So you’ve heard that living in Costa Rica is perfect, like being on a permanent vacation? Well, I’m here to keep it real. Here’s an example of what it takes to live here – or of what can happen occasionally. Sometimes every day.
This is a true story, and is pretty much a combo of “tico time” + “pura vida” + just plain real living in Costa Rica.
Yesterday, I went to Grecia to pick up some meds and a couple of things at the grocery store. I went to my usual pharmacy and they had the meds ready (always good news!), total was $36. I pulled out my debit card, but their card reader machine had stopped working.
I heard a voice in Spanish telling me to go inside the bank.
Easier said than done. (Click here for more info on what banks are like here in Costa Rica.)
I walked in the first entry door, and got buzzed into the purgatory-type-room after the entry light turned green. And there I remained – STUCK. This is a very small, vestibule-like “holding cell”, where you have to wait for a security guard from inside the bank to buzz you through the next door in order to actually enter the bank itself.
There was no one around to buzz me through, so there I stayed – trapped in no man’s land.
Meanwhile, the light had stayed green outside, and several other people now joined me in my small and quickly becoming sardine-like cell.
I had a brief happy thought, thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic.
After about what seemed like 10 minutes, but was probably only 3 minutes (which is a long time to be close and touching other people you don’t know), a bank official finally noticed us and buzzed us out and into the main bank area.
I then went through a succession of people at the bank and eventually got my ATM card back.
I walked back through the lobby and got in line behind eight other people, now all waiting to use the ATM.
Finally got my money (and my card back!), so went on back to the pharmacy and paid for the meds with cash.
Then I hiked off to my favorite cafe, to get a couple of chicken salads, for me and my wife’s dinner that night. Except, there was no chicken to be had, at least none that was already cooked.
So, I waited another 30 minutes for them to grill the chicken….
Finally got my salads, and headed out to my car. However, I soon realized I had forgotten where I’d parked my car!
This is very easy to do in downtown Grecia, as one can never park in the same place every time – parking is pretty scarce (depending what time of day you are trying to park), it could be down any of several roads branching out from the downtown square.
I probably walked around Grecia for 8 blocks or so, looking for my car, all in the heat of mid-day. By this time I was sweating, and just wanting to get out of the sun and go home.
Eventually, I found the car and drove home.
HOME SWEET HOME. Pura Vida!
This morning, I set off for Grecia to buy some guitar strings. There are three music stores in Grecia (well, there’s one store that sells washing machines, couches, and refrigerators and ALSO has guitars, but officially it’s a “music store”).
No luck in Grecia getting the kind of strings I needed, so I knew the next stop was Alajuela. I hate driving to Alajuela. But, I really wanted my guitar strings.
The shop that was supposed to be in Alajuela – wasn’t. No telling when it had closed.
I happened to know of an old guy named Señor Guzman, who owned a shop and made guitars, by reputation.
Well, my trusty GPS led me to some closed shops on a main street. No way were these guitar shops. My guess is that the GPS company never could find Guzman and just punched in coordinates which were “somewhere near” where he had to be.
I asked two groups of Ticos where he was located and they gave me directions, but I think they really had no idea and were just being nice and wanting to help.
Then I stopped and “talked” (this is how I’ve learned Spanish!) with a few Tico teenage boys, who actually knew where Guzman was located! They offered to come with me and show me, so they hopped in the car and off we went.
But I was having trouble believing where we were headed could possibly have a guitar shop. We were driving in a very dusty industrial area, and finally turned onto a dirt road. A couple hundred meters down was a fairly steep downhill “driveway” with some “steps” carved into the dirt. These led to what appeared to be a small auto-wrecker shop which was primitive, to say the least.
At the bottom was an elderly man with white hair who looked like he belonged and I asked him about Guzman Guitars. He answered “aqui” (here).
I yelled back in disbelief, “Aqui????”
He waved me down, and we walked through his corrugated metal “garage” and into another similar space with a dirt floor. He told me Guzman was gone for the day, but I could come back tomorrow.
In this back room were about 50 guitars on wooden tables in various stages of construction. I couldn’t believe he sold the guitars from here, and communicated that to the fellow, so he showed me a locked 10×12 room with a window where, indeed, there were finished guitars. I don’t think Guzman even sold guitar strings!
Now… Señor Guzman is written up online as having started making guitars in 1948, and is well known as a master craftsman in Costa Rica. I must admit, this shop is not what I was expecting. I suspect he MAY have another shop somewhere, but who knows? I DID however mark the spot on my GPS and I will return there some day to meet Señor Guzman in person.
So, I drove the teenagers back, and then found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on my way to Escazu, where I heard there is a store that sells strings. The traffic was so thick, it took almost a half hour to go about 0.4 km. It was like driving in a major US city during rush hour, after a ML baseball game had just ended and people were leaving, and there was a major car accident to boot. I was very glad I was in no particular hurry and could just enjoy the music from my iPod.
Finally, I did find my guitar strings (SUCCESS!) and headed back home.
Driving in the dark from San Jose, at the wrong time of day, was NOT my idea of fun – but hey, I had my guitar strings, and I was very happy to be get home safely. One does not quickly run out of adventures (or to the store) in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!
That’s all for now folks! If you’d like to hear more of these “day in the life of…”
stories, comment below and let me know.
Cheers! — Jen
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