Hit the Road in Costa Rica

hotel-costa-verde-cows

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

Or, even better, this:

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

lindora

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

‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!’

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

It is a planning nightmare.

There are factories – thus works buses and delivery lorries.

Offices – every man in his own car.

Shopping malls- every woman likewise.

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

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

It makes for the worst journey in the country.

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

Because the rush hours are like this:

traffic-jam-df

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

This is La Platina:        platina

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

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

A plate which doesn’t.

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

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

Back to the Lindora Radial, then….

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

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

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

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

Take the train?

Thereby hangs a tale.

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

train-13

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

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

His campaign posters are everywhere…..

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

 

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off To Vote We Go

Giles
Giles

Click on the images to enlarge.

Costa Rica votes in the Presidential election this Sunday and, bluntly, all we haven’t had so far is the seven dwarfs.

We’ve had one party’s candidate pull out claiming that his election backers were secretly in league with the candidate of another party…..the backers protesting their innocence and claiming that the now ex candidate had wanted to impose on them support for an ex President of Costa Rica caught with his hand in the till…..

We have had a four times married candidate decide to marry for the fifth time – one more heave, one might say – and send his new dentist wife round poor districts of the country offering free dentistry, working from a van painted in the party colours….

We have had the interesting revelation that two of the main contenders are under investigation for misuse of public funds and influence in one case and for breaking electoral funding law in the other while a third can proudly proclaim that his only brush with the law was being arrested on a demo….

One – the one with campaign funding questions dating back years – is proudly unmarrried and is trying to court the religious conservative vote…..whose party’s candidate is the man who succeeded the one who pulled out….

The internet is alive with photographs of the five times married candidate’s last campaign rally….his party’s photographs giving the impression of the main approach to San Jose filled by his exultant followers, other showing the said enthusiastic followers filling about one block in ten….

Foreign owned firms have issued ‘guidance’ to their workforce, warning of the danger of the loss of jobs if they vote for the candidate who was arrested on a demo…..

American expats are packing their gear in readiness should the demonstration attender be elected, firm in the belief that the Red Hordes will immediately invade their gated communities to loot their gas fired barbeques and end civilisation as they know it….

People generally are complaining that the parties are not sending out vans laden with material in the party colours to drape round their houses….that the parties are spending the money on undermining each other on the internet instead is not regarded as a good enough excuse….

And a newspaper has cancelled a last minute pre-election poll on the grounds that it would confuse voters so close to an election. Rumour has it that it showed that the candidate who has the support of the newspaper’s owners does not show up too well in said poll….

Apart from that, it’s like any other election: wild promises, backstabbing and dirty work at the crossroads.

What did interest me was an article in ‘La Nacion’ – the newspaper which cancelled the election poll – detailing the arrangements made for transporting the voters and feeding the volunteers on election day.

I’m all too familiar with the problem of getting out the vote, taught the dark arts of which first by my father, who remembered the days when the dead walked and the war cry was’vote early, vote often…’ and later by a superb Labour Party agent who was to meet an untimely death.
He knew his election law to the last nth – and he knew the ways of the voter with an uncanny prescience, like a hunter stalking his prey.

Giles
Giles

From the article there is a clear disparity between the parties of the better off and the others: the others lack transport.

This echoes the cry heard at every election, local or national, in the offices of the Constituency Labour Party and which I first heard as a child.
‘The Tories have cars!’

Indeed they did and their party workers could afford to run them.
It was a great advantage and one my grandfather on my mother’s side would do his bit to nullify.
He would arrange that I spent the day before the election with him and his wife – partly to be out from under my parents’ feet, partly for his own ends.

A cynical gentleman injured in the First World War he had had the distinction in the Second World War of being drummed out of his local Air Raid Warden service in that he did
A. Not get past the Rose and Crown with vital messages when on exercise resulting in the gasworks being (theoretically) blown up
and
B. Causing alarm and despondency by creeping up on gossiping housewives and bellowing ‘Gas!’ swinging his gas rattle the while.

So the bystander might have been surprised to see this spry but elderly gentleman stepping out on the evening before the elections, a child at his side carrying a wicker pannier…not quite his image.
But, long before Baldrick, he had a cunning plan…and it involved potatoes, not turnips.

From his somewhat doubtful knowledge of the internal combustion engine he had worked out that if the exhaust was blocked the car would not go, so as we strolled along on his predetermined and well researched path he would point out a car with a flick of his finger and my job was to crouch down as if adjusting my shoelaces, insert a potato in the exhaust and shove it up as far as possible with the small stick I carried in the pannier.
Not all the cars were parked on the road…some involved darts into gardens and I was coached that if approached by indignant householders I was to plead incontinence and shyness in equal parts.

As I recall I survived these evening strolls unscathed and was rewarded by a lemonade in the beer garden of his local pub before we returned home and the reproaches of his wife to the tune of ‘keeping the child up late and is that whisky I smell on your breath?’

Did it work? I have no idea.
Election day was spent with the house full of people comparing electoral rolls with the returns of the canvassers and the reports from the tellers outside the polling stations – grandfather despatching sorties to get out the votes from whichever part of the area appeared to be backsliding.

Giles
Giles

Which brings me to the other part of the article….the parties announcing how many volunteers they proposed to feed – and with what.
Grandmother sustained the troops on her wonderful victoria sponge cake and tea: in later life the Labour Party offices would be sustained on election day on sandwiches and cigarettes.

Costa Rica does it on a meal of arroz con pollo – literally rice with chicken – which strikes me as being a sort of chicken risotto using whole portions of poultry. Beats sandwiches hands down.
All parties bar one are serving their volunteers this traditional dish.

The exception is the party whose candidate is the one with problems with previous election finding, who refuses to marry and is courting the conservative religious vote.
They are supplying burritos..a flour tortilla with a filling of minced meat, cheese and salad with a tomato sauce.
We shall see whether these torpedo shaped recipes for indigestion propel him to victory or depthcharge his chances.

But not on Sunday.

For to win outright a candidate needs to obtain more than forty percent of the vote, and, from the polls published so far, barring skulduggery on the scale of Tammany Hall crossed with the European Union, no candidate is likely even to approach that figure.

So it will all need to be done again in April…and no, not on April 1st.

Where Are Whelks When You Need Them……?

lucia-sector-barrio-chino-lunes_LNCIMA20130917_0148_5 It is the rainy season here….it comes every year….it is not a one off event.
This photograph from the Costa Rican newspaper ‘La Nacion’ shows a flooded street in San Jose, the nation’s capital.
Tut, you might think. Isn’t it about time the council got round to doing something about this?
Upgrading?

Well, the council had got round to upgrading the street in question…the whole area was disrupted for months recently while they messed around with the old Paseo des los Estudiantes to turn it into – Barrio Chino.

ww. skyscrapercity.com
ww. skyscrapercity.com
Most of the old shops are gone, forced out by high rents and shortage of customers thanks to lack of access.
Pardonable while works were underway…unpardonable when cars were banned even from loading and unloading.
My favourite pawn shop is feeling the pinch….the shops either side have gone already.

And what do we have in its place?
Tawdry shops offering prime junk from the factories of China…knick knacks, decorations for Christmas – yes, already – and restaurants where the menu is only in Chinese script and the dose of monosodium glutamate is enough to turn you dizzy.

China Town as in London’s Soho it is not.

But I digress.
When upgrading, the street was laid with patterns of differing coloured paving…most attractive..but underneath the paving there was something missing.

Drains. Proper ones. Fit to cope with the annual rainy season.

When I was growing up drains were only mentioned in connection with houses – as in were the drains working properly – or with London’s Great Stink of 1858. It was taken for granted that towns had drains and that those drains worked.

Clearly when planning Barrio Chino great attention was paid to street furniture…but not much to drains. The council insist that they exist…they might as well not.

The council official responsible for drains – existent or not – states that it is all the fault of:

A. Cars driving too fast through rainwater on Avenida 4 thus sending ripples of water into Barrio Chino.
Good try sir!

and/or

B. A drainage outlet from a neighbouring barrio, blocking the drainage of Barrio Chino.
I know that medieval Europe had the habit of hanging animals found to be guilty of causing human death and begin to wonder if we shall see council officials solemnly stringing up drain pipes from the neighbouring barrio at the junction of Barrio Chino with Avenida 4 in a sort of municipal auto da fe.

They would not have been able to do this until just recently, as at all interjunctions high domes had been built in the centre, buses and trucks tilting sideways to negotiate them, faces peering in alarmed fashion from the windows.
The domes have since been removed.
Presumably someone who matters had bust his car’s suspension on one of them.

But help is at hand!

A Study will be made…another pernicious habit picked up from the European Union no doubt….and a solution will be found for the summer of 2014.
It has not been stated whether this will be part of the summer beginning in December 2013 and running until May 2014 or the summer beginning in December 2014 in which case those making the study will have had the advantage of being prepared by taking a look at the rainy season of 2014 falling between the two.
Just don’t drive too fast along Avenida 4 next year or you’ll drown the experts and the whole thing will have to begin again.

The results of the study will no doubt be some solace to those who frequent the Parque Central across from the Cathedral where large rats…flushed out from the flooded drains which are their normal habitat…have moved uphill and are enjoying al fresco lunches on the food waste thrown out by local restaurants.
If the Muni doesn’t do something soon they’ll acquire squatters’ rights.

In the meantime the school near my house in San Jose is facing foreclosure.
Yes, you did read that correctly. A school is facing foreclosure for not paying its municipal taxes for the last goodness knows how long and the Muni is getting tough.

Why hasn’t it paid its municipal taxes?
Because the San Jose Board of Education – body responsible – hasn’t coughed up.
Its administration budget seems to have disappeared down the plughole…probably single handedly responsible for flooding Barrio Chino.

Who appoints the San Jose Board of Education?

The Muni. The San Jose council.

We are coming up to Presidential elections next year. The mayor of San Jose…who has now stood down in order to concentrate on his campaign…is a candidate.

I suggest that, as a preliminary to the elections, all potential candidates are asked to undertake a fitness for purpose task.

There are two methods known to me, but the first, organising a piss up in a brewery, is out. Brewing is a state monopoly.

This leaves the second.

Running a whelk stall.

But there are no whelks in Costa Rica.

So no doubt the mayor will be elected President…all for the lack of a whelk.