Hit the Road in Costa Rica

hotel-costa-verde-cows

This is what the tourist industry would like you to think of as a traffic jam in Costa Rica.

Or, even better, this:

Unfortunately, the reality is more like this. The dreaded Lindora Radial linking the two sides of the Central Valley  which you are obliged to take unless you fancy driving all the way to  San Jose and then out again.

lindora

Those of us who have to suffer it know it all too well…but, on the airport side at least,  there should be a notice stating

‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!’

And probably a Red Cross station handing out bottles of water and sandwiches, for once you enter its maw you have no way of knowing how long it will be before you are disgorged at the other end.

It is a planning nightmare.

There are factories – thus works buses and delivery lorries.

Offices – every man in his own car.

Shopping malls- every woman likewise.

Access roads to all of above used as rat runs to try to beat the jams and thus making them worse as their users try to rejoin the main road.

It is the road to the airport….it has bridges where the road is reduced to two lanes….light controlled junctions in gridlock….

It makes for the worst journey in the country.

So why not bite the bullet and drive up to San Jose and out again?

Because the rush hours are like this:

traffic-jam-df

Mark you, the traffic does at least move, unlike  the Lindora Radial…but it is dispiriting to drive in these conditions into the capital and then out again, not to speak of the danger of La Platina deciding to do its worst.

This is La Platina:        platina

A plate, as its name suggests, in the flyover which takes the Interamericana highway over junctions leading to major towns, busy suburbs and the airport.

A plate which is supposed to expand and contract with the changes in temperature.

A plate which doesn’t.

I cannot remember a year since we moved here when the blasted Platina has not played up, requiring repair work which severely disrupts the already treacly traffic movement.

This year it has been decided that ‘something must be done’ and major works, instead of patching up, is underway. Consequently nothing much else is.

Back to the Lindora Radial, then….

Traffic congestion has become so appalling that the current government have had to take it seriously….apart from anything else, it is embarrassing for a country which hawks it green credentials at every opportunity to have such a grave problem of pollution.

It has been proposed that as many civil servants as possible should work from home rather than travel to San Jose to work…but no one has proposed taking their expensive cars away.

There is a project to reduce the number of buses running into the city centre…but the bus companies are kicking up and a remarkable number of ministers supporting the project have bitten the dust.

There was going to be provision for tax relief for electric cars…but the legislators voted it down  before going home from the National Assembly in their gas guzzlers.

Take the train?

Thereby hangs a tale.

One Figueres, son of the founding father of modern Costa Rica and President of the country in his turn in 1994 closed down the railway system that took goods from coast to coast and passengers from the major towns into San Jose, thus leaving the country at the mercy of the road haulage and bus interest.

train-13

Only recently has the suburban network been restored and connection with the major towns around San Jose  re established, but it is a ramshackle affair, a narrow gauge railway running through the streets of the capital and only at rush hours:

Figueres junior now wishes to return to power after a lengthy spell spent living in Switzerland: he is seeking his party’s nomination for the next Presidential election.

His campaign posters are everywhere…..

Given his record with public transport I suspect that he will lose more votes than he gains by having his posters put up alongside the Lindora Radial

 

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All The News That’s Fit To Print

traditional-dance-costa-rica.jpg
The Men have now accepted that the car has to pass the M.O.T. this month so are out and about ordering parts which may materialise when pigs take to the air and visiting the Cuban electrical genius to get the window opening mechanism sorted.
This latter visit may or may not have been pushed up the ‘to do’ list by my trip to town with Danilo yesterday.
Lulled into a sense of false security by the recent unseasonable days of heat and sun he had left the driver’s side window down and when the cloudburst hit us half way up the hill the mechanism failed and he was rapidly becoming soaked.
With a cry of ‘Puna!’ (polite version of ‘puta’) he reached into the back and dragged forth the plastic inner of a feed sack which he then draped over the window. Fine for protection….not so good for all round vision as at the junction he had to lift it to peer out for traffic coming down the hill towards us.

As in their absence the calls for coffee and the anxious enquiries as to the whereabouts of items last seen in their possession have decreased in frequency I have had time to
A Listen to the Test Match undisturbed
and
B Catch up on local events via the Facebook page set up by a chap who clearly finds the town hall version somewhat bland and uninformative.

So I thought I might give you a glimpse of what goes on in the area…a little bit skewed as the canton is celebrating the one hundred and forty sixth anniversary of its foundation.
Why the one hundred and forty sixth?
That’s our council for you…

So what has been going on?

Computers and suchlike equipment were seized from a house where a woman was suspected of copying child pornography for distribution in the U.S.A.

puris someone's built a house where he souldn't...Someone has built a house where he shouldn’t have, thus undermining a retaining wall just completed by the council, whose offices are in chaos as the police investigate some two and a half million colones (about two and a half thousand pounds) which grew legs and disappeared in the course of three days….and there were protests at two suspects having been named by the alcalde (mayor) as this is a small place and everyone knows them and their families.

puris busThere were further protests when the person who has managed to hijack the bus company’s radio frequency, thus obliging the drivers to switch off in order to spare their passengers impassioned diatribes of an improper nature, was described as a sexual obsessive.There were no protests at the suggestion that the same person was responsible for a bomb hoax which closed the company’s terminal in the capital.

A man in his seventies was killed when his sister in law – in her sixties – resisted what she took to be an attempt at rape by throwing him against the wardrobe.

puris a bridge over the virilla to piedras negrasA bridge has been flung over the river on the road to Piedras Negras…
puris pilgrimage to la negrita piedras negras
just in time for the annual pilgrimage in honour of La Negrita….

puris traffic accidentsThere have been the usual plethora of traffic accidents….

puris road under repair...at last
and some roads have finally started to be repaired.

puris marijuana in the parkA whopping packet of marijuana was seized from someone in the central park…..

puris drunken teenagers
While two fourteen year olds were found reeling drunk in a shop in town and attended to by the Red Cross.

The church has installed a credit card machine for donations….no more excuses there, then…

Deputies in the National Assembly came down to the celebrate the canton’s anniversary; one stating proudly that he had been down three times since being elected in May….

puris children dance group
puris gala 3
The anniversary was celebrated with rock concerts and traditional dancing….

puris the earthquake on july 24
There was an earthquake or two….

And someone lost to all sense of decency poured paint over the statue of the town’s mascot, symbol of the local farming community.
puris sapo
A cane toad.

The mind boggles.

Look, Mum! No Hands!

driverless car mouse2house.uk
driverless car
mouse2house.uk
Driverless cars are about to be tested in the U.K., it seems…and if they work what a boon that will be for those who drive from necessity rather than pleasure, though what pleasure can be obtained from driving is beyond me unless on a single track road with passing places in the Highlands – or a German autobahn.

But doubts assail me…..when in France we lived in a sort of GPS Bermuda Triangle. Visitors would get as far as the nearby town and ‘phone in for directions, which was easy enough at the Christmas period when the area was illuminated for the festive season…not just the Santa Clauses making SAS raids on walls and roofs of private houses, but real illuminations: a windmill with revolving sails…reindeer and sleigh running across the tiles of a pavillon…champagne bottle with cork bursting forth on another…sinister purple and green icicles – they had only to follow the trail to arrive at the family fastness, dourly unlit safe for the security light, guaranteed to blind the driver as the car pulled up by the well chained gates.

Not so easy in other seasons. There is a phenomenon in rural France first described to me by an estate agent who had sent me out to visit a house I could not find.
You are, he said, approaching it from the wrong side.
I followed his detailed directions and saw what he meant…you had to approach your goal on roads on which the direction signs were visible – bar an overgrown tree or two – from the side on which you were approaching…not the side in which you might, if lucky, get a glimpse of something in the rear mirror in passing.
So directions had to amended accordingly….disregarding the most direct route in favour of that with visible signs and landmarks. So instead of the reindeer and icicles it had to be ‘leave the town in the opposite direction to that which seems sensible, cross the bridge, pass a chateau with searchlights sweeping the grounds, turn left….third left at the roundabout and if you see a bar on your left you have left it too soon…’
Well, you get the idea…but will the driverless car get it?

And even if they solve the GPS problem, what about local issues?
Not, I suppose, too much of a problem in the U.K., but what about France?

When I moved to rural France, while many people had ‘normal’ cars, and farmers drove around in little white vans,there were two other contingents in evidence.

The first – and least dangerous – was that of the ‘sans permis’. This car, a sort of box on wheels with limited engine power, could be driven by those who had lost their driving licence for over enthusiastic indulgence in bars, beer and assorted additional booze. Should you have any doubt about this, the said boxes were liberally adorned with stickers advertising said bars, beer and booze, variety being provided by other stickers of a dubious nature which indicated that, in France, there were some parts of the human anatomy that beer and assorted booze could not, indeed, reach.
As far as I am aware, the ‘sans permis’ still exists….but even if it could be converted to ‘driverless’ status can you imagine the ‘driver’ trying to download instructions to it at the end of a convivial evening….a bar full of troubled clients asking the patron to set it all up for them…. and even if he succeeds being sure that they are on the wrong road halfway home as it will take them on proper roads and not the tracks they generally use to avoid the gendarmerie patrols.
I foresee doctors’ waiting rooms full of alcoholics with nervous breakdowns…
Doctor, I have lost my way….

The other contingent is, unfortunately, no longer with us.
It consisted of elderly gentlemen – the papys – who had grown up in an era when the mode of transport was the bicycle and who had transferred the learning thus acquired to the 2CV they bought in later life…the model with the suicide doors.
They also imagined that the traffic was the same as when they were riding their bicycles, so would emerge at speed from track or minor road, looking neither to right nor left and go on their way, each one a Fangio crouched over the wheel.
Local knowledge was imperative…so that you knew that M. Dixneuf was likely to emerge onto the bend at the Salle de Fetes, Papy Georges from the track by Les Planches and to watch out for that lunatic Archambault at the mill on the river – especially after lunch.

As I say, these gallant gentlemen are no longer with us, but, in France, local knowledge is still vital to your survival on the roads…and how will the driverless car cope with this?

There were..and probably still are… three systems of priority in force.
Priority to traffic coming from the right.
Priority to traffic on major roads.
A hybrid of the two.

As far as I am aware there is no notification of a change of system…you find out the hard way and I’m unable to see how the driverless car will cope with this.

How will it distinguish between a white bollard at a road junction indicating that you have right of way and a white bollard with a red stripe indicating that the combine harvester approaching from your right can flatten you at will? Especially as the said bollard is probably in the ditch following the last passage of the combine harvester.

And what about the traffic light controlled roundabout where you enter on the green light only to find yourself obliged to give way to a stream of traffic entering from the right?

Or the unsigned change from department – priority to major road – to town – priority to the right?
Perhaps there should be an app indicating towns where the mayor’s brother in law runs a repair garage…

Or places where cars are parking on the roundabout, closing other exits, in order to buy their bread from the bakery situated there…

And what about narrow bridges where, nomatter what the arrows indicate, the driver of the big van will always drive on to force the car that got there first to reverse….

And what about the technology to be used?
With all the current emphasis on ‘buy French’, from striped jerseys to red Breton bonnets via salmon pink corsets, the likelihood is that it would be supplied by Orange – the name under which France Telecom hides its shame.

In which case…it’s back to the driver, drunk or sober…and remembering always to approach objectives from the right side.

The Hard Sell

fulu todosautos.com.peI really must invest in sellotape…for the mouth. It would avert a multitude of problems.

Yesterday I saw a mention of a Chinese car newly imported to Costa Rica. It was small, it was economical on petrol – and it was, for Costa Rica, cheap.

Cars here are expensive…ruinously so…. given the import tax. We always had Audis in Europe….to afford one here we would need to have been politicians in the previous government, so we have a dust covered Japanese tin box called by someone with an inscrutable sense of humour a Galloper.
It has four wheels, four wheel drive for the hills and it starts. That is all I require…except for the small matter of it passing the Riteve – the M.O.T. – in August, which is advancing at a rate significently faster than that of the car itself.

The Men do not wish to know this. The Men are happy building the new house, organising planning permission to build another house on the boundary for Danilo’s sister, fencing off the cafetal for the bullocks and generally putting the world to rights.

When I wondered idly whether the small wooden wedge which keeps the automatic window opening device in working order would give the Riteve inspector the habdabs I was told not to worry about it.
So I haven’t.
I noted that the Cuban – car electrician extraordinaire – is on holiday….but apparently I was not to worry about that either.
So I didn’t.

Come August they’d better be right…..

However, I was not interested in the cheap new car for myself. I thought it would be just the thing for Danilo’s daughter, a nurse who is currently working the stand by shifts and finds herself travelling all over the area wherever clinics are short of staff.
Her husband gives her a lift on the motorbike when possible, her brothers do likewise, but she spends a lot of time either walking or waiting for buses in all weathers and has been saving for a small car, but even second, third fourth hand cars are expensive if they have all their wheels and an engine.

There were two models of the Chinese car….one tiny, the other the size of a mini, but the only technical information revealed was that one had one cylinder while the other had two.
This being at about the limit of my knowledge on cars I passed on the information to The Men at lunchtime.

Conversation changed gear rapidly…where was the dealer….what was the car like….how big was the engine?
I was shooed back to the computer to investigate further.

I found the original mention.
From that I discovered where the showroom was. On one of the busiest, most congested roads in Costa Rica.
Then I found the site put up by the events organisers who had ‘done’ the opening. There were two small and unflattering pics of the cars followed by any number of pics of predatory looking women in little black dresses being eyed by men whose gleam in the said eye would end them in hot water should their wives ever consider finding out about small economical Chinese cars.
Finally I discovered the name of the agency importing the cars. It did not have a website, only a Facebook page.
This showed artists’ impressions of the cars – the artists clearly being in their Mister Men period – and announced that the cars were economical, had air bags and could be paid for on tick.

The Men were off on the hunt. Did I want to come?
The showroom was on a road which is lined by various stores I am banned from visiting because of the traffic congestion, so the temptation was there, but on reflection I turned down the offer.
Either I would be hurried in and out by The Men on a mission or else they would drop me with promises to return and then get lost.

They departed and I took the chance to have a quiet siesta.

I had fed the sheep and cattle and chased most of the ducks into captivity by the time they returned and settled themselves on the balcony for coffee and cake.

How did it go?

Well!

The directions could not have been more clear…..on a straight – if busy – road. Opposite a commercial centre called Via Lindora.
Except that Via Lindora has no sign saying what it is….and The Men, when on this road which leads to the airport, pay no attention to their surroundings, intent as they are on reaching their destination so were unaware that it houses a number of chain restaurants and is lavishly adorned by their publicity signs.

Accordingly, The Men had stopped at the veterinary hospital to ask for directions. This took some time as the receptionist remembered them from the Alsatian’s visit last year and enquiries as to his well being had to be made and the vet who treated him called through to hear that he was fine.

They continued, and emerged at the airport end of the road.
They returned to the beginning and this time asked directions of the security guard at the builders’ merchant.

They emerged again at the airport end of the road…..

After a few more attempts they did the sensible thing and asked the man who sells football shirts by the roadside. He asked them why on earth they wanted to go to Via Lindora and they told him what they were actually looking for.
Oh…that! They’ve got a tent in front of the Porsche dealer….

They were by now on the right side of the road and after only one mishap they found the tent – a sort of arabian pavilion bearing no signs.

Not only were there no signs….there were no sales staff. The cars were in place…the small one which looked like a snail and the larger one which looked quite swish…in colours of dove grey, neon red and a blue such as was never seen on land or sea….but there was no one in sight.

This was an invitation to The Men. The doors were unlocked so they could test the seats…the bonnet was unlocked, so thay could see the engine……

Might be a bit underpowered, thought Danilo.

Couldn’t be worse than the Citroen Ami, replied Leo. And I drove from England to Spain in that over the Pyrenees…

Then a man appeared, dapper in a sober suit.
Could he help them?

Indeed he could….they asked about engine power, fuel consumption and whatnot and he gave the information they required.
The price…did it include all the taxes?
Certainly…then, confidentially, in a lowered tone, there was a special price on these cars…

A promotion?

Not exactly…they need the money to pay the taxes to get the rest of the shipment out of the customs area at the port…

Could they take a test drive?

No…the cars don’t have batteries. Otherwise they might be stolen, what with nobody being around…

But you’re around.

Oh, I don’t have anything to do with the cars….the salesman had to go off somewhere and asked me to keep an eye out.
I’m the waiter from the Inka Grill next door…