out loud.

    But now I’m wondering, when I return home from vacation, are locals in my community sizing me up to see if I’ve gained a few pounds while I’ve been away? 😉

  2. Loved the reference to the Royal Navy Field Gun competition … we were taken the Royal Tournament every summer holiday and it was the high spot. And then I read on and I laughed out loud along the way … what a place you live in. I’m on my way 😉

    1. Yes, we went every summer with my grandmother forgetting all decorum and roaring for the Pompey team.
      Costa Rica isn’t a paradise and it’s not as green as it claims to be….but,it suits me very well!

  3. What a fun post, Helen! I’m a fan of cheap reading glasses. I have them stashed all over our cottage. You were smart to take some to Spain.

    Your walking wheelchair beggar reminds me of a story my husband’s nephew told us a few years ago. He was in downtown Vancouver for work and was shocked to run into an old friend from high school. The friend was begging on the street corner, and looked quite destitute. The nephew visited with him for a bit and learned that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his old friend. He had chosen to beg because it was so lucrative. He was making over $60,000 a year, and, of course, it was all tax free. True story.

    Sorry to hear your bus rides have become such an ordeal, but it’s nice to know there are those who are willing to help people get on and off. I’m not sure you would see that happening here.

    1. Interesting story that! I suspected that it was not all urban myth…and there;s a quote about beggars in London in the 19th century saying the same…but I can’t lay my hand on it so will be doomed to wake in the early hours when the brain comes up with the answer.
      These new coaches are a real pain in the proverbial…especially if you have shopping bags on your lap and the idiot in front reclines his seat, but, yes, it is nice that people help each other without a second thought.

  4. I’ve met good people and nasty people in many places. And street traders do seem to get away with more sauce than others! Coming off a hectic night shift (many years ago) I stopped for supplies from my greengrocer, a chirpy Cockney who always called me “darlin'” On this day? “Yes, madam, what can I get you?”

  5. I was amazed at the new buses in the UK. Travelling with my mother and her zimmer, the bus settled itself down towards us so that the step was only an inch or two off the ground.

    1. I lose glasses the way my mother loses her false teeth so these cheapies are a real boon.
      Those buses are a delight….so easy for elderly or handicapped people to get on, not to speak of mothers with pushchairs…perhaps they’ll hit Costa Rica one day but I’m not holding my breath.

  6. What a funny story. You need a Maltese dog to accompany you on these ventures and provide perspectives. Or just take along the King Charles Corgi.

    I must admit that when you first mentioned local bus riding I thought of a stereotype windowless, diesel-chugging artifact of the 1940s filled with peasants holding chickens and the odd goat (or normal goat) in the aisle and hundred of boxes strapped on top. Soon to be attacked b incompetent bandits related to the local police chief.

    1. No dogs allowed on the bus…though I did once bring back a duck in an increasingly smelly plastic shopping bag.

      The nearest I’ve come to the chicken buses was in Nicaragua…no goats – of whatever persuasion – or chickens, but a load of furniture on the roof and the back piled high with sacks of produce. No bandits either; clearly I arrived here too late…….mark you, bandits linked to local police chiefs is not an totally unknown feature of life…any more than it was in France.

  7. You conjure up a wonderful picture Helen! Life in the raw, as it is. The French are a bit like that about weight, clothes, hair style etc. They’ll tell you straight if they like it or not and then proceed to have a conversation with each other in front of you about it – ‘yes I quite like her hair. Better than she had it before’ or ‘she used to be really fat, you know’. Makes me giggle and your post made me giggle too. Just what we need!

    1. No British reserve, that’s for sure!
      I can relate to what you say about France…I had had a very unpleasant time and had lost weight….my neighbour said encouragingly that I would soon put it back on again once life returned to normal…

  8. You write in such a colourful way, you bring it all to life. I used to go to the Edinburgh Tattoo regularly and always loved the gun competition. Those hunky chaps were something else! 🙂

  9. Begging is lucrative but very dangerous. London beggar spots are renown for the cash. If you wish to help give to those organisations that really can help, money for drugs or booze is just wasted.

    Costa Rica appears a delightful place but maybe that is just you that does this to people. The idea of you being lifted on and off buses needs to be captured in pictures I reckon. Nice to see how they missed you.

    1. There are a lot of rough sleepers, then there are beggars and then there are street sellers…..and then there are the chaps in yellow jerseys who sell stuff when your car is halted at the red light in order to fund the hostel which rehabilitates them…and then there are the chaps who smash your car window when your car is halted at the red light and garb anything handy…

      Costa Rica has its downsides too…like any country.

      When they set up blocks and pulleys to get me on the bus be sure I’ll send you a photo!

  10. That bus station looks like the one in La Linea. Our carretera buses are pretty hard to climb up for those of decrepit limbs. Gib ones have the drop down steps, but the mobile half of the household tells me we have new buses not to his liking.

    The Field Gun comp is evil. I have no idea why they are marching so sloppily. Informal? I’ve seen them march properly here in Gib. Had a pal who was involved in the comp years ago. It sounded very physical. I think a large part of their training was running up and down the Rock endlessly.

    1. Not only are these buses uncomfortable – especially on the hilly section, the service has been reduced so where once they filled up and took off in endless series they now only run every half hour which is driving commuters wild. A friend who nurses in the capital now has to get the bas at 4.30 am in order to be sure of being on time.

      The army has always laughed at the navy’s idea of marching….

  11. I might come over for the bus ride too if you can get your hands on the Navy Fiend Gun team 😀 Love the image of Paris – and totally agree.
    You have to be a real low-life to fake a handicap and rip people off. No doubt mean of me to say so, but if karma bites him on the bum and he really does end up in a wheelchair, he might finally understand. I never give money, but have offered to buy food, only to be told to get lost.

  12. I remember your stories of street parking. It seems you’re between the devil and the deep blue sea for transport. To drive or be driven, which is more harrowing!

    1. I used to enjoy the bus ride…but these buses do take the gilt off the gingerbread….and, as you say, parking is another nightmare, particularly with a husband fussing as the hands of the watch stride toward the next payment limit…

  13. I would have posted a response on your website but I forgot my password…. sorry I haven’t been in touch…no connection at home and a modicum at the kids as I’m babysitting and constantly interrupted… maybe we’ll see one another next month? Find Happy! Niki Skype: nikisims.new54 Cell: 506.8417.7271 Heredia, Ste Barbara 40401 Costa Rica

  14. Hello, Helen, another thoroughly delightful post. Our Costco has started selling fourpacks of reading glasses which is just about right for this household. One for upstairs and down, one for the car, and another one for the top of my head.

    Our Taiwanese friends are incredibly direct. I got off the plane in Taipei and told our host how nice she looked. Oh, she said, I get injection!!! Botox had made its way to her. The other questions and observations they have made are hilarious but perhaps better left to the imagination!!

    No chainsaws!!!

    1. I saw the price of similar glasses when in England and nearly dropped from shock!I can get prescription glasses for that price here!
      Yes, some things are indeed better left to the imagination…but they live long in the memory!

    1. Me too….the city council is trying to get rid of the street traders which is a disaster…I now have to hunt down the lady who sells the best sweet peppers as her old pitch has been removed in a ‘traffic calming’ scheme…

  15. Here in Belfast, as in the other places mentioned, we also have the kneeling buses, which lower the platform to a convenient height. I’m surprised your brand-new buses don’t have this innovation. Have they never heard of kneeling buses or are they just too stingy to pay the extra cost?

    I was amused by the wheelchair-man legging it for the bus. A lot of beggars are unfortunately not what they seem so I decided long ago not to give money to any of them. In any case, what I gather most of them need is not money but treatment for mental health or drug problems.

    1. Beggars here don’t have dogs….I’d provide food the the dogs willingly as their fate is not down to them.

      The long distance buses are in fact what we would think of as coaches, and the inner city ones are modelled on the U.S. school bus brought up to date. All with steep steps. There was a plan to introduce a city tram service, but the politician who was being bribed by the French manufacturers lost the election…so we’re still clambering up and down.

  16. Oh my heavens, THANK YOU, for this morning’s smile. My chai tasted all the more sweeter reading of your adventures! I’m with you on the tall bus stairs. Bus manufacturers must think I’m a spider and can spin my way down onto the street! 🙂

  17. Give me our village dolmus anyday. I don’t like the sound of that high step at all. The beggar in the wheelchair reminds me of several begging scams I’ve witnessed over the years…and yes it certainly is a lucrative business. Lovely post Helen.

  18. That street seller was a lier! The Mediterranean diet that we follow in Spain doesn’t make people gain weight! 🙂

    What a fun post, Helen. I know some bus stations like that …

    1. Costa Ricans firmly believe in eating rice and beans…anything else is unthinkable…and they also reckon that their Spanish is far superior to the Spanish spoken in Spain….
      If you look back at a previous post…Boots, Boots, Boots…you’ll discover an unknown attraction of the Castellon bus station…

  19. A place ‘where everybody knows my name’; well, maybe not “Cheers” exactly and maybe not my name, but know you well enough to be rude to you.


    You could be living in Valley’s End almost, except here people are only rude ‘about’ you rather than ‘to’ you.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in C.R. or anywhere else in the tropics, but you do see live, don’t you.

    1. Life is everywhere..if you keep your eyes and ears open…..but I must say that i prefer life to be warm!
      Costa Ricans are alarmingly frank when it comes to physical peculiarities, which for people who take conflict avoidance to a mania is quite surprising.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s