The Road Trip

Perhaps the old ways were best….

Our Japanese tin box, our mode of transport for many years, has been showing increasing signs of wishing to give up the ghost just lately thus incurring hefty repair bills.

We had been hoping to wait to replace it once Leo had obtained his certificate of disability, which gives rise to tax relief on the purchase and maintenance of a car, but his application has stalled in the works thanks to

A. Covid

B. Working from home due to Covid.

C. Not working at home thanks to Covid.

D. Government institutions’ websites being hacked for ransome.

E. Government unable, even if willing, to cough up.

F. Government institutions more bothered about starting a witch hunt among their IT personnel than sorting out the problems of the end user.

Had we had the disability certificate we might just have been able to afford a second hand hybrid …as it was, we could only afford second hand diesel or petrol.

Accordingly, the internet sales sites were consulted. The car had to be relatively economical – given the recent price hikes at the pumps – not too high off the ground to allow Leo to access it without gymnastics, while the boot had to be large enough to take the electric wheelchair.

That cut the candidates down to a very few options….and then the fun began.

There were two cars in a town on the other side of the Central Valley…one owned by an elderly lady, the other by a garage.

Telephoned the elderly lady to arrange to view.

All was organised and the team set up for the morrow….Leo, Danilo – to drive – and Alvarado, the local mechanic and car nut, to deal with the inspection and to obtain directions by Whatsapp.

For what follows I have the testimony of Leo and Danilo……Alvarado wisely stayed mum.

They set off at 7.00 am, heading for the lady’s town – a two hour drive away – but did not ‘phone for exact directions until 8.00 am, as she had requested. She replied, and then told them that the car was actually in a suburb of the capital….a suburb on the far side of it, and gave directions via Whatsapp.

Fine, except that by now they were en route for her original rendez-vous and much swearing ensued while they changed direction.

Guided by Alvarado at the Whatsapp they entered the capital and then Danilo baulked at driving through a notorious no go area….one where the population hook their property to the electrical supply system without the aid of official technicians who are too frightened to go in there and without the need to pay as no one is prepared to go in to cut off the supply.

Danilo….They’ll have the wheels off the car!

Alvarado…..Well, don’t stop!

Danilo…..Not even at the lights? That’s where they lurk….and we’re carrying money!

Leo………I have the cosh. Just drive.

They emerged safely, though, as Alvarado remarked, that was probably because the inhabitants were sleeping off their lucubrations of the night and did not emerge from their lairs until the pavements were aired.

They arrived at the destination in a respectable suburb to find a locked garage and no elderly lady.

More swearing.

One hour later she arrived, complaining at having to drive from her home to show the car, but unlocked the garage and let Alvarado loose.

Apparently there were a few dents in the bodywork, but all looked sound enough, so he prepared to take it for a drive.

Elderly lady……….How do I know you won’t just drive off in it?

Alvarado….Hop in,Senora!

The ill assorted pair drove off, to return some fifteen minutes later with the elderly lady white as a sheet. He had driven her through the no go area to pay her out for the delays.

He thought the car was a bargain at the price and Leo asked the lady…now fanning herself….to call her lawyer to arrange the transfer.

Nothing so simple in Costa Rica as to simply note change of ownership at the National Registry…no fear. As with all transactions a lawyer has to have his sticky palm crossed with silver.

Her lawyer’s office was in a suburb to the south of the city but he would not be available for another hour as he had to drive there from his home out in the country.

More swearing.

The lawyer’s secretary was in the office, however, and provided the group with coffee and cakes while they waited. And waited.

Half an hour late, the lawyer arrived and got down to business.

Had they the funds to pay?

Leo showed him the envelopes conatining the money. The lawyer gathered them toward him and Danilo gathered them back.

The appropriate document was drawn up, but there was, it appeared, a slight problem.

The elderly lady had taken out a bank loan and given the car as security, but, not to worry, she could sort it out with the bank once she had the purchase price in her hand and then the car would probably be available at the end of the month.

Alvarado….How do we know, Senora, that you won’t just run off with the money?

Danilo………Why did you not tell us about the loan?

Leo………We are leaving.

The which they did, to the sound of the elderly lady complaining that they had been wasting her time.

This beng somewhere near mid day they stopped at a caff for lunch and decided that, as they were out, they might as well see the other car, and so it was that they finally arrived home in the late afternoon with Alvarado driving it. The garage had been organised, even to having their tame lawyer come to their own offices, the car was fine and the price had been haggled down.

Just another transaction in Costa Rica, where surprises abound and everything takes at least twice as long as you expect. But you do get coffee and cake.

Close Encounters of The Neighbour Kind…

You need to have a lawyer in Costa Rica…not just because any and everything needs to be formally entered in the National Register, but because they can arrange other matters too….

Some years ago the local council altered the drainage system on the road at the top of the finca, with the result that water poured onto our land and caused damage, destabilising one section. As the council had cloth ears on the subject of putting things right we went to the Constitutional Court which ordered the council to sort it.

Being our local council…which scored zero in the transparency section of the annual inspection this year – probably an improvement on past performance…it did nothing, pleading breakdown of its bulldozer, the absence of a qualified engineer, probably a rearrangement of the rings of Saturn…..until we rashly let it slip, altering the drainage ourselves to limit the damage.

Unfortunately, last year the affected section of land started to slip in its turn, so we were obliged to put in a retaining wall.

Promptly the council served us with a demolition order as we did not have planning permission for the works.

Which is when the lawyer came into the act.

He went to see the alcalde – the mayor – and had a few words in his shell-like to the effect that if the council did not withdraw the notice then the Constitutional Court would be made aware of the council’s disobedience to its orders which would result in ‘ooh nasties’ all round and the alcalde risking three months in the jug.

An immediate decision was made to withdraw the order and then the two chaps settled down over a cup of coffee to put the rest of the world to rights, as Costa Rican culture is distinctly non confrontational and little unpleasantnesses have to be papered over in a civilised manner.

Our lawyer enquired how the council came to know that we had put in the wall…after all, we are not on a main thoroughfare and the council’s officers rarely venture far from their fortress for fear of encountering outraged citizens.

Ah! We had been denounced!

By whom?

The Neighbour! He of the crisp white hat with the curly brim!

He had been lying low since the failure of his marriage, so what had brought him out of his lair?

He had thought we were going to build a house….a house which would overlook the entrance to the lane leading to his property.

Ah! The Neighbour is understandably sensitive about any potential observation of visitors to his domain…especially the taxis which arrive in the early hours of the morning and depart shortly afterwards….but had the council sent out officers to check?

No….they had not.

So they took The Neighbour’s word for it?

Not exactly….The Neighbour is paying one of the Vice Alcaldes – wearing her hat as a lawyer – to get him a government concession to access water for his property so – wearing her hat as Vice Alcalde – she authorised the issue of the notice…

How much has she made out of him so far?

About two million colones…some two and a half thousand quid. And they haven’t even printed his request in the Gazette yet….

Where’s he getting the money for that, then?

Probably something to do with the taxis…

And so, mutually assured destruction having been avoided, there matters rested.

Until recently.

I called at the lawyer’s office to pick up a document and found him, as usual, drinking coffee while he contemplated the piles of dossiers on his desk. He did not, however, look at ease.

He had been at a fiesta the day before…no, hand lifted in reproof, he had not been on the sauce. He had not wanted to go even, but as it was the birthday of the man who looks after his horses it was a social obligation to show his face – and to take a contribution of beer to aid the festivities.

He had accepted a tumbler of whisky which proved to be of the sort that left you gasping for breath and worrying about the state of the enamel on your teeth, circulated for a while and then ran slap into The Neighbour who, scenting free booze, had invited himself on the strength of a distant family connection with the birthday boy.

So when are your clients going to pay me the twenty million they owe me?

What twenty million?

The twenty million they owe me.

For what?

Allowing them to take over my water concession…and the pipes. Cost me a fortune, those pipes…

You don’t have a water concession and apart from that they have their own concession…why would they buy yours..if you had one, that is?

Because my pipes run directly from the tank by the source and theirs have to go down the streambed…

But you don’t have a concession…what you are doing is illegal…

No, you don’t umderstand…I had a concession and I’ll have it back soon…I’m doing them a favour…but they won’t pay me! I just don’t understand you, helping foreigners against Costa Ricans…you ought to be shot…

Don’t even think about it!

He had left the fiesta before things got out of hand….

But had we ever agreed anything with The Neighbour?

Certainly not…but we had received an offer from him via one of his ‘friends’ to the effect that if we paid him fifteen million he would

A. Give back the pipes he stole from our finca seven years ago

B.Agree not to cut our water pipes

and C. Not poison the source with diesel.

So what had we done?

Suggested to his ‘friend’ that were he to poison the source he would find a number of very unhappy users of said source on his doorstep with machetes and as for the rest, he could go whistle.

Clearly, we have not yet fully adapted to Costa Rican culture as we did not offer the ‘friend’ a seat on the balcony nor yet a cup of coffee over which to mull the problems of the world. I showed him Einstein instead and he left abruptly.

The Conquistadors of San Jose

La Nacion

In my last post I moaned about the march of progress in the avenidas and calles of San Jose with particular reference to parking ticket machines which have, quite apart from forcing me to empty the garage and perform gymnastic exercises quite inappropriate to my age and form, threatened the livelihood of the parking ticket sellers.

I am glad to report that, much to the fury of the Municipalidad, these gentlemen have struck back.

They have taken up their station at the Dalek on their patch of turf, have equipped themselves with designated bank accounts with a card with which to operate the thing and are offering their services to drivers at their regular rate of tip.

Their scheme is a roaring success.

You don’t have to risk your bank card….either through it being swallowed by the Dalek or misused by the Muni…you don’t have to get out of your car in the rain to look for the blasted machine…and if you are a regular customer the gentlemen will top up your ticket.

Win win for everyone…except the Muni, whose anticipated revenues from traffic fines and impounded cars have gone up in smoke.

A Slithering of Solicitors

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You would think I was making a collection….the young lady dealing with the fight against the developer here; the local water inspector-cum-lawyer; my regular one; the Argentinian one in Spain; the Flemish one in Belgium and the English one in England.
At the moment I am rejoicing at being free of a French one in France….but I’m not counting my chickens…
While I have property in France there is always the possibility of a notaire darting from the undergrowth to sink his fangs in my wallet.
And…apart from the proposed development…I don’t have a complicated life.

Yet now I have acquired another solicitor…..who came to see me yesterday evening.

I was on my own, my husband having gone to see a friend, so when I heard a car pass the house and then stop I assumed that it was someone looking for the goat farm further down the valley….I reckon people get so desperate looking for it they turn in at any likely gate to ask for directions.
But when there was prolonged silence, I thought I’d better go out to take a look, remembering that what is normally a clear turning circle has been complicated by having building materials for the extension dumped at salient points.

There indeed was a car…a very new, very shiny, very expensive 4×4.
There was also a driver, who had alighted to try to move the wheelbarrow to allow him to turn.
And there was the Alsatian, sitting between the wheelbarrow and the car. Just looking.

Did he need directions to the goat farm?
No. He had come to see my husband.
Ah…in that case he was out of luck.
I would do instead…..he had come to help me.
Do I need assistance?
Yes, senora.

Intrigued, I sent the Alsatian indoors while my visitor moved the wheelbarrow, marking his elegant slacks with cement dust, and turned his car.

Could we talk inside?
If he wished. He didn’t have the air of a mad axeman.

We settled on the balcony, the Alsatian sitting between us, just looking, while my pouchy little visitor came to the point.

My husband had been to the Fiscalia, had he not? Where he had confirmed his accusations of The Neighbour, had he not?

I nodded.

Well, fixing me with a compassionate smile, he had come to help me. He was a lawyer…a Costa Rican lawyer.
Ah, not from the Intergalactic Federation, then.

He knew the law…all the details….
So I should damn well think if he was taking money for practicing his black arts.

And he had come to tell me that there was no point in going on with these complaints….I would be wasting money on a lawyer…all for nothing.
So he was not offering to represent me, then.

He had thought it best to come down and advise me before things risked getting out of hand…
For whom?

After all the Neighbour was a violent, unpredictable man.
Yes, I knew that. I’d seen his then lawyer restrain him from attacking a judge.

And there was no point in having problems if they could be avoided.

So you think my husband should withdraw his complaints to avoid being marmalised by the Neighbour?

Hands raised in horror…. Alsatian shuffling forward eagerly.

No, no…nothing of the sort!
Ah, I had been too crude…missed the subtleties.

He had just come to explain how important good neighbourly relations were in Costa Rica.

Important everywhere, Licenciado. But how do I have good neighbourly relations with a man who has diverted water from my cafetal? I have to take cisterns of water up in the car to do my spraying…

But he has an order from a judge, allowing him to do so! You signed it yourself!
Shome mishtake shurely, ed.

No, Licenciado. What he has is an agreement with someone else to allow him to take pipes across that person’s land.

Then your lawyer must have signed it for you!

No, Licenciado….neither we, nor our lawyer had anything to do with that agreement and it doesn’t entitle him to divert water from my property.

So, pausing and fiddling with his mobile’phone, if you had the water back you could have good neighbourly relations?
Right…that’s the deal he’s looking for.

Anything is possible.

I’ll be in touch.

I saw him to the door, accompanied by the Alsatian.

Licenciado!

Yes, senora?

My husband said that there were about thirty other people in the Fiscalia confirming complaints….