I spent a good deal of the day dealing with the bureaucratic procedure of getting the internet account set up. I called RACSA, the local Internet monopoly, and was told to go through the local dealer. I went down there, and discovered that they're the authorized local agent for DirecTV as well, so I set up accounts with both. RACSA was just as bureaucratic as you would expect a monopoly telecommunications provider to be; I wound up having to set up the account as a commercial account and use my Corporation #2's documentation, which was complete enough to get the job done. So I now have a freshly-minted RACSA account, which is supposed to be ready to go.
Well, I came home and set up the connectoid, as best I was able to determine from the RACSA web site and the information provided by the local account rep, who spoke not a word of English. I hope he set it up right - I'm pretty sure that he understood that I need a GPRS account, and not a dialup account. They're a different tariff structure, and I was charged the GPRS rate, so I sure hope he got it entered correctly. Anyway, I put the information into the connectoid, and of course it didn't connect. I'm able to get as far as the GPRS network, but no further - I suspect I've still got the wrong information in the connectoid. Oh well - another long, difficult session ahead with a RACSA agent whose English is little better than my Spanish. It will be interesting to see if I can get some results.
More Reasons Why I Voted With My Feet
I got wind of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 2239, that would require a voter-verifiable, paper audit trail in all elections in the United States. Not being talked about much in the news, because the media - in league with the White House - doesn't want any part of it. Since it would forestall the rigging of the 2004 elections, the Republicans are opposing it and are working very hard behind the scenes to defeat it. Well, of course, if they were really interested in true democracy, why would they oppose transparent, accountable election processes? So much for freedom, liberty, democracy, one-man-one-vote and all that bullcrap that the Republicans keep talking so disingenuously about, while doing their best behind the scenes to subvert it.
The second item I got was a fragment of a transcript of an interview of George W. Bush, conducted by Britt Hume on Fox News. It was amazing, first for the callous disregard of what's happening in the world by the supposed leader of the world's only superpower, and second, that Fox News, that unabashed supporter of conservative causes, would have run it, without editing it out. Perhaps they didn't understand what it said about the man they admire so openly. Stop and think about what is being said here - about Bush's depth of understanding of international news, of his understanding of the role of the media in democratic processes and even of what is said about his understanding of what's news and what's opinion, and what's objective news sources and what isn't. A careful analysis of those comments will leave you with some troubling thoughts about the simplicity of this man's mind and his lack of wisdom:
HUME: How do you get your news?
BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi [Condoleezza Rice] in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, you've got a beautiful face and everything. I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.
HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice that you've...
BUSH: Practice since day one.
BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news. And I...
HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.
BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.
HUME: Mr. President, thank you very much.
BUSH: Thank you, sir.
This afternoon, I tried getting my cell phone connected up and running on the GPRS network here, so I can have internet access from the cabina. I've got the computer talking to the telephone, and the telephone is talking to the network, but the network is refusing a connection, so I suspect I'll have to get ahold of the RACSA technical people to find out why, and set up a new account if they're done with the trial period their web site talked about. One way or another, I sure want to get this thing working - it's key to getting into the cabina.
Cellular Success At Last!
As promised, Lawyer #1 went to San Jose to the Registro Nacional to try to extract some method of dealing with the cedula that I need. He managed to get a cedula for me, all right, but it was for the wrong corporation. Well, at least it was a cedula, and the cell people would accept it, so I trundled off to the ICE office to try to get my cell phone authorized. I proudly presented my newly-minted cedula, and the clerk, the same one as Wednesday, who remembered me well, smiled with pleasure to accept it. I gave him the requisite copies, of it and the corporation constitution, and my passport. I thought I had everything.
But the bureaucracy had another card in its hand still to play. It turned out I was missing yet another document - this was the testimonia persona - the document that states that I'm the person who is representing himself as the president of the corporation. Without this, I was dead in the water. A quick phone call by the clerk to Lawyer #1 informed him of what I needed. I had to go get the lawyer's office to pick it up (he prepared it while I was on the way), and I made a stop at the Camara de Comercia (chamber of commerce) to pay the bill. With the receipt and the testimonia in hand, I returned to the ICE office and the clerk completed the transaction - put a smart-card in my phone, I put in the PIN number, and voila! My phone works!
More good news, too. I went up to the plantel, the homesite and took a close look at it in the daylight after it was completed. It's killer - a view that would be a million-dollar view in the states. The road is completed now, and I can now drive my car right to the spot where my new house will soon be.
Adventures In Construction, Part I
Today was a day I've been waiting for, for quite some time. Construction on my new house has begun. The backhoe showed up last night and went to work first thing this morning, starting at 7AM, moving earth and preparing the plantel (homesite). He pushed dirt all day without a break except a few minutes for lunch, and all afternoon and into the evening until he ran out of diesel fuel in the backhoe. In the end, he carved out a huge homesite, almost a half-acre in size, that will give me plenty of options for landscaping. It was necessary to move that much dirt, because the house will sit lengthwise to the hill, because of the direction of the prevailing winds.
The huge amount of overburden that had to be moved was pushed out to the west and leveled, behind where the house will be, which will make a roundabout for the car possible, eliminating the need to turn around and giving me a lot of guest parking, as well as a bodega and greenhouse. The edge of the new plantel around the west end, on top of the fill, has a dramatic view as well as does the rest - and I'm going to take advantage of that, by creating a trail that goes around the edge, with strategically-placed seats, where one can sit and look out and enjoy a million-dollar view. The slope beyond the edge will be stabilized with a planting of passion-fruit, which attracts a lot of butterflies, and won't grow up high enough to obscure the view (and will also feed me!). Where the home will sit, there will be a small front yard, which slopes down rather quickly to expose a dramatic view to the southeast that will be visible from the living room, kitchen and studio. There will be two windows in the master bedroom, and one in the maid quarters/spare bedroom offering incredible views to the north and west. This house will have views, which if available in Los Angeles or San Diego, would be million-dollar views. Yes, I consider myself to be rich indeed.
The excavation gave me a chance to observe the soil structure close up, and to a depth of about six feet. It's a very rich, loamy black topsoil, with lots of organic matter from the years of sugar-cane production there. Below about two feet is the subsoil, which is an almost impermeable brick-colored clay, and it goes as deep as I was able to observe. It is sufficiently impermeable that the excavation exposed a few small springs - water that would be welcome in the dry season, but is quite likely to be present only during the rains. Still, it was quite a surprise to see springs on a hilltop. Its presence means I'll have to install some drainage to deal with it, but it's no big deal.
I got up early, to go up to the site and get the excavation started, but after that, we went to Palmares to interview a construction contractor that had been recommended to us by one of the workers doing construction. The road to Palmares is one of the most beautiful I've been on since I've been in the country. It reminded me of Highway 9 through the redwoods of the San Francisco peninsula in California. In Palmares, I looked over three homes that the fellow had either constructed recently, or was in the process of constructing. They looked good, but I noticed some disquieting structural flaws in one of them, and he insisted that it was due to earth settlement, but I'm unconvinced. He also insisted that his price would include plumbing vents and P-traps, but there wasn't a one of either to be seen anywhere on any of those houses - though that is not uncommon here. Plumbing codes here require P-traps and vents, but they seldom get installed. So I'd have to ride herd on the guy to make sure that they got installed, and that other shortcuts are not taken. His price is reasonable - $250 per square meter of construction, with 40% less on patio and porch areas. The good news is that he'd be responsible for supplying materials, so I wouldn't have to ride herd on materials being used to make sure nothing is being lifted. On the other hand, I'd have rather little choice about the quality of materials used. Structurally, that's a concern - the finish materials he used seemed to be quite good enough, though he wasn't taking much time with his woodwork. I didn't see much evidence of sanding of doorjambs, for example - again, not uncommon here. His drywall work was quite good - some of the best I've seen in this country. Trim work was less well done. He used cheap wooden baseboards, rather than the tile baseboards I would prefer to see. Anyway, I've got to check his references before I make a decision to use him. My alternative is an expat who is here to do construction work, and is interested in doing my house. I've got to interview him on Monday, find out what his terms are, and see whether or not I think he'll be a good choice. Then I'll make the decision and we'll get the ball rolling on the building work.
Lawyer #1 was supposed to go to San Jose today to try to straighten out the cedula business, but I haven't heard from him. I'll call him in the morning and see how he made out. Tomorrow, I've got to visit the plantel and make sure it is level, cleaned up, and the driveway built. I'm not sure I'll go to town, unless the lawyer has some good news for me.
Adventures In Bureaucracy, Part II
This morning I got up fairly early and downloaded email. Only 40 messages, mostly spam, and not a single virus copy in the lot. An incredible improvement from the 300 copies of the Swen virus I had just yesterday. Hooray! I've got control over my inbox back again.
Went for the morning coffee as soon as I was up, and I found it was incredibly weak - not much more than a brown stain in the water. I asked Jose about it, and he claimed he used the same amount of grounds as usual, but it sure didn't come out like coffee should be. It was like drinking a crummy grade of tea. This, after I'd been criticized, behind my back, for making weak coffee because I didn't "know how to do it right." And by the same person who made this pot.
Breakfast was served early and I got an early start with the hope of getting all my business in town completed before noon and siesta time. That was to avoid both the siesta closures and the afternoon rain. I need to go to see Franz, the previous renter of the cabina, and get the key from him. Franz and his wife, Fawn, are building a house by themselves, no outside labor, on a small lot near here. They're a delightful couple who share my views on many things. They're always a joy to visit - always something new that Franz has been working on.
Last week, I visited Marco, my landlord, during one of his weekend trips to his house next to the cabina. He told me that he's accepted a job in San Ramon, so he'll be moving into the house, and will be living there full time, not just on weekends anymore. So my landlord will be my neighbor - but I don't mind. Marco is a really interesting fellow, a botanist with a good deal of experience in agricultural botany, so he's always fun to talk with about gardening.
I went into town to try to get some of these paperwork problems sorted out. I visited Lawyer #1 first, and told him that the documents he had prepared didn't fly. So he accompanied me to the bank. The bank manager basically told us that it is now out of his hands; the documents are not specifically disallowed, but to protect themselves in a money-laundering or drug-running scandal, they would need to be prepared to show a court that they had been presented with a valid, original cedula (identification) document, not just a certified printout of the Registro Nacional (National Registry) entry. Well, it seems that the Registro Nacional is not issuing cedula documents at the moment, because they have a critical piece of computer hardware down, and it's going to be down for awhile. The bank official indicated that it was now a corporate-wide policy to disallow certified copies, and there was nothing he could do about it. Well, that put the kabosh on that, so my lawyer indicated he is going to try to go to the Registro Nacional in San Jose tomorrow and try to get them to issue a substitute document that can be blessed by the bank's legal department.
Well, that was as far as I could take the bank account application today, so I decided to pursue the cell phone application. I checked around in the shops and found the right phone at the right price, and bought it - $150. Got the factura (invoice) and had two copies made, as per the instructions of the ICE clerk yesterday. I then trundled off to the ICE office, took a ficha (number) and waited the requisite hour. The clerk who finally waited on me was quite happy with as much paperwork as I gave him, but wanted my cedula. Well, I don't have one yet, because I have yet to apply for a residence permit. As it turns out, a recent court decision means that ICE won't authorize my cell phone without a cedula, and I didn't have one. On the way out the door, it occurred to me that what I do have is a corporation which does have its own cedula, and so I got the papers I was going to use at the bank, and took them back into the clerk's desk. I explained that while I didn't have a cedula myself, I had a corporation which did have one. He smiled and said, "perfecto!" He thumbed through the papers, including the corporate constitution and the copy of the cedula entry from the national registry that I'd tried to use earlier at the bank, and his beaming smile faded. Of course, there was a problem. He needed to see at least a copy of the original cedula document, which hasn't been issued yet. The certified copy of the registry entry wasn't good enough. Same problem as at the bank. Well, that was it. I was defeated for the day. I'll just have to wait till Lawyer #1 returns from San Jose tomorrow, hopefully with some good news.
Adventures In Bureaucracy
Today was something of an adventure in bureaucratic frustration. I got together all the documents I was told that I needed to establish my corporate checking account. I trundled on down to the bank, and waited in line for the usual hour and a half at the commercial area, only to be told that I needed photocopies of some of them and other documents that I did not have. They told me that I needed a copy of a light or water bill in my name for at least three months.
Since that didn't work, I decided to look into getting a cellular phone arranged. Jose had bought a new one yesterday, and quite liked the place where he got it, and so I went there and inquired. I can get an Internet-enabled phone for 74,000 Colones, or $181, considerably cheaper than the other prices I'd been quoted. I was told that I had to go to ICE, the cellular service/telephone/electricity provider and get a number, before he could set me up.
So back over to the ICE office on the other side of town. When I looked at the number being served, they were waiting on #28, and when I took my ficha, it turned out to be 41. I could see this was going to take a while and it did. Especially given the fact that I had to wait while others, who had previously been waited on and had to leave for some reason, returned and did their thing ahead of me. After two hours, I finally got to a window and asked to arrange a new cellular number. Sorry, but I have to have the new phone with me so it could be programmed by them (not what the clerk at the phone store had told me). And before they would program it, I had to present a photocopy of my passport and two photocopies of the invoice for the phone. Back over to the phone dealer. Unfortunately, he was closed. Hey, it was the middle of the afternoon on a business day, but he was closed, with no note in the window explaining why, or even a Cerrado sign. Heck with it.
I used the afterenoon, to look into why I am getting so many virus and spam messages in my email, given the fact that my ISP's filter is enabled. It turns out that it's enabled, but no rules were set, so the server didn't know what a spam or virus was, versus what was not. So I created a few quick rules, put them in place, and all of a sudden, instead of getting 300+ virus copies per day, I'm down to two or three. I now have control over my email again!
At dinner tonight, I was informed that the electrician will be out on Saturday to get the construction service to my house construction site installed. They're going to get the temporary service into the house belonging to my landlord, the owner of the cabina, so it should be no problem to get power into the cabina in a week or so. This is the best news I've had all week! It means I'll be in the cabina within a week or so, and that makes getting a cell phone urgent. I need to get appliances, too - at least a stove and a refrigerator - then a washing machine and a freezer, if I can find an upright model. Still looking for a juicer, too, to use temporarily until I can get a Champion juicer shipped in.
Well, tomorrow is another day. I plan to go hit the cellular store and get the phone. Then go to a photocopy shop and get some copies made of all the documents of which I need copies. Then hit the ICE office to try to get the cell phone activated, and if I have time, hit the bank once more and make another attempt at opening the checking account for my corporation. Nothing happens instantly in Costa Rica. It all takes time. Lots and lots of time.
George's Troops Arrive
I went into town today to visit Lawyer #1, to get the papers I need for my corporate checking account. That done, I realized I didn't bring my passport, which I was going to need, so I went to ICE instead of the bank, to check on my telephone application. As it turned out, the map I had drawn and brought with me wasn't necessary, because the ICE surveyor had already found the place, and had surveyed it. They were aware of the pole line that is being constructed for the power, and so I'm really in luck - they tell me that it will take only about 15 days to get it installed. They gave me a "recibio" (invoice) to take to the chamber of commerce to get paid up - which I did. Yes, the chamber of commerce here acts as a bill collection agency. In a cash-and-carry society with a very insecure postal system, few checking accounts and almost no credit cards, that's how bills get paid. You go to the chamber of commerce with the invoice and you pay it there. The phone cost me 16,500 Colones installation and 11,150 Colones for various other charges, including the first month's telephone subscription costs.
I drove to the "cabina" I'm renting ($200/mo., mostly unfurnished, but with a bed and some furniture), and placed the construction notice in the window as instructed - and I should have a phone as soon as I move in! I can't believe how lucky I am in that regard. I'm going to need to get a cell phone anyway for my business, so I'm getting one with internet access and if things don't work out, I'll still have telephone service after a fashion. I found out that the sale of the finca madre should be completed by tomorrow afternoon, so I can put my deposit down and start building. My lot should be officially subdivided and ready for final purchase in about two months.
One of the other expats, Jamie, who has just built a house up the hill from the B&B, managed to get her stuff out of storage and have it delivered today. I'm sure she's a really happy camper tonight. She has her furniture and isn't camped out in her house anymore.
There was no blog entry for yesterday - just too busy to write one. Not much of interest anyway. Mary Ellen, another one of the expats who's building here, came by yesterday with her Tico husband, Ricardo. They got some preparatory work done on their new lot, where they're getting ready to build about the same time I am. We had a pleasant lunch at the Restaurante Mi Rancho, across the street. All the pizza I could eat and a tropical fruit drink, $2.50.
Tomorrow, I've got to get my checking account arranged, and go buy a cellular telephone. It should be a much better connection - and hopefully, a bit faster.
Swen Virus Sweeps The Land
Seems that the "Swen" computer virus has been phenomenally successful in propagating through computers around the world, and since my email address is in a gazillion address books out there, I'm getting my share of copies.
I had over 500 copies yesterday, and this morning, I have no idea how many I've got, because my email server appears to be down. I can't get in. I suspect that it's simply overwhelmed and can't cope.
Just did a download of my email - 238 messages, of which all but eight were either spam or copies of the Swen virus. It's getting really bad - I just wish people would clean out their address books once in a while and not leave me in them if they're not going to send me mail. They'll write to me, and when I respond, they add me to their address books, and very few ever send me another email again. That means I'm in a gazillion address books, and it doesn't take many infected with viruses to end up bogging my inbox down with a lot of copies of the same virus. I'm going to speak with my hosting provider to see if he can add some virus filtering to cut down on all the junk I'm getting. Shouldn't be hard to do. I know that both brightmail.com and messagelabs.com offer such a service.
Documents? Not Yet
I had been told that he had some documents ready for me that I need to get the checking account I need at the bank for my business. But when I got there, I found out he had done the documents, all right, but they were for the wrong corporation. When he checked my request, he discovered that I had requested the proper documents, so it was clearly his fault, and he couldn't disclaim responsibility. So he checked the National Registry, to make sure that the proper information was available, and it was, so the documents should be ready on Monday.
Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night and turned on the shortwave radio, to find that Radio For Peace International had just started running yesterday's Democracy Now. So I had to listen in. What I heard disturbed me - John Ashcroft, the U.S. attorney general, is starting a comprehensive list of all the dissenters, suspected terrorists, agitators and everyone else on his hate list, which will eventually have 100,000 names on it, no doubt including mine. The names will be available to any law enforcement agency that wants it, including customs and immigration, at any time and for any reason, and it will be made available to "selected" businesses as well. Meaning politically friendly businesses, of course. This means that returning to the United States is no longer going to be an option for me - I know I'm already on at least one of the contributing lists. I've got to get a bullet-proof Costa Rican residence application done, and make sure it flies on the first try. I can't take a chance on getting deported back to the U.S. And I'm sure glad I'm already out!
Adventures In Computer Viruses
Today, I went to visit lawyer #1 to find out if he's created the documents I need for lawyer #2 for my immigration application. As it turns out, they weren't ready. No surprise there, this is, after all, Latin America, where manana prevails. The reason, I learned, is that the computers in the ministry were down for a computer virus.
Well, as it happens, I know all about computer viruses first hand. One of the hazards of living in the Third World is that internet security on the various ISPs and internet cafes is almost non-existent. So you're on your own when it comes to dealing with viruses and virus security.
To make a long story short, I managed to acquire a virus not long after I arrived here, called "W32.Welchia.worm," a new worm that is spread by plugging into an affected Local Area Network or dialing into an affected ISP without a firewall running - precisely what I'd been doing when I took my laptop to the internet cafe. I noticed a problem when I started getting a lot of "svchost.exe" errors - and in doing a google search of that problem, discovered that I was likely infected with either the Blaster or Welchia worms. I downloaded the Blaster fix tool from Symantec, and that didn't turn up anything, so I downloaded the Welchia tool - and bingo! I had an infection, which the tool took several attempts to clean. Once it had succeeded, my computer was stable enough that I felt I could try downloading larger files. I downloaded McAfee's "stinger" program to check for the 30 most common other viruses, and it found that my computer was clean of the viruses and worms that it checks for. So at that point, I then downloaded and installed ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs. Now, with ZoneAlarm running, I feel I can safely go back online or plug into the LAN at the internet cafe.
I really should have known better than to plug a "naked" computer into an internet cafe LAN. It was a stupid thing to do - an open invitation to a virus or worm infection. I hadn't worried about it back in Phoenix, because there I was behind my own hardware firewall with network address translation, and there's no better protection than that. But since I've been here in Costa Rica, I've been "naked" to the internet, and I sure paid the price - I couldn't download a large file or a lot of email without my internet connection bombing. It was a real nuisance.
Anyway, I've no longer got the virus running, though there are still some registry entries I need to fix, but I can go onto the net with some stability now. It's a big relief.
So tomorrow, I've got to make an attempt to find out if ICE, the local telephone/power company, has managed to find the cabina that I'm renting, so they can get the installation of the telephone started. I had a call from them today, indicating that they were having trouble finding the place, and I reiterated the directions, but they never called back, and I don't know if they ever found it or not. I need to know so I can fix the problem in the event they didn't find it. I did see the ICE truck heading back towards town earlier today, when I was out to get some coffee.
Adventures In Shopping
I went into town and went through one of the three grocery stores I'd not been in since being here. Turns out they had a nice little hardware section, and I was able to acquire quite a few things I'd been looking for but hadn't been able to find. So I picked up a dish-drying rack and some towels, some covered plastic bowls, and a few other things I'll be needing. I even found a mop handle and mop - which none of the hardware stores had. Anyway, I'm delighted that I've got about everything I need to set up housekeeping at the cabina except for the appliances and a cell phone. The one thing I was looking for but could not find was an upright freezer. Found a chest freezer - at $505, but I need an upright to fit in my kitchen. I may have to go to San Jose to get that.
Two Week Hiatus Explained
Well, those of you who have been regular readers of this page are aware, there has been a two-week hiatus in the updates to this blog. Sorry about that.
It seems that the power line next to the house where I've been staying, was struck by lightning, and as luck would have it, the computer was on at the time. The resulting power surge wiped out the power supply brick for my laptop, as well as the modem by which I connect to the Internet.
Through the good graces of my friend Tom, in Las Vegas, I have obtained a new power supply to run my laptop, which I received late in the day on Friday. By the time I got it installed, and discovered that the modem was fried too, it was too late to go to town and get a new one. It was a three-day holiday weekend too (Costa Rican independence day was yesterday), so I was pretty much out of luck till today. This morning, I was able to find a modem in downtown San Ramon at a computer accessories shop. I probably got the only external modem in town. Fortunately, it not only works, but seems to work much better than the old modem I'd been using; the driver is more stable and does not cause the TCP/IP stack to crash erratically like the old Creative Labs USB modem did. So I'm pleased to report that I'm in better shape than ever.
This afternoon, I went into town to get a few things I'm going to need when I move into the cabina which I've agreed to rent from my neighbor during the construction of my house. The owner has agreed to install electricity, and with that, I can get a phone, so I applied at the ICE office today for a phone. They're going to come out tomorrow to survey the property and find out what it will take to get phone service in there. Marco, the landlord, applied last week for power, so given the usual delays, the power should be in by the end of the month. The bad news is that the phone is about three months out, as they have a critical shortage of certain "boxes" that they say they need and can't get an adequate supply of. Sound like third-world? Hey, when I moved to Phoenix, it took Qwest three months to install my residential phone there, too. At least here, ICE is honest about how long it is going to take. In the meantime, I've found out that I can get internet service via cell phone on the GSM cell network here, and I'll do that while I'm waiting for my landline phone to be installed. I checked the other day on phones, and the version I need will cost me $200 roughly, but it is available locally.
Nothing Happens Here Without A Lawyer
Well, I finally got all the information and money, mostly the money, to lawyer #3 so he can get my car registered. He issued a receipt for the money I have paid, and issued a copy of the official sales contract, so I can keep it in the car with me, in case I get stopped by the police at some point. I took care of all that by simply getting in my car and going to see the lawyer - after having drawn the daily debit-card limit out of my bank account. After paying for the transfer fees to lawyer #3, and paying lawyer #1 for the incorporation papers in whose name the car is to be registered, I'd pretty-well flattened that withdrawal. Oh well, another day and another few hundred bucks. Getting into a car here is not cheap - used cars are breathtakingly expensive, and if you're going to avoid liability insurance, which is just as high as in the States, you've got to create a corporation and put the car in the corporation's name - and that will set you back about $300. So you can understand why I've been spending cash like a drunken sailor lately.
Tomorrow, I've got to go to San Jose for a conference with lawyer #2 regarding my immigration status, and pay that lawyer's bill, too. I have some questions to ask him about what he needs. Jose has discovered that he qualifies for "first degree relative" immigration status, which makes him immediately available for citizenship. He's eager to do that, and avoid having to travel on his U.S. passport. I'm envious. I'd like to be able to do that myself. So I'm tagging along as Jose goes to see him, and I will get my questions answered while there.
In listening to the shortwave radio, I heard a talk show tonight coming from the U.S. in which one of the callers claimed to be a long-haul trucker, traveling the length of U.S. interstate 80. He claimed that three new checkpoints have appeared on Interstate 80, one in Wyoming, and two more in Colorado. They're not active yet, he said, but the infrastructure work to support them makes it clear that they're intended to be permanent. Of course, I have no way of verifying that, but before I emigrated, I saw one such checkpoint under construction on Interstate 8, about 20 miles east of Yuma, Arizona. How interesting... If what the caller to that talk show said was true, it would appear that the feds are getting ready to impose internal travel controls in the United States. I'm increasingly glad that I voted with my feet. Here in Costa Rica, anyone can go anywhere, any time they like, and the police are not a threatening, intimidating presence - like all other Ticos, for the most part, they're helpful, friendly and smiling, even when dealing with a "situation" and directing you around it.
September First - Independence Day - And My Third Lawyer
Today is the day I get my independence. I'm to go to town to finalize the purchase of the car I looked at last Friday. I can't wait to start driving it - it's not only a nice little truck, but it's my independence. I need to go to town to spend some time on broadband, doing a virus sweep of my computer. I'm getting a lot of svchost.exe errors, and that's often the sign of a virus infection - or maybe a sign of the presence on my computer of John Ashcroft's spyware again. Geez, I'm getting tired of battling his spyware - first on my desktop, and now, maybe, on this one.
I went to town to arrange a wire transfer to pay lawyer #2 (immigration) to get started on my case, and get a cashier's check for 2 million Colones to pay for the car I intended to purchase from lawyer #3 (owner of the car I bought). Well, it went far better than I had anticipated. You see, I've figured out how to play upon the sensitivities and prejudices of the Ticos I'm trying to do business with. For starters, Ticos are strictly egalitarian - when it comes to other Ticos. As a gringo, I'm an outsider in their country, and I have to comport myself that way if I'm going to get anywhere with them. A gringo in line ahead of me was being a typical arrogant American, and made me embarrassed to show my passport. He couldn't seem to understand why the obviously educated and well-dressed man at the commercial services counter, couldn't speak English to his standards. He just didn't get it that he was the ignorant immigrant here. Ticos are unfailingly polite, and the bank clerk never was impolite with him, but it was obvious at least to me that the clerk was starting to simmer with resentment at the behavior of this arrogant gringo. I've learned that the best way to handle the Ticos' inability to admit to failure is to be almost patronizingly apologetic about your own faults and ignorance, and ask them for their patience. They'll always give it. Especially, if you are struggling with the language, and are making a genuine effort at trying to communicate with them in the best Spanish you can muster, and apologize for your poor Spanish, the Ticos will unfailingly try to help you as best they can - even the most arrogant and macho of them. This technique works especially well on Tica bank tellers - it brings out the Latina mothering instinct in them, and they're all over you trying to help. It's the arrogant American, like that mining engineer in the line ahead of me, that gets a cold, if polite reception and the bare minimum of real help - and the impression that Ticos are not a particularly friendly and helpful people.
My Spanish worked better than I had dared hope, and I only had to get translation done a couple of times, when the teller insisted on warning me about the fee for the check ($6), and to explain the fact that the Banco Nacional could not do in-country transfers to another bank the Banco de Costa Rica, where I needed to pay lawyer #2. This really surprised me, as wire transfers are commonly done here to pay large bills, such as the fee that lawyer #2 is requiring. By the time I'd waited at the bank and then had gotten my transaction completed, it was a bit after noon, and siesta time had arrived, so I was stuck - lawyer #3 would be out of his office for siesta, and Jose had to get to his ex's house to pick up his son and return to the guesthouse. This meant I was on my own and had to complete the transaction for the purchase of the car on my own as well. And I had an hour and a half to kill while siesta was on.
I went to my favorite pizzeria for a lingering slice of pizza and a fresco naturale. No fresh fruit for the fresco, so I had to settle for a soft drink instead. I took my time eating it. It was noon, and school was out for siesta, but none of the school kids from the neighboring middle school were in the pizzeria for lunch, as they usually are during siesta. I asked the proprietor, and she was as mystified as I.
The next hour and a half was spent walking around downtown San Ramon, waiting for lawyer #3 to return to his office. When he finally arrived, I had some difficulty explaining to him that the car needed to be placed in the name of my corporation, but finally got the point across. He then indicated that I needed four numbers (cedula, toma, folio and one other that escapes me at the moment) relating to the corporation, and of course, I didn't have them, so I placed a quick phone call to lawyer #1 (incorporations and business arrangements), and asked his secretary to look them up. All this was conducted without hardly a word of English, yet the points were made and the transaction completed - as far as I could take it. The timing isn't critical, as lawyer #3 has 30 days to file the papers transferring ownership of the car in the national registry.