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.
Tour de France riders, eat your heart out. Forget the water bottles and snacks handed out from the cars, do it the Costa Rican way…find a passing cow and help yourself! You need to know what you’re doing though, or you might risk a hefty hoof in your derailleurs which would leave you looking more jaundiced than your jersey – but at least you can be sure you’ll pass a dope test.
Not that Andrey Amador, the only Costa Rican riding in the Tour de France, will be looking for a handy cow.
A long serving Grand Tour ‘domestique’ he is riding for Team Ineos this year and Costa Rica will be keeping an eye on his prowess – something to keep minds off the blasted bug which has hit the country.
In which respect, the wheels have fallen off the campaign to contain it.
All went well in the early days. Existing hospitals were reorganised, a special hospital set up and the populace told to keep themselves to themselves to protect the vulnerable. Those presenting with symptoms were treated with the hydrochloriquine and zinc cocktail which produced excellent results save in the case of those with grave pre existing health problems. Then the WHO banned that treatment, so the hospitals turned to the use of dexametasone and steroids (anti inflamatories), oxygen therapy – including EMCO which is an extracorporean oxygenation machine – interleukin inhibitor and antibiotics -when the patient is reinfected by other pathogens. Not so effective…..but funding depends on WHO approval.
It also depends, it appears, on the numbers of cases reported.
Initially, when the cases began to spike, it was put down to the number of Nicaraguan ‘informal’ workers coming down for the fruit plantations’ picking and packing campaign. The Nicaraguan government deny there is a problem with the bug – even hold fiestas at which attendance is strongly recommended should you wish to keep in good odour with said government – and encourage their nationals to seek care in Costa Rica. Care which Costa Rica will provide nomatter the status of the person seeking it
No doubt the influx is a factor. Imagine a couple of infected people arriving and living in the squalid, hugger mugger conditions provided…or who go to visit family living in Costa Rica…
But the numbers have jumped…have high jumped….and anecdotal evidence is that when one person is tested positive, all those in their household are counted as positive also….inflate the numbers and increase the funding.
We had had confidence in our health service…and their management of the situation.
We still have confidence in the dedication of the medical staff – even if they cannot use the most effective tools.
We no longer have any confidence in the way in which government and the management of the health service are handling things.
Contracts for masks which are useless handed out to some tart running a communications business….numbers inflated to drum up funding…which ends up in whose pocket?
Good treatment banned, leaving staff to do their best with what they have….
Government ministers giving their statements all masked up…then being filmed mask free in close bikinied company on a yacht off the Pacific coast….or tucked up in de luxe hotels on the beach – mask free, of course.
Vehicle restrictions which all would accept in the cause of reducing infection, but which have turned into a money tree as traffic police impose fines for all and any infraction, hitting hardest, not the fly by nights, but the hard up guy who depends on his unlicensed motorbike to get to work to feed his family. Why it does not dawn on government that the high price of getting a licence, and for keeping a vehicle on the road hit the most needy hardest is beyond me…but Costa Rica prides itself on being eco friendly, so the poor continue to pay while the country flaunts its green credentials.
And now, having been so slow to close the borders, we are to allow tourists back in. To be fair, as a tourist, you stand little risk, unless you decide to visit the shanty towns around San Jose, the shacks housing the workers in the banana and pineapple plantations or the hospitals, but the risk to the local population of allowing tourists to enter with minimal restrictions is something else…just so that the largely foreign owned tourist trade can recoup its losses.
Tourism counts for only some eight per cent of GDP…but it has clout…and doubtless the transfer of funds from one pocket to another.
And in our little town, the reported case of one of the employees at the Walmart outlet has been made much of….whereas the absence from service of staff at the locally owned supermarket has been passed over in silence…
This virus has been presented as equivalent to the Black Death, which is nonsense. We have the means to combat it if not to utterly defeat it.
But perhaps the consequences mght be similar…..either people submit to the ukazes of their increasingly detached governments, or they strike out to free themselves of unjust restrictions in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
I fear that it will be the former…I would hope it would be the latter.
In my short time here I have seen the changes…worried about the future for my friends’ kids and grandchildren…it was an oligarchal society, but one which recognised that social justice reinforced its rule.
This virus has ripped up the underbelly of that society….but will people submit…or react?
Costa Rica was never a paradise…but it was socially stable….will our friends’ grandchildren find that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone?
A problem requiring a quick solution saw me on a plane for Spain – via the U.S.A. and their dreaded airports. I had sworn never to darken their doors again after my last experience some years ago, but needs must when the devil drives. It was high season for travel to Europe, the direct flights were full and it was half the price of British Airways, even if I could have booked a seat with them.
I had a further complication. My wonky ankle had all but collapsed and it was not a good moment to travel further than a stagger from bedroom to bathroom, from bathroom to kitchen and then a lengthy rest in a chair. Still, needs must and all that.
As it turned out, it was to be a blessing as I booked wheelchair assistance for the connections through the U.S. airports and although the vehicles provided were not the equal of a London Transport diesel engine ninety seven horsepower omnibus – what could be? –
they were indeed a transport of delight. Collected on the airbridge at Houston and whisked away to one of those carts that always pass you empty when you are gloomily dragging your luggage for what seems like miles to encounter the warm embrace of immigration officials and Homeland Security goons….. it was another world.
Decanted into further wheelchair for the obligatory passage of what is laughingly called security my kind hispanic assistant passed several entrances into the inferno of queues and bawled orders until she found me a quieter entrance, with no queues and a friendly welcome. Well, for me…not for her. The distinctly caucasian officer gave her a hard time over the renewal of her badge – which was not due for another month. Hassle for the hell of it.
All continued well…I was allowed pre boarding which gave me time to hobble my way to the back of the ‘plane to a seat I had booked, in the aisle, near the loos, with room in the overboard locker for my case. Sardine class, of course, but at least the essentials were in place. The flight was packed….but the two seats next to me were still empty…hope rose, only to be crushed as barging up the far aisle came two fake panama hats. The lead number was borne by a large man in red trousers, the other by a woman whose long suffering expression resembled that of one who waits , plastic bag in hand, while the dog performs his business.
Red trousers identified the seats. Without pleasure.
‘We’re separated, Ursula!’
You would think that perusal of the tickets might have alerted him to that earlier…but men in red trousers are not noted for brain.
Turned to me, announcing loudly
‘I’m in the middle seat but I’m taking the aisle.’
He could have taken take the high road or the low road for all I cared…yet it was an opening gambit had I but realised it.
Having settled Ursula into her seat on the other side of the aisle, red trousers started to look for space in the lockers for his case. There was none. He was obliged to go forward, well forward, before he could find a gap and returned to base – in the free aisle seat, -spreading out his affairs on the middle seat and opening his newspaper.
So absorbed was he that when the stewards were trying to rejig all the cases, he did not notice that they were asking who owned his….I suppose we were minutes away from an unidentified luggage emergency when Ursula alerted him and he sprang to his feet, bellowing that he was not going messed around and demanding that his case was restowed immediately.
Finally he was mollified and returned to his newspaper, muttering that he had had enough of all this…but more was to come. The ticket holder of the aisle seat finally appeared…a mild young man who made it clear that he would like the seat that he had booked, so red trousers gathered his gear and plumped down next to me, clearly not happy.
Turning to me he said, in a tone of en haut de bas,
‘I am giving you sufficient space and I expect reciprocity’.
Clearly, someone who liked to impose himself on those around him…
I am told that when annoyed I sound like Princess Anne and I certainly borrowed one of her better known phrases in telling him to ‘Naff off’, though in a version more suited to his level of comprehension.
After which, peace reigned for the duration of the flight.
I made a brief stop in London, mainly to sort out a few things with my bank and to do the essential food shopping, staying with my friend in the now gentrified Kensal Rise.
Gentrified always seems to me to be a misnomer…most of those moving into the area would be – or would have been, my timescale becoming collapsed as I grow older – looked down upon by the country gentry who, while being so often shit in a silk stocking themselves, could tell a nylon stocking when they saw it.
I had become accustomed to the organic butcher, the vegan coffee shops and the wine merchant selling bio filth…to the fearsome juggernaut prams in which the slightly clad mothers protected their offspring from contact with the outside world…to the massive four by four cars lining roads where housing had been built long before the possession of cars had been envisaged, but a new horror had emerged. The electric scooter.
As if cyclists – as in self righteous ponces in lycra as opposed to people who wear bicycle clips – aren’t bad enough….now these pests have come to haunt us, moving swiftly and silently, giving no warning on road or pavement, mounted by some prat in a cycling helmet with no idea just how infantile he or she looks.
It would be wrong to state that Kensal Rise is going to the dogs…even if the canine sex toy has been removed from the pet shop window. The hardware shop is still there…the corner shops still exist…and so do the original inhabitants, though these grow fewer over the years. Yet there is a more serious change. Drug related shootings have become, if not common, frequent enough to be shrugged off as ‘oh, another one’. A link with the new inhabitants’ habits, perhaps?
If so, shit in lycra leggings.
Off then, to Barcelona, the ‘plane so delayed that we did not arrive until the early hours, plenty of time for the earworm bequeathed me by my father to surface,
‘We are some of the nuts of Barcelona,
We think it such fun
We’re going to be hung.’
It has bothered me so much that I eventually looked it up in the Mudcat Cafe site, that source of all that is wild and wonderful, only to discover that father’s version differed radically from the original.
Hastening from the airport I discovered that the Barcelona Sants railway station did not open until 5.30 a.m. giving me a few hours to sit on a stone block by the entrance. I was approached by a young woman carrying a rose who told me, in French, that I was in great danger, sitting outside a station at night, and should come to her house. I had a feeling that I or my purse might be in more danger in her house and politely refused her kind offer.
Shortly afterwards I made the acquaintance of a chap from Bolivia, working in Montpellier and going to visit his family in Valencia. He had missed the bus and found, like me, that the station was closed. I learned a lot about the comparison between life as a legal immigrant in Spain as opposed to France…he could not wait for his contract to end to return to Valencia. We talked food, politics…all the usual stuff, before being joined by an elderly man who had himself come from Montpellier on his way to Alicante and who had, too, missed his bus.
He was one of the ‘gilets jaunes’, pleased to inform me that the movement was still active – especially in Montpellier where the brutality of police tactics served only to keep the action going.
Why, he wanted to know, were there no ‘gilets jaunes’ in the U.K., where people were being bled dry even more than in France? The only answer I had was that identity politics in the U.K. had effectively divided the those parts of the population likely to rise up…so they were fighting each other for state resources rather than the state itself.
In the days of fake news and the hegemony of the media barons, if you want the lowdown, sit outside Barcelona Sants in the early hours of the morning.
And in keeping with the character of that city it was both low key and somewhat alternative.
Thanks to flight times and the pretence of security which in effect traps you in airports for sufficient time to be tempted to buy the overpriced rubbish on sale airside I am used to leaving Southampton in the early hours, keeping lonely guard over my piles of luggage by the bay into which I hope that the coach for the airport will arrive. I think one can judge the nature of a coach driver by his choice of bay…those who pull in where there is a queue and those who do not.
This time, though, I was not alone. A friend had accompanied me to the bus station, our journey enlivened by a sighting of her husband returning from the casino somewhat the worse for wear as he crossed the river by the Itchen Bridge using both hands on the parapet to propel him homeward like a crab seeking the safety of its rock.
Neither were we alone. As we trundled the suitcases to the waiting area a figure emerged from the shadows. Woolly hat a la Compo, jowly beard, puffer jacket and sock lined wellies, with a bag resembling grandmother’s knitting bag writ large, he addressed us.
Would the Pullman arrive?
Supposing that he meant the National Express coach we reassured him that it would.
But there are no signs!
No…the bus station offices are closed…you look at the timetable and it will tell you when the coach arrives.
Please? I am Italian. I do not understand. I am student at university. I am going home. I need the Pullman to come or I miss my flight.
Both wondering how he would benefit from a course at a British university if he had limited English we assured him that the Pullman would indeed arrive. Just look at the queue which was gathering!
How they know? There are no signs….
The coach – or Pullman – arrived and pulled into our bay….one up for the driver.
Our Italian friend was the first in the queue as we marshalled my luggage, assisted by a couple of students going home for the Easter holiday.
He faced the driver.
I tried in Spanish. I have no idea what ticket is in Italian but he seemed to get the idea, produced the e mail on his phone and was allowed to board.
Once underway all went well except that at every stop he would rise and enquire
To which the driver, face ruddy from stress, would reply
No Sir. If you listen I will announce each stop. The bus runs through Fareham, Portsmouth Hard, where we are currently standing, then Chichester, Gatwick North and finally Gatwick South.
At which our passenger announced that he was sorry to be breaking the driver’s balls but was this stop Gatwick Sud?
I had the strong impression that if the driver had not voted to leave the European Union previously he would now be doing so at the earliest opportunity which presented itself.
It being early spring the parks had been alive with flowering trees and swathes of daffodils, while gardens enjoyed from the bus windows showed camellias, their blossoms brown edged by frost, jews mallow flopping against walls and fences, flowering currant with the buds just colouring up over jewelled clumps of primulas, and everywhere a haze of pale green buds against a hard blue spring sky.
A fine last sight to remember.
Over the years I had become fond of the place….village style high streets in the suburbs with proper shops, good public transport, a restaurant where the owner’s Staffie bitch trotted among the customers, old fashioned pubs in the old town and all the glitz of the entertainment and shopping complex at West Quay.
Certainly there had been downsides…more and more people sleeping in shop doorways….. whole blocks of city centre premises torn down to be replaced by blocks of student residences as the two universities pulled in the money from overseas students’ fees…… the deterioration of the Friday market from one with a bit of everything for everyone to huts selling New Age balls and overpriced food.
But there was still a real market down at the pretty village of Hythe, so all was not lost to the forces of destruction.
I shall miss Southampton, but my reason to go there ceased to exist when my mother died in late March…my last visit was thus to attend to her funeral.
I don`t know if you grew up with those illustrated books featuring Victorian images of historical events – you know the sort of thing, the two princes looking angelic in black velvet before being bumped off in the Tower, Richard Coeur de Lion languishing in his prison while Blondel sings beyond the walls, Boadicea and her daughters being whipped by a Roman tax collector – but if you did then you might be able to help me.
What was the name of the man who walked through London stark naked with a dish of flaming coals on his head and was he foretelling the Great Plague or the Great Fire? Or could it have been the Popish Plot?
The illustration is as clear to me now as when I first turned the page as a child…..but my memory has failed to dredge up either his name or the event he was foretelling, which is infuriating for one who has always rejoiced in having the memory of an elephant when it comes to trivia while admitting to haziness on more immediately relevent phenomena.
I would like to be reminded because I was thinking of following his example when visiting my bank in London…apart from the naked bit.
There are limits.
The bank, it appears, wishes to know its customers, or so it says.
Having been a customer of said bank for twenty seven years I feel that if it doesn`t know me by now then it has missed the boat.
It knows that it gets regular payments; it knows I don`t take up its offers of loans to go on holiday, to buy a car or to undertake plastic surgery, let alone buy a house; it knows it is a waste of time to try to sell me insurance; it knows that it has never had the pleasure of charging me for an overdraft and it knows that I am displeased when it makes a mess of a simple transaction because its systems are designed by overpaid cretins who probably do borrow money for holidays, cars and plastic surgery and pay for everything on a credit card so do not understand that I would like to make a transfer without having to find and turn on a mobile `phone in order to receive a code which will be outdated by the time that I have found the right glasses to read it, pressed the wrong button which promptly effaces it, try it again and finally change glasses to read the computer screen.
That is if the whole process hasn`t alerted some Dr. Strangelove security system at the bank which promptly freezes my account.
It is not alone in its lunacy, I know. Leo`s broker in South Africa refuses to deal with his bank as it claims that said bank is money laundering on the basis of regular payments of twenty to thirty quid to Better World Books UK.
What could be more suspect than buying books, after all?
Same broker rashly forwarded internal e mails about the problem which were written in Afrikaans. As Leo has an old fashioned form of Flemish he found the e mails totally clear – if unflattering – and expressed himself accordingly. In Flemish.
So, as Leo`s specialist decided that an op would not be necessary on his broken leg and as mother`s birthday was looming, I took a bolt to the metropolis to allow my bank to renew its acquaintance with me, leaving him in the charge of Danilo and Maria, a Nicaraguan lady we have known for years, to give twenty four hour cover in my absence.
Breaking the habits of a lifetime, I coughed up for a direct flight with British Airways which spared me the hassle of changing `planes in odd corners of the world and suffering the current whims of the bored people manning the security lines.
None of them seem to like the packets of coffee in my carry on bag. Madrid doesn`t like them because they are all regularly square….Toronto thinks that as coffee is organic matter, it could be used in a terrorist attempt….while Amsterdam wants to know why I don`t just buy my coffee in Holland.
All went swimmingly, as I had two empty seats next to me and could thus avoid the nuisance of the man in front of my original seat who, not content with reclining it to its fullest extent imediately after take off, jumped about in it excitedly while watching cartoons on the IFE. He did not even return the seat to its upright position in order to eat…had I been forced to suffer his antics for ten hours he might have received the contents of a container of chicken curry on his cranium. Hot.
Needless to say, an evening spent in the company of an old friend over several tissue restorers removed all wish to emulate he of the flaming coals…just as well, as London was suffering from a deluge which would have doused the fires of hell on the day I set out for the bank.
My regular bus had changed its route as the Mayor of London – whose name and portrait seem to appear all over the place like Big Brother – had decided that too many bus routes served Oxford Street and had had some of them shifted. Thus instead of a two minute stroll I had to leg it for some distance, arriving like the proverbial drowned rat.
It might not have improved my temper, but it is impossible to be angry with the recepionist who does the triage of clients, or with the girls of the counter staff.
They know their bank is not universally beloved of its customers thus it is unfair to ask them to keep smiling while you foam at the mouth and gnaw the carpets….so I asked what more the bank wanted to know about me.
It appeared that it wanted a photocopy of my current passport.
But I could have sent you a certified copy!
No, I could not. That would not do.
It used to do when I lived in France.
Probably trained to observe when a customer was about to brake frith and cracke heads I was directed to a supervisor in an office out of earshot.
Ah! They had noted that my old passport had expired.
They needed my new one, for their records.
Because they had to know their customers.
It was then that I realised that knowing your customer had nothing whatsoever to do with my banking habits but everything to do with ticking a box. The system could not give two penn`orth of cold gin whether I was likely to run amok with a credit card and blow the entire assets of the bank on botox….it just needed a photocopy.
So why could I not send you a certified copy?
You could…from the U.K. They do it at the Post Office.
Why not from Costa Rica?
Oh, that`s regarded as a dodgy country…a lawyer could be pretending to be you and siphoning off your pension.
Thinking that the average Costa Rican lawyer would regard my state pension as not worth bothering to pick up if dropped in the street I produced my passport. The photograph of a wild eyed woman with her hair on end would be enough to convince any bank official that this was not a customer to be encouraged but the box ticker showed no reaction and made her photocopy.
That was it. The bank now, once again, knew its customer.
The rest of the trip passed peacefully: I took Mother to see the film `Dunkirk` to celebrate her birthday. Made a change from cake and flowers, though her friends had organised that too.
The cinema boasted all round sound and it lived up to its promise. Mines exploded under your seat, bombs unleashed themselves at your head while waves lapped incessantly around you. Mother said that while all the actors were remarkably clean for men who had been retreating for days the film was accurate in reproducing the distinctive sounds of the different aircraft. She had been straffed by a Heinkel when walking home from the sanatorium in Belmont and she remembered it well.
Of course, I had news from the home front in the daily telephone call:
Maria has brought her daughter, Stephanie, with her. (Aged about seven) She has used up all your printing paper for drawing. (Give her all those old envelopes you hoard…)
Stephanie is using at least one loo roll per day. Is this normal? What does she do with it? (No idea, but stand by to unblock the septic tank…)
She is playing on my computer. I`ve had to use yours. (Aargh!)
I was fed up with rice and beans so I asked Maria to cook me a spaghetti carbonara. (And?) She garnished it with red peppers and coriander…
I don`t need help any more. I`ve sacked Maria. (I know she called me and told me. What you don`t know is that she has arranged for Luzmilla (cleaning woman) to deputise…)
Luz is here and she refuses to go away! (Good luck with that!)
My return trip was uneventful except for the ritual disembowelling of my suitcase at San Jose airport as, once again, I drew the elderly customs officer who regards it as his mission to preserve Costa Rica from outside influences.
But you came off the `plane from London.
They sell it in London. Look at the label.
Oh yes…it`s in Spanish. What are these?
Could you open the bag?
On your own head be it.
Jesus Maria, close it up!
So home, to find the house sparkling clean, the dogs pleased to see me and Leo able to walk a short distance with a walking frame that Danilo had made him.
All is well…though I am still looking for either of my two rolling pins……
Where would you put a rolling pin….? Any ideas?
The man with live coals on his head….I remember now…he was called Solomon Eagle and it was the Plague.
Under the trees of the park in front of the cathedral the local ladies had set up their charcoal burners; the aroma drawing passers by to the folding chairs set up by their stands.
On the Calle de Calzada the restaurants had set out the tables in the street for the crowd who wanted Guinness, burgers and chips
The lighted windows were bright at the hotels and restaurants serving the more recherche fare…at recherche prices.
So where was I?
In the police station. Not a patch on the other attractions of Granada and no food on offer either.
The back story is as follows…
Two women friends had been visiting us in Costa Rica: one my age, the other much older.
We had had a lot of fun, starting with the discovery that the lady who had brought me harissa found that the lid of the pot had worked loose in her luggage, giving her an entire wardrobe of clothes with oily orange stains and a pot with very little harissa remaining inside it.
We flogged ourselves round the shops of Escazu, the upmarket suburb of San Jose, without success. My friend liked designer clothes…but not at Escazu prices.
So we took the car to the centre of San Jose to hit the Ropa Americana…the secondhand clothes shops.
Except that not all the contents are secondhand. A lot of the stuff is new…complete with tags…and you can find some real bargains.
My friend shops with precision..she knows her size (in every world measurement known to woman)..she knows what fabrics she likes and she knows her style. As always the staff were very helpful: she would emerge from the changing room saying
I like this…but with some detail on the sleeve.
Immediately a bevy of assistants would fan out into the shop to seek what she wanted and would sometimes find it.
Try getting that service in London – unless you are the sort of woman who is accompanied everywhere by bodyguards paid for by her seventy year old husband.
Our shopping trip was very successful: my friend`s wardrobe was replenished at minimal cost but in maximal style.
Nothing orange though, I noted…
We had taken Danilo with us as we needed the car for the spoils and so went together to the terrace restaurant opposite the Teatro Nacional which had caught my older friend`s eye, with tables set among the borders of coffee plants which separate it from the traffic roaring along Avenida 2.
Service was slow….clear sign of a place which thought that coffee plants in the centre of San Jose were attraction enough to draw customers.
Tired of the nods and becks of the only visible waiter Danilo – keen to have visitors to Costa Rica properly treated – went off in search of assistance.
He returned with a head waiter and two female accolytes who presented menus and waited patiently for our orders.
The ladies wanted a fresh fruit drink to quench the thirst generated by shopping followed by white wine. Danilo…driving..stuck to a fruit drink.
The ladies ordered plates of carpaccio of fish. Danilo ordered grilled fish with rice and beans.
The fruit drinks arrived..and were leisurely consumed.
The table adorned with empty glasses, a furious Danilo set off once again in search of assistance.
The head waiter and acolytes returned, cleared the table and served the wine with a further fruit drink for Danilo.
Where, he asked, is the food? These ladies have been waiting at least twenty minutes! Just how long does it take to open the fridge and slice some fish?
The head waiter eyed him…he had a problem in assessing his status.
Danilo, to show his countryman`s contempt for San Jose, would normally wear an old tee shirt and torn jeans together with wellies. Given that he was escorting visitors he had compromised: clean pressed jeans, newish tee shirt…and shoes.
All the ladies were respectably attired and, in one case, wearing a large diamond pendant on her necklace.
The head waiter had a problem…this unsophisticated chap had in tow three somewhat upmarket ladies…he must have hidden talents!
At once, senor!
The carpaccio of fish was superb…well worth another glass of Chilean white from a head waiter now hovering.
Danilo viewed his fish with disapprobation. It was not grilled…it was poached…
Would we, asked the head waiter, care for coffee?
Before we could speak, Danilo replied that, on current form, we could not wait for the coffee berries to be processed…no, just give us the bill!
The bill eventually arrived..the head waiter somewhat bothered as to whom to present it.
His dilemma was solved by the older friend scooping it in and paying in cash – which Danilo promptly counted and returned the sum in excess of the bill to her purse….
Don`t encourage them….
We adjourned to the cafe of the Teatro Nacional where my friends ordered patisseries and cappuccino while Danilo and I contented ourselves with the latter.
Except that the waiter in the Teatro Nacional had resolved the problem which had bemused the head waiter of the terrace restaurant.
Danilo`s cappuccino came with a heart and cupid`s dart design….
He rose and took the waiter aside.
I could not hear all of the conversation but the gist of it was that if the waiter thought that he, Danilo, was a gigolo he could come outside and accept a bunch of fives while, furthermore, the ladies he was escorting were the wife and friends of his employer and Europeans at that, not some dried out old bats coming down to Costa Rica to pick up young men – here a sweep of the arm over surrounding tables – and could the waiter not tell the difference between real diamonds and costume jewellery.
His coffee was removed and replaced with one with a fleur de lis design…
The wardrobe replenished we did the usual visits…volcano, waterfalls, little towns with quaint churches….but I thought it a shame that they should come to Central America without visiting Granada in Nicaragua, once the port from which the fleets sailed for Spain in the time of Drake, crossing Lake Nicaragua, down the Rio San Juan to the Caribbean and on to Europe.
A Spanish colonial city, burnt in large part by a would be American dictator in the nineteenth century, it is still a gem…
We booked tickets on one of the bus services which travel from San Jose to Managua, calling at Granada….while it is fun when younger to travel on the bus to the frontier and elbow your way in true jumble sale fashion through the queues for customs and immigration, given the age of my older friend discretion was the better part of valour and we took the service where the conductors shepherd their clients through the formalities at the frontier as painlessly as possible.
My friends had the seats immediately behind and above the driver where they had a superb view of the road…and a equally superb view of said driver eating his lunch from a plate on his lap while guiding the bus with two fingers….but we arrived unscathed and found a taxi – well, a young man with a car – to take us to our hotel, a restored colonial style house a few blocks from the centre of Granada.
Setting out to explore the next day it was obvious how much Granada had changed since I first visited it with Leo years ago.
Then we had stayed in a hostel: the bed had had cushions for pillows, slippery polyester sheets and an ensuite shower which consisted of an overhead tap in an enclosure of corrugated plastic sheeting.
Leo had spent most of the first night slapping himself in an attempt to kill the mosquitoes….on emerging the next morning he was greeted with a large brandy offered with the respects of the staff who had mistaken his actions for those of wild sexual passion….
We stayed there for three nights and in that time it was impossible for him to buy a drink…they were lined up on the bar from staff and regular customers as soon as he showed his face. Men came to look at him…
Now, Granada had changed: boutique hotels, chi chi restaurants….we were not objecting as we took wine stops in cool courtyards on our tours of the old streets…but it was no longer the haphazard, casual place that it had been. Professional tourism had arrived and the waiters were chasing away the crowds of little boys who moved from place to place offering sweets and matches for sale, thinking that they annoyed the customers. Given the type of customer, it is probable that they did but I had liked the saucy little devils with their hard sell and their backchat.
On the last day of our trip I took my friends out to Masaya to see somewhere less affected by tourism.
We took the collective mini bus from down by the market and were dropped in the town centre in time for lunch…and what a lunch!
Fresh fruit juices and whole grilled fish with salad does not do justice to the meal…all I can say is that fresh meant fresh….and no, we did not climb up into these tall chairs to enjoy our meal.
We visited the stalls selling ceramics, clothes and leather goods in the old fortified market building:
And then walked up the road to the town market which covered acres under its corrgated iron roofs…
As always, a gentleman offered his services to find the best deals…
As always I accepted, made my own deals and paid him a retainer…he has a living to make.
He was kind enough to bring our shopping bags to the bus stop where we were scooped up by the conductor and instructed to hold tight as the packed bus whirled away.
Quick, said the elderly friend. Take a photograph…this is the first and last time you will see me pole dancing!
In no time young men had given us their seats and we returned to Granada in the late afternoon.
This is where things went wrong.
I wanted to go to the market to buy shoes.For some reaason I can buy my size in Nicaragua but not in Costa Rica.
My friends wanted to take a carriage tour of Granada. I would always willingly forgo this as not all the horses are well cared for, so we agreed that we would meet up at the hotel.
Shoes bought, I had returned to the hotel and was sleeping when the receptionist roused me with the news that my friends had been attacked on the corner of the street.
I hurried down to find that my elderly friend had had her diamond pendant snatched as she walked to the hotel: neighbours had come out of their houses to chase the thief ….but he had escaped, using a bicycle lying in the gutter half a block away….and to care for my friends. Chairs had been brought on to the street…remedies had been applied….
The hotel staff were superb in helpng to calm and care for my friends…but the owner (French) was only concerned to insist that it was not the fault of the hotel. Clearly it was not…but some concern for her guests would have been welcome.
Finally the desk clerk got to the nub of the matter.Never mind if the thieves could be caught…my friend needed a police statement for her insurance company…
He called (and paid for) a taxi to take us to the police station on the other side of town.
The Granada police station reminded me of English police stations in the sixties…clean, yes….sophisticated…no.
Unlike English police stations, however, this one had been baking in the heat all day and it certainly did not run to air conditioning.
We waited on a bench in the entrance while some young men emerged from an office in handcuffs and were taken away in a van.
A police officer emerged in their wake and asked if any of us could speak Spanish.
I put up my hand…and that was that…
The problem was that I was not an accredited translator in Nicaragua so while I could describe what my friends had seen my translation would have no value in law….the police chief who turned up confirmed this and then with a wink said…but all they want is a statement for their insurance and for that you don`t have to be accredited.
I was turned over to a gentleman who took down my friends` statements and thought that that was that, but he called his boss as my friends had described how a young lad had jumped up alongside the driver shortly after they had left the park and had chatted to them in English, asking them where they were staying then had jumped off later before the driver dropped them off on the road leading to the hotel saying that he was not permitted to drive up to it.
A set up.
The boss explained that he had a very shrewd idea of who the culprits might be…but by that time the pendant would be in other hands…sold for next to nothing to a fence to buy drugs….and unless my friends were willing to wait to see an official translator and attend both an identity parade and appear in court there would be little point in arresting the malefactors.
Drugs! We have to combat it or it will be the ruin of our society!
While we were waiting for the statements to be typed up the paddy waggon brought in two young people.
They had been arrested disembarking from the ferry from the Rio San Juan to Granada having been found to be in possession of marijuana.
Nicaragua does not tolerate drugs or drug use: the rules are clear…..
However, the Granada police know that a significent number of the visitors to Granada use drugs. Appearances in the criminal courts do not help the business community, so other measures are taken…
A preliminary interview revealed that neither had a word of Spanish. Their passports showed that the young lady was from New Zealand and her male companion from France.
The official translators would have to be called but, in the meantime, could I assist the police with their enquiries?
Cold drinks would be provided for my friends if they were willing to stay…
Indeed they were, feeling that they were inside one of the police dramas they both love, and cold drinks were accordingly brought: cola in a plastic bag with a straw tied into the knot closing the bag. Different…but it was a drink and it was cold.
The boss explained to me that the idea was to frighten the wits out of the young couple and then put them on a bus for somewhere…anywhere..out of Granada. The official translators would have to make out the formal papers relating to their apprehension, but could I assist in explaining what was going to happen.
I started on the young lady, explaining what the police intended to do and asked her if her companion understood.
Oh no…he doesn`t speak English.
Well, can you explain to him?
Oh no…I don`t speak French.
I explained this to the boss whose ruddy countenance turned purple.
I suppose the only language they have in common is hash!
I explained that I could speak French as well as English and he breathed again.
I addressed the young man in his own tongue.
He explained that he thought it very unjust as he was only carrying marijuana for his own use.
But did you know it was ilegal to do so in Nicaragua?
Oh yes, but it was legal in the Netherlands…
Right, so much for the logical French mind.
I explained what the police wanted to happen again and he pouted.
It was getting late. He had booked a hotel in Granada.
The police chief wanted to know which, obviously thinking of mounting a raid.
He didn`t remember.He had the name on his mobile `phone…which did not work as he did not have a local SIM card and the police station had no wifi.
Anyway he did not want to get on a bus to be sent into the void…
I tried explaining that in the circumstances it might be a good idea to do so as otherwise the police chief might decide…business community or no business comunity…to throw the book at him.
I want the French consul.
The boss was going purple again as this was translated and asked me to explain that were the consul to be called the young man would certainly be in for an overnight stay in the hands of the police as there was no way the said consul was likely to shift himself before a late hour of the following morning.
I don`t want the French consul.
Our documents were ready…but the boss had to take a `phone call.
The official translators refused to come until morning.
Could I explain to the young couple that they would have to remain in police custody overnight?
I did so….
The New Zealander was phlegmatic about it, the Frenchman hopeful of better quarters than a bench in a police station.
We have both been under the weather lately and the weather seems to have been under the weather as well….
Normally at this stage of the rainy season we have sunny mornings followed by cloudbursts and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening so there is plenty of time to go shopping and get the washing out in safety.
This year we have three volcanoes blasting their socks off, rainstorms for which cloudburst is a totally inadequate description giving of their best at all hours of day and night, thunderstorms creeping up on you unexpectedly at which point you beat Usain Bolt to get into the house to pull out all the plugs and when rain and thunder take a breather you find yourself living in the clouds – an occasional glimpse of the top of Grifo Alto being vouchsafed to you when a breeze shifts the white world enveloping you.
And with the rain comes landslides and with the landslides comes an absence of telephone and internet until the men from the electricity board struggle out to do repairs.
Oh…and powercuts. Not many, but neatly timed to catch you when you are cooking supper after dark.
Thus anything involving the oven takes place before lunch: evening recipes favour items which can be stirred with one hand while holding a torch in the other.
Still, at least it is warm, though we must be acclimatising as we found ourselves grumbling this morning at 5.30 am when the temperature was only 21°C which is 69° Fahrenheit for those who have never come to terms with Celsius.
Give me 21°C in the U.K. and I`d probably be shedding the cardies at a rate of knots which would astonish an exotic dancer…here and now I am wondering where I put the woolies.
Not only have we been under the weather…so have the dogs.
Poor Sophie was run over: a visit to the vet sorted her out, but although she came out all bathed and beautiful with a red ribbon bow round her neck she also brought with her a bug which laid her so low that only Leo`s devoted nursing pulled her through.
He sat with her through three days and nights, keeping her hydrated and warm until the little thug returned to herself, by which time the bug had spread to the others, manifesting itself in seas of vomit and diarrhea – just what you need when getting washing dry is not high on the weather`s agenda and washing the floor means going over it with a dry cloth afterwards unless you fancy it being a skating rink, given the absence of breeze to dry it.
So our travelling plans have been put on hold until we and the weather are on top of ourselves again….which may be some little time.
Not that we have been entirely confined to the house….
I went to San Jose a couple of times to retrieve documents from the water board and, returning, called Danilo from the bus to meet me at the bus stop nearest the house – now accessible again after three years as the bridge has now been repaired.
As usual, I said I was at Los Abuelos and asked him to pick me up at the Maravilla.
In so doing, I had fallen into the nature of giving directions in Costa Rica… where vital points are not all that they seem….
Los Abuelos was a big family style caff on the main road to the capital….it closed three years ago when the electricity board discovered that paying its bills had become a very low priority.
La Maravilla was a depot which closed down two years ago.
Danilo obviously knows where both are….but without local knowledge you would be sytmied.
Looking for a government office in San Jose some years ago I was told to follow the railway line and turn left at La Luz.
Railway line…yes. La Luz, however, turned out to be a caff which had disappeared some twenty years ago.
Street directions which involve the Los Pinos depot…which has been closed for ten years leaving no trace left behind…
Turn right at the fig tree…yes, you`ve guessed it. It is now a six lane roundabout…but you still turn right.
Go past the German`s place and turn left at the football pitch. The German left years ago and the football pitch is now a bus depot.
But, thinking back, indirect directions are not new to me.
At one period in France we had a house in a road called the Rue de la Francmaconnerie; in reality a tiny alley in the centre of the old town.
However, as I was to learn, no one seemed to call it that.
It was referred to as `la venelle qui mene ver La Biche`: literally the alleyway leading to the doe.
Eat your hearts out, Costa Ricans! Make sense of that!
In fact the alleyway, after a few twists and turns, did indeed end up opposite an old door with a doe`s foot serving as a knocker.
But why was the doe`s foot knocker of greater importance than the official name of the street?
Because the door was the entrance to the oldest of the men`s clubs of the town…a place where everything was settled over a few hands of cards and rather more glasses of wine. It had an official name, but everyone called it the Pied de Biche.
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.
‘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.
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.
I was at San Jose airport departures when I first saw him.
As I filled out forms at the entrance to the Iberia check in desk he appeared, asking the attendant if he could keep an eye on his bags while he went to the counter to pay his exit tax.
The attendant said that he could not….according to security regulations he had to keep his bags with him at all times. Unattended bags ran a risk of being hoovered up by the airport police and taken to a bourne from which no suitcase was known to return.
There was a brief altercation, but by that time I had moved on to the desk where my suitcase was whisked away with assurances that it would be sent through on my connecting flight while I – the paying passenger – would have to get the boarding card for my connection on arrival at Madrid.
Could they not ticket me through?
But you can do it for the suitcase.
The Senora is not a suitcase.
Past security – where the abandonment of the idea of passengers removing their shoes may be due to the cost of providing staff with gas masks – and off into the airport proper.
Expensive shops selling tat for tourists, even more expensive food and drink outlets and a cubicle offering massages which gathers hopeful looks from passing male passengers before their wives follow the direction of their gaze and urge them past the danger zone.
Boarding the ‘plane by groups…..
Welcome to our Platinum, Diamond and other assorted rocks customers who are welcome to board together with priority passengers….
So the freeloaders line up with the harassed parents with toddlers and pushchairs, while there is a Gadarene rush to the loos on the part of the rest of the passengers.
The even tenor of proceedings in the Ladies is disturbed by an elderly man in a pork pie hat who bursts in calling for his wife….their group is boarding!
His wife, to judge from her response, has other priorities….my Spanish vocabulary is extended, particularly when he rushes from cubicle to cubicle imploring her in the name of various saints and the Virgin to emerge, which incites other ladies to make known their views on elderly gentleman in general and elderly gentlemen in pork pie hats in the Ladies loo in particular.
He is ejected by an attendant: his wife surges majestically from her cubicle and begins to adjust her make up.
By the time I return to the waiting area my group is being called, and as I sit down to wait for the queue to reduce the man I had noticed at the check in line appears, trundling his trolley in the direction of the loos.
Duly boarded, my carry on bag shoved into the overhead locker, I occupy my aisle seat.
Other groups board; the window seat remains unoccupied.
A couple board with cats in carry on cages and sit in the centre seats.
A French man behind me starts to sneeze, claiming an allergy but does not, as he hopes, get an upgrade; just an exchange with a non allergic person further up the ‘plane.
The cats miaow.
A child wails.
Still no window seat passenger.
The stewards are closing the lockers when he appears….the man from the check in.
The window seat passenger.
He starts shifting all the bags in the lockers to make room for his as I stand to let him get to his seat.
And a blast he was all the ten hours to Madrid.
If he wasn’t raking out his ears he was clearing his nose.
When he’d finished on that he started hawking into his handkerchief.
The man was an otorhinolaryngologist’s dream.
Then, by way of variation, he needed to visit the loo.
Three times before the meal was served.
I asked him if he would prefer the aisle seat.
No, he would not. He had paid for a window seat (on a night flight) and a window seat he would have.
After the meal service was cleared away the plane was prepared for the night. My companion visited the loo again and it looked as if he might settle down.
But there was yet one more shot in his overhead locker.
He got up to retrieve one of his bags..
He sat down again and, delving within, produced a plastic container and with the aid of the contents thereof he removed his contact lenses and cleaned both them and his eyes.
Then he put the whole lot away again.
As a kindly – and very handsome – steward had given me an additional bottle of wine with the meal I was ready for a nap…..but fat chance with the perpetual bowel motion machine inboard of me.
He was in and out of his seat like a dog at a fair…..interspersed with the ear nose and throat routine…..and the reversal of the contact lens procedure just as breakfast was served.
All he seemed to miss out on was colonic irrigation.
So it was that I was not in the best of tempers when landing at Madrid in search of my onward ticket to London, but Iberia, accustomed to the old Spanish practices of their network, have a counter as you disembark from international flights where such matters can be sorted, so, duly ticketed, I made the trip on the shuttle to the other part of the airport and found my connection to Heathrow in good time.
I could even catch up on my sleep as the coach from Heathrow to Southampton was caught in a traffic jam on the M25 for over two hours……which also gave me time to wonder whether I had been wise to turn down Iberia’s offer of an upgrade to Business class for five hundred euros on top of my regular fare.
What would I have gained?
Space, certainly, and a chance to nap, but five hundred euros just for that and a glass of fizz?
I travel into the capital, San Jose, fairly regularly….if not on the trek to government offices or courts then just to go shopping…and it all starts at the local bus station.
The bus company have invested in modern, less gas guzzling coaches and I loathe them.
Not only is the leg room minimal but they are also stuffy, leaving me miserable and bunged up at the end of the hour and a half run. It used to be just one hour…but the traffic congestion is such these days that the jams begin as soon as you come down from the hills onto the autopista where traffic from the coast joins that from this side of the Central Valley.
And, worse, the first step into the new coaches is a long way from the ground.
Grannies now have to be heaved up by a combination of the inspector at ground level and the driver from within with much giggling and innuendo and extracted on arrival by a reception committee of security guards. If grannies wish to leave the bus at unmanned halts the driver calls to people waiting there to assist, and, this being Costa Rica, they do.
With the old buses I could swing up with no problem…now it’s more of a heave. Should the day come when the heave has no effect I shall either:
A. Take a chainsaw to the avoirdupois or
B..Send for a team from the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition ….
The Navy never could march….(ducking howitzer shells from those with naval connections)…..Come on, Pompey!
Once arrived in San Jose I start the walk from the terminus….first exchanging greetings with the lady who sells newspapers at the entrance.
Heading uphill into the centre I am still surprised by the number of people with whom I am on exchange of greetings terms.
I asked the chap at the fish stand how on earth he could remember me with thousands of people passing every day.
None of them are gringos…
He has a point. Most of the American expats regard the area of the city where the bus terminal is situated as being an place where babies are barbecued to order and men with machetes leap from the shadows to chop off your ring laden fingers.
As I tell them – well, the few that speak to me – they seem to be confusing it with Paris.
With one man – the wheelchair bound beggar opposite the Banco Nacional – I am on snarling rather than greeting terms.
Having seen him legging it for his bus one evening, chair under arm, he is off my giving list and will remain so as he apostrophised me as a ‘puta de gringa’ when I passed his pitch without offering a contribution.
I told him that had I been a ‘puta’ of whatever skin colour, I should not be walking but could have afforded a taxi.
He was neither persuaded nor impressed.
And then comes the street seller who greets my approach with a happy smile and an enquiry as to how things are going.
He has not seen me for a while….?
I explain that I had been in Spain for a month…
Ah! That’s why you’ve put on weight! Now, how many pairs do you want?
This gentleman is my supplier of reading glasses…the cheap ones that I can leave lying about for emergencies to avoid having to look about for the proper ones.
I first met him when we had not long been in Costa Rica and he offered us glasses at 1,500 colones a pair (about £1.50). My husband – veteran of the floor of the London Stock Exchange – fixed him with a look and replied that the very same glasses were being sold outside the hospital San Juan de Dios for 1,000 colones a pair.
Did he swear? Was he unpleasant?
No, he laughed and said that we could not blame him for trying…we were gringos after all…and lowered his price.
Since then my trade goes to him, rather than the other offshoots of the glasses empire which are situated outside the hospital, the cathedral and the HQ of the Caja – the health service. I settled on two pairs – having left a couple of pairs in Spain for future emergencies – and checked the strength I required against the back of a packet of dried plantain chips which seems to be the standard test material although the outlet in front of the cathedral uses a Bible.
Having a document case with me I was having trouble getting at the purse in my handbag and my supplier whistled up the young lad who sells eucalyptus sweets further down the road.
Hold the bag; can’t put that down in the street… and no she doesn’t want any of your sweets, she’s put on weight!