Meet and Greet

puris busI 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.
SJ cathedral 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!

Let no one say that customer service is dead!