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….















42 thoughts on “Support Your Local Traders”

  1. Wow, shopping malls are a pain, but if you can’t even find your way in, you wonder whether the designers were of the same opinion!

    1. You can get into the parking at the mega mall….if you don’t mind paying for the privilege of shopping there….but this idea of little shopping centres only accessible to those with a highly developed sense of ESP drives me potty.

  2. That happened to me once, in Pennsylvania. I could see the motel on the other side of the road, but I could not understand their directions on the roads to take to get to the other side of the road. Funny, now. That and “destination” shopping does not attract me. I seem to be at a “get on with it” age.

    1. The problem seems top be that a developer will buy a finca, and only when he has built all over it will he consider how anyone is to get to it…
      Where are the planning officials? You might well ask…

  3. I was laughing so much at the Chinese and the Post Office and then you took us on that journey to El Rey (or was it actually the mythical El Dorado?) which reminded me of an exotic version of my husband and I trying to find the brand new Ikea in Clermont Ferrand the weekend it opened two years ago. We were so tired when we eventually managed to work out how to access it (we could see the Swedish mecca beckoning from miles around and from every blasted direction) we entered the store, mooched like cattle after a lobotomy round the whole place and left empty-handed and broken without a coherent thought in our collective heads. By the way, my husband is called Ray and often referred to by his Chilean team as El Ray!

  4. Danilo is, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, a clone of J’s older sister. Having just spent ten days in the UK, a chunk of that time was taken up getting from Lincoln to Newark, a distance of nothing. Never was warp-drive more urgently required. How wonderful it is to be back home in Turkey where we only have false-flag coups to negotiate!

  5. I have not laughed so much for ages and I know how easy it is to get lost finding a place that you can actually see on the opposite side of the road. Exhausting for you, I hope there was a glass of wine ready for you at the end of it all, but wow it made for great story telling :-)))) Hope all is well. take care, both of you Diane

    1. The worst was the rain…buildings would appear and disappear in the murk, traffic would appear from nowhere – it was a nightmare!
      I was almost glad to get back to the unpacking!

  6. ‘Thanks be to God that there is the Maravilla’ – Now that’s brazen advertising. Why not just go with ‘Maravilla: It’s where God would shop if He were here’ or ‘When Jesus returns, His first stop will be at the Maravilla’

    And there’s nothing like not being able to find what you’re looking for. I once spent the better part of a day searching out the Montreal Forum. I’d asked a service station attendant, back when those still existed, where to find the hallowed grounds and he, speaking only French, said something that included the word ‘water.’ I spent three or so hours driving along the St. Lawrence River before I finally bit the bullet and asked for directions again. Turns out the Forum was along “Atwater Street,” a mile or away from the riverfront. Good times.

    1. Given the number of men called Jesus round here it is a fair bet that they could proclaim ‘Jesus shops here’…
      The Montreal Forum take struck home: someone being helpful in a foreign language, recipe for disaster…

  7. Sounds dire. I loathe globalisation, for many many reasons, so yeah we shop locally. We usually know where we are going too. Down the track, over the river, up the track, and into town. The poligono can be a bit difficult so we like to avoid that. It’s like Milton Keynes.

    1. Fine in the local town…our steps take us automatically from shop to shop via whichever produce vans are braving the shite hawks employed by the council to enforce the paid parking system….
      In the centre of San Jose no problem either…but the road system is something else…
      I remember going to Milton Keynes for papers from the FCO which had considerately moved itself there in order to swell Branson’s coffers by making you take the train there to obtain documents needing the apostille: it did not appeal..

  8. Thank goodness you had a book with you.

    Your escapade reminded me of our attempts to reach IKEA in Bordeaux on two separate occasions. We could see the ensign from far away across the bridge, and as we crossed the bridge we could see it much closer, but could we get to the damned place. There were roadworks and deviations and we kept finding ourselves on a dual carriageway on the opposite side with nowhere to turn off. The first time I became so frustrated we came home without ever reaching the shop.

    Our next attempt wasn’t much better, but having driven a hundred miles (three hundred if you take into account the previous abortive attempt) we persevered and after much reversing and driving round in circles we finally found our way there.

    I see that Osyth had a similar experience.

    What a shame you couldn’t find the box with the chisels. I expect you’ll find it when they aren’t needed.

    1. Does IKEA employ someone from Costa Rica to decide where to site their stores, do you think?
      When the chisels reappear, which of course they will when no longer required, I shall be sure to put them in a Safe Place…whose location will promptly leave my memory…

  9. Now look I posted first on here and you have deleted it!
    Either that or I forgot to press the ‘send’ button…

    We need pics of the autopista when you are on it. Clearly it is a popular place as the men like being there. I think you are lucky to have such noble men in your party.
    I think they are lucky to still be alive!

    1. Given the goings on in your museum lately I wouldn’t dare delete anything of yours…you’d send in the Sand People…or Stormtroopers…or your fellow volunteers…
      If only I’d taken a light sabre instead of a book……

  10. That’s a hell of a journey to buy some chisels. Or rather attempt to buy some chisels. I had a similar experience trying to drive my mother to Ely in Norfolk, when the road I had planned to use was closed for road works, I had no map, and I had to guess which alternative roads to take. After umpteen wrong turnings and dead ends, I was greatly relieved to reach our destination. We rewarded ourselves with chocolate cake and some very strong coffee.

  11. This is a heads-up…your baggus a/c has been hacked by some shady purveyor of even shadier pharmaceuticals. I didn’t open the email, but be warned! Geiger and Sporran suggest you set the lamb on them!(No hacker would understand *that* code!)

  12. I knew I should pop in even at this late stage. You’re always good for a laugh, which is something I need so much at the moment.
    Thanks Helen.

    1. It’s laugh or cry, isn’t it…or throw .a tantrum!

      Costa Rica has done wonders for my blood pressure after life in France, but i had a classic explosion last week when Danilo decided that the leaves falling from the guava tree were damaging the roof of the toolshed and cut off the offending branch, thus ruining the shape of the tree..

      I am glad to say that I find that i can still express myself in a foreign language for several minutes without seeking for words….and Danilo has since been catching up on all the small odd jobs which had been sidelined in favour of planting out sugar cane…

      I wish I could do something practical to help you…but as it is a laugh must suffice.

  13. Beautiful read that gave me the smile I need to start my day- thank you. I’m glad I’m not the only person who can’t find the way to a visible destination. My GPS had a run-in with my phone in my bag and is useless now, so I either plea with my offspring to donate the use of their all-singing, dancing mobile phones, or just go home.

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