Support Your Local Traders

puris in the rain

The Chinese export drive is going well in Costa Rica: even.our little town has two outlets for oyster sauce, soaps whose artificial scent hits you from the length of a cricket pitch and plastic kitsch which flies off the shelves.

Once  someone tells the Chinese about the selling power of ‘bondieuserie’ they will be the economic masters of the Catholic world….container loads of creche figures will wend their way across the oceans, lustrous  Sacred Hearts will leer from every wall and saints of all varieties will display their attributes – though St.Ursula’s eleven thousand virgins might pose a problem in the smaller dwelling.

Still, they are not doing too badly as it is… our local post office has been overwhelmed by stacks of packages containing flashy watches costing less than a quid – to be sold on by optimistic gentlemen for considerably more than a quid to other gentlemen who are not – so far – aware that all that glisters is not gold.

As Danilo is continually losing watches while cutting cane, my husband has laid by a stock of Chinese watches with which to replace them…and, having acquired the bug, has explored other areas of the  Chinese ‘Ali Baba’ website.

Notably seeds.

As a gardening addict he has become enthralled by the offers of ‘violet bamboo’,  ‘pink laburnum’ and other such delights.

As has our postmistress, whose office resembles Kew Gardens on speed as it is. You just hope it is an employee of the post office who emerges from the shrubbery behind the counter when you go to pick up your post.

Unfortunately, what is described online is rarely what pops up in the seed trays: something claimed to be jackfruit has the unmistakable air of a marrow while the foot long beans look for all the world like tomatoes…

To be fair, the supplier has agreed to replace anything found to be unsatisfactory…but, one asks oneself, with what? Radishes?

Small stuff passes customs without problems – the staff can’t read Chinese characters – but tools are another matter. They weigh distinctly more so customs will seize them on the grounds that they must be worth something in import tax and, having seized them send you a little note to say so, together with a demand that if it is something bought online you produce a receipt….

Clearly customs officers buy nothing online…you try working out what it is you bought from a plethora of orders and then matching it up with the inscrutable Chinese markings on the package.

In practice this demand is waived….unless you upset one of the officers….but it is wise to print up an invoice – any invoice – just in case you meet with a jobsworth.

Then off you go to collect your goodies.

First, the bus to San Jose. One hour on the bus, or an hour and a half if you are mad enough to travel on a Monday when the Gadarene swine are returning from the beaches.

A trek from the bus station down to the CAJA (Social Security) offices in the centre  where you interrogate the drivers of buses proclaiming their destination as Zapote as to whether they pass the office you need.

Costa Rican bus drivers being obliging souls they are kind enough to tell you and to offer to tell you when to alight.

After a drive across the ring road and passing the official Presidential residence you are put off the bus outside the blood donor centre – neatly placed alongside a couple of butchers’ shops – and trek round the corner to the Post Office Central Sorting Office, where your parcel awaits.

Once inside it involves three immobile queues, the transfer of money and as the whole exercise takes about a day of your time generally you don’t even try to import tools directly.

You go to a shop.

You could go to a shop in our little town…you have a choice of several…but all are expensive and some are frowned on by Danilo as being vehicles for laundering money.

His favourite is the one called officially the Agrocomercial, but known to everyone more familiarly as ‘Macho’ Cruz, this being the name of the elderly owner and founder who is behind his counter every day, clacking his false teeth in greeting and asking after friends and families.

As the cunning old blighter also tried to charge me a mark up of sixty per cent on a water pump I am wary of his geniality and prefer to go to the Maravilla where they know that I check the prices of the goods which will be delivered later by lorries bearing the ineffable inscription ‘Thanks be to God that there is the Maravilla’….

Better prices by far are available in a nationwide chain known as ‘El Rey’…the King….but that means a trip to San Jose. See above for disadvantages of same…

Until my husband had a bright idea….from the bus he had seen another outlet of El Rey, opposite the mega mall on the outskirts of the capital. It would save about twenty minutes’ drive and – most importantly – was on our side of the toll booth.

As the interior doors had arrived we needed to fit them and for this purpose required chisels.

To my certain knowledge we possess enough chisels to set up our own emporium, but the masters of the universe who had done the packing for our move had no idea in which box or bag they had packed them and after a couple of hours of swearing and bad temper it was decided to give  up and go and buy some more.

At El Rey.

If the BBC are still looking for someone to present ‘Top Gear’ then I suggest that they consider The Men and our clunking Japanese tin box of a 4×4 in the exotic surrounds of Costa Rica.

Leo was used to driving in London, where without quick reactions you could be blocking an intersection for hours until someone succumbed to road rage and killed you.: Danilo used to pick up coffee for one of the major firms in Costa Rica and has no equal on mud tracks and bridges with more gaps than slats. A sense of direction, however, was clearly not a requisite of the job and we have ended up in unexpected places more times than I care to remember.

I sit in the back and take a book.

However, we set off confidently…El Rey was opposite the mega mall on the main  road, the autopista. What could go awry?

The weather, for a start. We had just emerged from the hills when the heavens opened, visibility closing to next to nothing.

So much for spotting landmarks:  we should have to rely on memory for the right turn off…

Which is how we arrived in the forecourt of the Construplaza, a vast builders’ merchant situated some kilometres before our destination.

Why are we here?

We can ask for directions!  El Rey must be right opposite. We just can’t see it through the rain.

But this is the Construplaza!

Yes! The mega mall!

After some snarling it appeared that in all his years of driving on the autopista Danilo had never registered the existence of the mega mall- a complex covering several acres but containing nothing of interest to him – so had assumed that the term referred to the builders’ merchant – a much more alluring prospect.

And once gripped by an idea, shaking his faith in it is quite an operation.

Firm instructions having been given to continue on the autopista until sighting the mega mall we  drove off, only to enter an underpass and emerge on a country road on the other side of the road we sought.

Where the blazes are we going?

To El Rey, of course…opposite the mega mall!

Back to the autopista!

But it’s just down here….

And we turned into the car park of Pequeno Mundo –  one of a chain of vast warehouses selling everything China has thought to export, from clothes to food via garden furniture and interior design tat.

But this is Pequeno Mundo!

Same thing! Sells rubbish, doesn’t it?

One of the car park attendants approached to offer us the shelter of his umbrella to cross to the shop and kindly gave directions.

Back to the autopista! Opposite the mega mall!

Sighting the mega mall in a break in the weather we achieved the turn off, circled the roundabout and crossed under the main road…..

No sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista! There must be a slip road..

Under the main road, round the roundabout and back to the autopista where, as we emerged from the feeder road we saw the huge structure of El Rey warehouse on the other side.

Turn off!



Which brought us to another underpass alongside a river and we emerged into a smaller shopping centre featuring several shops and something called The Outback Grill.

That’s changed hands…it used to be called Hooters.

What is Hooters?

Tarts with tits.

Well, no tarts with tits today…but no El Rey either.

An attempt to penetrate further by way of the service road ended in defeat…and still no sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista! It must be on the other side of the river…

Returning via the underpass the navigator thought it a good idea to cut off a dog leg by driving through the mega mall car park…until realising that this required payment at which point the three point turn required would have delighted a driving instructor but reduced the drivers queuing to enter to noisy fury.

Driving off to the accompaniment of the blaring of horns we took the dog leg, circled the roundabout and ended up on the other side of the autopista in an industrial estate which was closed for the weekend.

Still no sign of El Rey.

Back to the autopista!

Shall we drive into San Jose to the El Rey there? We know where that is!

No! I’ve had enough! We’ll buy it at home!

O.K. then, ‘Macho’ Cruz it is….
















In a Changing world Some Things Rest Eternal


I have long left France, but news still reaches me.

Not the national stuff – there are newspapers for that – but the important, the local, stuff.

Recently the wires have been hot with the mystery of how the chemist managed:

A) to get enough dosh together to buy racehorses. Answer, the sale of suppositories

and B) whom did he bribe and with what to be able to take over the farmland on which to keep them which should have gone to the new entrant to farming who had completed all the formalities and was just awaiting the final accord. Answer not yet forthcoming, but my hounds are on the scent.

However the geegees have faded into the background for the moment as a new subject has appeared on the horizon: a variant on the old standby of the local lawyers.

They can always be relied upon to be a source of interest, from various estimates of their venality and incompetence to proof thereof as witnessed and paid for by their victims – otherwise known as clients.

Their method on taking on a new client is first to go to the window to see how much his car cost in order to formulate their eye watering demand for an initial provision, followed by a cursory read of the papers to see whether or not any local bigwig is involved in which case they will either

A) discover a conflict of interests

or – for the more machiavellian among them – B) take the case in order to obtain an outcome satisfactory to said bigwig, no matter what the cost to the unfortunate client before them.

However, this time they are at war with themselves.

Every couple of years they elect a council headed by a shop steward (Batonnier) to represent them to third parties and to maintain internal discipline – let no one charge less than the maximum….but this time they seem to have caught a tartar by the tail.

One can only imagine the man to have been a sleeper, placed there by some outside body years ago until his moment came to be elected as Batonnier and he threw off his disguise to reveal himself as someone who thought that the law should be applied to his flock of black robed vultures.

French lawyers are obliged – by a decree dating from 1991 – to undertake training to update themselves as to the state of the law. If general lawyers miss a year they can make it up the next year, but those claiming to be specialists have to do ten hours hard every year and the new Batonnier discovered that several of his colleagues – specialists – on the council not only had done nothing of the sort but clearly did not intend to do anything of the sort.

They complained that he was adopting a legalistic attitude….and then decided to cover their backs by passing a regulation, applying only to themselves,  which put off until 2017  – after the term of office of the Batonnier ends – the obligation to comply with the legal requirements of 1991…

Let us recap…lawyers decide to avoid their legal obligations by awarding themselves immunity….and complain that their Batonnier has no respect for the old Spanish customs of the local legal fraternity when he demands that the requirements of the law are observed.

Infuriated, the Batonnier removed those who in his view were no longer qualified as specialist lawyers from the appropriate part of the official list of local lawyers – where they now figure as mere generalists.

Outraged, the demoted called a meeting and demanded the resignation of the Batonnier.

But there is no known procedure for stripping a Batonnier of his office….and the gentleman in question promptly referred the demand for his resignation to the local prosecutors office to be heard by the regional Court of Appeal.

His colleagues, now decidedly humpty, have decided to ask for the case to be dismissed as they claim that they were not made aware of the proceedings and have not had time to read the papers.

The more cynical of their clients note that that has never stopped them going to court before….but then, this is different. This concerns them.

People here  frequently complain about the idleness, incompetence and general shadiness of Costa Rican lawyers…..but their French counterparts beat them into a cocked hat.

Reassuring to know that some things never change….as long as you are well away out of their clutches.












A Moving Experience…


Surprises usually await me on return from trips abroad: one year a load of bullocks, another a pair of American Staffordshire pups.

This year, after – for me – an uneventful return from visiting my mother another surprise was on the books.

We were moving.

Not far…just up the hill behind our current house to the house which seems to have been in gestation forever.

It was being built by Danilo  in his spare time from looking after the finca, so progress was never going to be a sprint.

It turned out to be far from that as Danilo’s mother entered her final illness, so for several months he was able to do just the basics with the animals each day before going off to spend time with her.

She was younger than my mother, but worn out by perpetual childbirth – nineteen children – and a hard life with no mod cons and insufficient  food, despite the best efforts of her husband – who died in his fifties – and the older children as they grew up to provide.

I met her once, at a family get together: it was obvious how much she was loved and respected for her sacrifice – they all knew how often she had gone without food in order that the children should be fed; the backbreaking work of endless washing to keep the children clean to go to school in apple pie order; her determination that they would all have a better life.

Further delays were caused by our unpleasant North American neighbour. He tried every trick in the book to prevent construction from denouncing us for not applying for planning permission – a good try there as the fine for being caught is less than the fee for the application – to denouncing us for not paying Danilo’s compulsory insurance for construction work – ditto – with an attempt to obstruct our access to water as a sideline.

Whatever it is he is up to it is clear that he doesn’t like the idea of someone being able to see who visits his house and at what hour…

Still, he was duly stuffed and eventually work resumed. The basics were there, but all the finishing details remained to be done.

Which was where matters stood when I left for England.

Mother is coming up to her hundredth birthday this year but, uncharacteristically, had had a series of problems with a chest infection which was pulling her down so, as – pre Brexit – there was an incredibly cheap flight to London I took the chance to see how things were going.

She was down pin, off her feed and fed up with the miserable weather, but the application of a cattle goad to her doctor produced a course of better antibiotics and retail therapy did the rest….ill or well, mother can shop till I drop.

No sooner had we exhausted one shopping area than she was planning the next sortie…an entire summer wardrobe was purchased and once again I have to hail the staff of John Lewis for their customer service. Nothing was too much trouble to find the right fabric and style and to undertake alterations.

I took the opportunity to do my own shopping: Marmite, of course, and kippers in bulk from a superb fish shop in the town, hoping that for once Iberia would not lose my luggage in Madrid as otherwise the suitcase would probably swim home of its own volition.

Kippers managing to arrive at the same time as myself I relaxed, looking forward to a few day of cuddling the dogs and recovering from an overnight in Madrid airport.

No chance.

‘Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re moving.’

This was, I admit, my own fault. I had waxed large before my trip on the idea that if we waited for everything to be finished we would be waiting until Doomsday but never in all my puff had I imagined that The Men would do anything about it.

They had.

Boxes galore encumbered the house….none of them marked….

Cupboards had been ransacked…provender recently bottled jostled with that of previous vintages…

Wardrobes had been attacked….kitchen appliances desecrated…

Never did I feel more in need of a sign:

‘Danger! Men at Work!’

So we moved.

Moving is always somewhat chaotic,so no surprises there…

I eventually found the soup blender and the potato peeler….the clothes hangers…

But there was one feature which defeated me…

Where were the interior doors?


Clearly there had been a hitch.

Julio -slated to produce the doors – had had a cashflow problem. His raw material supplier would not let him have any more wood until he had cleared his last bill, which he could not do as his last clients had not paid him.

His solution? As his last clients were gringos we would go with him to extract payment.

I put down my foot. Given that the gringos I see here are tighter  than a duck’s arse I could see no future in trying to extract payment in the foreseeable future unless armed with a machete and loaded for bear.

My solution was that we would pay for the wood and Julio would bill us for his work…

He has the wood…but until the finished articles appear the dogs are having a field day rushing from room to room and going to the loo involves a recce to see where The Men are working and  whence they are liable to appear without warning…

It has had decidedly deleterious effects on the morning George.