All Systems Stop.

The bridge over the Quebrada Honda

We live up in the hills, some forty odd kilometres from the capital. The main road is a two lane double yellow line affair, so getting caught behind a heavy goods vehicle on the way home can add several minutes to the journey time. On the descent from the hills the road crosses a river..the Quebrada Honda….via a single lane bridge which was installed some seventy years ago and which has recently been closed as the various coats of paint applied to it over the years have done nothing to repair the underlying structure which has finally been recognised as dangerous.

Bus passengers have been aware of this risk for years, from observation of their driver crossing himself before crossing the bridge.

There are not many main roads in Costa Rica outside the conurbations, so the authorities’ bland statement that those wishing to reach the capital should use alternative routes was greeted with a less than cordial reception.

Given the lack of local employment people in this area are forced to go to the capital and its suburbs to find work….the morning and evening rush hours resemble the London North Circular at its worst as cars, motorcycles and buses jam the roads, so how was this mass of humanity to be assisted?

The bus company running from the capital to the coast on this road just stopped all operations, leaving those on the other side of our little town without any public transport whatsoever. That was until the local battleaxe, with the power of the church behind her, made forceful representations which restored service from the town to the coast.

But from the town to the capital?

No problem. The company running that service announced that they would run buses to the bridge, the passengers would then dismount and walk over to the other side where another bus would collect them for the onward journey.

Fine, except for two minor details.

Firstly the two ends were not co ordinated, which led to queues of half a kilometre waiting for a bus to arrive.

Secondly, the company charged two fares…….one to the bridge and another for the onward journey which amounted to more than the original fare for the complete journey.

Enter the battleaxe once more and the fares were revised……though the queues remained. An enterprising gentleman set up a business selling snacks and drinks until denounced to the authorities for having no licence to do so.

For Costa Rica, things moved swiftly. It was decided to install a Bailey bridge with a pedestrian walkway alongside while works were undertaken and a contract was awarded with a limit of twenty days to complete the project with an immediate start.

Except that the waterboard said that they did not have the necessary machinery to dis and remantle the waterpipe under the bridge. A thing about the size of a drainpipe. Par for the course for their local office. The mayor of the neighbouring canton invoked the powers of his office and contacted the national boss of the waterboard. Pipe dis and remantled in short order. Pity the same dismantling could not be applied to the local boss.

The walkway was quickly installed, and open to pedestrians and motorcycles – though it was necessary to remind riders to dismount rather than roaring through on full throttle. So some of the traffic was catered for.

Cars and lorries, however, had no such luck.

Deliveries were disrupted as lorries had to go from the capital to the coast on the laughingly called motorway – a two lane road with heavy tolls – then turn back on the old main road to reach the town.

Cars – and those lorries who thought they could get away with it – were left with the alternative routes.

Despite paying taxes which go to road maintenance, country roads are best approached with caution at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. To be fair, the neighbouring council started upgrading immeditely, while ours, of course, did not as the machinery needed was, as always, under repair.

The choice of alternate routes was stark. There was a paved road to the capital which meandered through the mountains, though ‘paved’ did not exclude potholes resembling archeological sites and yet another dodgy bridge…..apart from adding an hour at least to the journey.

There was a road just before the bridge on the town side which led up into the hills by the windfarm which disfigures the landscape and then down into the capital’s suburbs which offers wonderful views of the valley below, except you would be too busy trying to keep the car on the track to notice them.

Closer to home is the road which meanders cross country…one branch leading north to the motorway and the other east to the capital. It is a dirt road and whichever branch you take it involves crossing a rickety bridge bearing a notice prohibiting its use! Safer to drive through the river beneath it – at least, it is before the rains start if your car does not have a snorkel.

A further option is to drive through the indigenous reservation. The road is good through the village, and not too bad for a dirt road afterwards, if you can see where you are going for dust.

However, members of that community have got the hump at the road being used and have taken to laying heavy branches across it to impede traffic.

Don Freddy, caught by one such branch, announced that it was a pity that the conquistadores had not done a more thorough job, which, while it might be politically incorrect, sums up the general view of the matter.

So, as we were not obliged to go to work, how did the bridge closure affect us?

Badly, as Higher Authority had six hospital appointments in the space of the twenty days!

The Japanese tin box did not appreciate jolting over the dirt roads, and its engine has fallen apart, necessitating a trip to the garage – or in our case the local mechanic who is zillions of colones cheaper and a whole time zone faster. We hope to keep it going until Leo is officially declared handicapped – process bogged down for months because of Covid excuses – at which point we get a tax exemption on buying another car, so fingers crossed that he can do the job.

Still, the twenty days are up…the pedestrian walkway has been removed….our troubles – car permitting – are at an end.

If you believe that you will believe anything. This is Costa Rica.

The bridge has been installed, certainly….but the ramps are insufficient to support the weight of buses and lorries. Apparently ramps were not mentioned in the contract….

Now, the roads department has recently been involved in a large scale corruption scandal, so voices were immediately raised questioning whether this omission was down to incompetence…or something else. How long would we have to wait until there was a resolution?

Another week…another month….?

Much to everyone’s surprise, machinery is in action at the bridge today…the twentieth day….building up the ramps. I suspect that the mayor of the neighbouring canton hs got things moving again…but no one seems to know for sure.

Now all we have to do is to wait for a proper replacement bridge to be built……..considering it took three years to replace the one between us and the town I won’t be holding my breath.

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To Market, to Market….

busescostarica.blogspot.comUnder normal circumstances we take the bus to San Jose….it’s a lot cheaper than taking the car and it doesn’t get lost, despite the best efforts of traffic policemen, accidents and roadworks to divert it from its destination…like the bomber, the Comtrasuli bus will always get through.

It’s a good service, in clean modern buses, although whatever the age of the bus there are always those signs of religious observance which strike the eye of an anglophone protestant….Jesus bearing a crown of thorns hovers over the entrance; you are informed that He is Lord; His mother is asked to pray for you and some buses even bear the information that one is travelling the same road as Jesus and if one does not return to base it is because one has followed Him.

Whether this has any relation to a new notice behind the driver’s cabin on all buses I am not at all sure.
This one asks passengers to observe the driver and, should he use a mobile ‘phone when at the wheel, they are to take a photograph and denounce him to the bus company.
Perhaps Comtrasuli are worried that the Almighty, omnipotent as He is, will use technology to summon the driver to His bosom and, more to the point, that he’ll take the bus with him.

Taking the car is an altogether trickier operation.
The diesel costs a lot more than a bus fare….which is about 85p per passenger….and The Men are driving and navigating.

Leo – navigator – is used to London driving where you are either quick or dead.
Danilo – driver – has no direction bump.
The combination makes for an interesting ride for the passenger – me.

The whole thing is further complicated by a collapse on the capital’s ring road which has turned the rush hour into the plural at both ends of the day and has led to roads unfit for major traffic being pressed into service.

First port of call is a major clinic, the Moreno Canas, where Leo has an appointment.
With shrieks of ‘Go, go go!’ from the navigator at the Sabana Park interchange The Men manage to get themselves onto Avenida 10 and we crawl past the concrete fortress of the Municipalidad – the town hall – its forecourt sporting a pink cow which was left behind when the Cow Parade hit town.
It also has fairy lights in a tree – perpetually Christmas for our worthy administrators.
Then past the Mercado Mayoreo – the city’s official wholesale fruit and veg market – though much better bargains are to be found up at the Mercado Borbon – where, The Men permitting, I intend to do some shopping later.

panoramio.com
panoramio.com
Past more traffic lights and we are alongside the cemetery – or cemeteries: first the Cementerio Obrero, the cemetery for the poorer classes – the workers

cemetery general sj

and then alongside it the Cementerio General, where the better off lie under a gallimaufry of urns, spires, domes and angels…but both places of rest are protected by razor wire and have police in attendance to deter theft, which is endemic in Costa Rica since the drugs trade began to regard the countries of Central America not just as being in transit for drugs on their way from Columbia to the U.S.A. but as new markets in their own right.

Turning right…and squeezing past a lorry which has come to a halt across the junction…we head for the clinic through a depressed area of the city…roadside garages, broken down pavements…and past the waterworks to the clinic entrance. Cars parked in every roadside bay and taxis double parked beside them.
Leo gathers his papers and heads for his appointment. Danilo and I head for the shops.

Swinging back right handed up between the cemetery and the waterworks – what a combination, I think – with the Numar factory behind us, souce of the palm oil cooking fat which fuels Costa Rica’s kitchens, we turn once more onto Avenida 10, squeeze past the lorry again and we’re off on the four lane downhill slalom past the Raul Blanco Cervantes geriatric hospital on the hunt for the shop which carries the best value for money house cleaning products that I know.
We have the car and we’re stocking up.

panoramio.com
panoramio.com
Well, we will be, when we get there.
We have to get to Avenida 6 and thanks to the one way system that means a left turn and then another…but how far to go before we turn?

At the garage – the bomba?
No, at least another block….yes, by the Castillana…
Are you sure?
No, but we can always go round again..
Yes, look, there’s the.Chinese tat shop. Go straight on another block and then left again.

Yes, we’re on the right road. There’s the dubious looking discotheque and the butcher advertising meat from a nearly virgin cow; but we’re stuck in traffic.
Avenida 6 serves as roadside terminal for a number of suburban buses; its high quota of bars means beer delivery vans litter the place and there’s always someone who just has to park right outside the barbers.
We approach the side street where the shop is situated…is it this corner?
No, we haven’t passed the booze shop yet.
Yes, here we are…that’s the Ropa Americana (new and second hand clothes shop) …turn left.
We’ve made it – and as we’re early there’s even parking right outside.

Loaded up, watches checked – yes, we have time to do the Mercado Borbon before returning to the clinic.

BN SJUp the street, another left turn and eyes peeled for the tower of the Banco Nacional to make our turn into the centre.
We crawl up to the junction with the main road through the city – the six lane Avenida 2, wait for the lights and then we’re across and into the street running past the coffee shop on one side and the Banco Central building on the other, with the bronzes of the ordinary people of Costa Rica in front of it.
banco central statues sj

Down Avenida 1 – an accident between a car and a bus, so a quick right turn up to Avenida 3 with all the tool shops in creation and then left again to return to Avenida 1 and the undercover parking lot.

mercado borbon sj Now, I like a bargain and I like the Mercado Borbon where you can buy retail at wholesale prices, but if you read the guide books it’s more a question of ‘here be dragons’ so you don’t find many foreigners doing the weekly shop there.
It is a noisy maze of alleys, steps, stalls and warehouses, but once you have your bearings all is well: I buy bacon on the bone to slice and freeze; kilos of tomatoes; Scotch Bonnet peppers; whopping prawns and then cheese for maturing at home.
I seek out cheap potatoes – only just over half the price of my local shops – and strings of onions.
We load the car and walk over to the better known Mercado Central to buy ten kilos of well fleshed bones for soup…a bargain at about 50p a kilo….and corvina to make ceviche.

Off to the clinic…down traffic clogged Avenida 1 and out onto Paseo Colon….looking for the towers of the tax offices to judge our turn up to Avenida 10.
Yes, there they are…turn left, up through the little park at Don Bosco and we’re back by the Muni….traffic lights, the lorry still not towed away and we’re back at the clinic where Leo is waiting by the chap selling fresh orange juice.
We’re off again, but this time following the road by the Numar factory at the back of the cemetery, to join the road home at Sabana.

How did the appointment go?

He said my optician must have good eyesight if she could see cataracts that small….I have to go back in two years’ time but he doesn’t think much will change.
Hoy….where are we going? This isn’t the right road!

No, but the police are up ahead and the traffic’s piling up….we’ll go back on the old road.

And so we do…crawling through the suburbs until we emerge into the countryside high above the Central Valley and head for home climbing up through the hills.

No joke, San Jose traffic…but then I came across this video which shows that things could be worse….pity the poor train drivers shown here!