Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wecome To Living In Costa Rica ...Your Homecoming Includes A Shakedown At Customs!

Go HERE for part one of this humorous series about our move to Costa Rica:

Part Two

We were standing in the heat, about a mile from the airport, on hot sticky tarmac with half a dozen Costa Ricans, also called Ticos as they refer to themselves, unloading our ten thousand bags and cats, rattling in Spanish, which to this day I still cannot speak or understand...except for a few choice words. It was probably a good thing at this point on the hot tarmac that I didn't know how to swear in Spanish.

Ticos generally don't like cats and are terrified of them thinking of them the way Americans think of rodents...which I never really 'got' the entire time I was there. So having to handle ours, even in kennels, was something to be discussed, debated endlessly, feared, but eventually accomplished. Look at these faces! How could anyone be afraid of these oversized plush toys?

Latin American is not known for its timliness or efficiency and just because they tell you Costa Rica is not really a third world country any more, you really shouldn't believe them. At best it is a second world country with serious issues around timliness among other agonizing cultural traits that just didn't mix with my North American JAQ expectations...I know gotta learn the local fare, but at that moment I still hadn't become anywhere near local.

Getting our belongings and pets ready to head off for immigration and customs was something out of a Keystone Cops movie and I was literally terrified to let my babies go without me. Just loading everything on the truck took over an hour! And by the time we were reunited with them it was another hour at least. We were put into a van clinging to the family jewels which our hosts wanted to liberate from us and take on the truck with the rest of our luggage. Since that wasn't an option we lugged the heavy bags to the terminal and awaited the arrival of cats and luggage...and waited, and waited!

I've learned through my years of travels there are several phrases I needed to memorize in the native language of whatever country I was in and 'Where is the bathroom' was always the first and most important. Donde esta el banos? Simple right? Wrong! I could not remember how to say this little tiny sentence. When I did finally get something like it out of my mouth the guys looked at me like I was from Mars. You don't get to go potty until after you go through customs. They didn't know Tiny Bladder and that I was permanently damaged from holding it in and now about 7 hours later still praying for intervention by the pee angels. I knew it would be hopeless to beg as they were unsympathetic and my Spanish was non-existent anyway. Still probably a very good thing I was unable to swear in Spanish. So my next best move was to ask for a wheel chair because it was easier to hold it in sitting.

Once again who woulda thunk we still had hours to go before I could pee and we could leave the airport! The terminal was almost empty, a total blessing. The dog was with us on the leash and no one said a thing about it except anyone who saw him wanted to pet him and of course he ate it up! He was more interested in marking the entire airport, so unlike me, he peed his way to customs in every corner on each and every chair leg and trash can. I was hoping no one was looking and wanted to drop my pants and squat at one point on the nearest kiosk but bad luck seemed to follow at every corner. My Tico escort was glued to me with no escape possible.

Our adventure in full swing, we had the unfortunate luck of being the ONLY ones going through customs at the hour we entered the country and the agents were bored and needed something to do to justify their having jobs. So they nearly strip searched us! Everyone of our 25 bags, two knap sacks, purses, fanny packs and pockets were emptied. Ooos and Ahhhhs aside, they were convinced we were theives and smugglers and the jewelry was contraband, so they confiscated it...ALL OF IT! Well, not all of it. They didin't get the stuff in the kennels. So fearful and superstitious about cats, they backed off and wouldn't go near them even to peer into the kennels. And that was good because in those cozy kennels was all the gold.

A cacphony of hysteria broke out. I started crying and wailing because that was the only way I could get their attention, the cats were howling and mewling as only cats can do, Winston was barking non-stop and Bryana stood there stunned and silent. We spent hours and hours trying to explain that the jewelry was ours and not stolen, but the customs agents were not interested nor did they understand us. I got angry, I got funny, I got hysterical, I waved my hands around like a manic in an asylum, I started threatening, I English, I pleaded, begged and tried bribery offering them each some jewelry for their no avail. Although this is not me in the video, it sure as heck coulda been...except for the Chinese part. And I bet she can't swear in Spanish either...

Someone who spoke Spanglish finally arrived and after hours of cajoling and begging, pleading and finally greased palms for the lot we came away with our things, our jewels, our pets and no dignity...and I STILL had to pee! But HELL, we were in paradise...right?

End of part two. Stay tuned, part three coming in a couple days.

Some photos "Courtesy of"
Thanks to all other internet sites whose photos I have used. Too many to mention. These are my cats tho'!

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