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San Jose Return Trip

A couple days before our trip to SJO we thought it might be prudent to see if the advertised “free airport shuttle” would in fact be valid for our late arrival time, 11:50PM, even though it was advertised as 24 hour.

Contacting the hotel we were told that it was. Did we make reservations with Interbus? Hmm, no. First I heard of that. Reading the print on the website one can see that the shuttle reservations can be guaranteed only if made within twelve hours of making the reservation. Didn’t know that. It was never mentioned. Maybe because we booked through Trip Advisor.

A very helpful employee showed me how to reserve the shuttle from the Adventure Inn website. Filling out the online form was a breeze, but the confirmation number I plugged in didn’t work. An error message said to contact the hotel. So I did. They determined that booking through a 3rd party with a 3rd party reservation number was the reason. So I was promptly emailed a link with the “correct” reservation number already plugged in. How neat is that! So reserving the shuttle went smoothly enough. An Interbus email confirmation said a uniformed driver would be waiting just outside the arrival area holding a sign with our name on it.  That sounded great.

But the plane was late leaving HOU and arrived almost 1.5 hrs late. I had assumed that the shuttle people would be experienced enough to keep an eye on airline schedule changes. Maybe. Maybe not. No uniformed driver holding a sign with our name on it was to be found. And we DID look.

Attempts were made to phone Interbus by two different people, but “no contesta nadie!”. By the time we gave up on the Interbus shuttle all the cabs had left the arrival area. Our porter found someone in a van labeled “Turismo” that would to take us to our hotel. I was vaguely aware that upon arrival a number of cabbies were holding up signs that said something to the effect “Legitimate Cab”. But the time was fast approaching 2AM and all we wanted was to get to the hotel.

We weren’t long out of the airport when we both began to feel uneasy. One reason is that there were two “drivers” sitting up front. And we started going down smaller roads. And the hour was late with few people out and about.

The driver said up front that the trip would take about 20 min. but in fewer than 10 min we were at the hotel, all safe and sound. The Turismo driver, we noticed, had no taximeter. Well, he wasn’t a taxi. Just took advantage of an opportunity and charged us what turned out to be 2X normal cab fare!

The desk clerk acknowledged the routing. She said that t the hotel would refund our money if we could get a receipt. But the clerk was picky about what constituted a receipt. The driver wrote something out on a piece of paper but that wasn’t good enough. Same thing for the back of his business card. I really began to get the impression that we were just getting lip service. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

Our room was not a disappointment. Nice and quite spacious.  We were so tired we didn’t notice, or look for, an A/C until morning. With San Jose’s elevation being several thousand feet, the night was comfortable enough without it.

The next morning the desk clerk on duty was familiar with the events of a few hours earlier. He brought the subject up himself when he learned our room number. Seems the boss told him to refund our $25! Now that’s a good way to start our day! We’re once again happy campers.

Breakfast was a nice spread of local fruits, some of which will be foreign to many gringos, like uchova and jocote.

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Not too many “free” breakfasts allow you to order from a menu. We had our choice of 6 or 8 entrees offered. Found that the names of the dishes didn’t necessarily fit our preconceived notions of what they were, however.  Huevos rancheros. …. well, they weren’t. Like Tex-Mex in Panama, well, it isn’t. But the fact that we had a choice is impressive enough.

With a bit of time on our hands before the bus ride back to Panama, I walked around the hotel to get a better feel for the place. It’s not in the mold of any major chain. Hand-painted murals with tropical themes abound on the mostly tall walls. Pre-Columbian statuary is everywhere. There’s a spacious community area midway on upper floor of the two story building.


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We used that refunded $25 to pay another Turismo driver to take us to the downtown bus terminal, but this one came recommended by the hotel. The desk clerk said we would be charged fairly, probably $20 or $25USD.  It turns out he charged $20. We tipped him $5 in part because he was such a pleasant fellow and we enjoyed his conversation. Also, we were expecting to pay $25.

Maybe he thought we were being generous because after we paid him he insisted on schlepping our luggage into the bus terminal, of which we had plenty. (It’s always a joy to restock the larder with treasures from the states.)

I was right about the outbound tickets. $21 plus $7 departure tax for each of us. I’m sure Costa Rica isn’t the only country to charge a departure tax, but somehow this just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like charging an exit tax to leave an amusement park, or a theater, or whatever. Whatever.

As we were boarding the bus an employee couldn’t help but notice that we’re both on the tall side. In spite of the assigned seats, he offered us two seats behind an exit door. With loads of legroom, it made a huge difference for us on the eight and a half hour bus trip back home.

Back to Houston via San Jose, CR

 

This time for our return trip to the states we elected to go through San Jose, CR instead of Panama City.  It’s something we had wanted to do for some time.  Just for comparison purposes.  As we were able to get fantastic rates on Southwest Airlines, this seemed like a good time to do it.

Departure day arrives.  After waking up at 1:30 and dozing only briefly for moments at a time thereafter, I was up for good at 5AM.  We were on  the road before  6:00 and arrived at the David, Panama  bus station just after 6:30.  A Tracopa ticket window that I didn’t notice earlier had a sign that said “Open at 7:30AM”.  That sounded about right for a departure that I understood to be something after 8:00.

 

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As we had almost an hour to kill, we decided to have breakfast at a nearby McDonalds.  Very glad for that.  I hate missing breakfast.

As McDonalds didn’t open until 7AM, we arrived back at the bus terminal a bit past window opening time.  Jan stayed with the luggage and bought the tickets while I parked the car at the other end of the terminal ($5/day).  The tickets cost $20 each but we got a $6 discount,  presumably because of our pensianado visas.  I’m not expecting the same discount when we buy the return tickets in Costa Rica.

The bus left for the border at 8:45, only 15 min late.  Our transportation vehicle was much smaller than the David-to-PC buses, and not air conditioned.  But we were expecting that.

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Upon boarding we were given customs and immigration forms to fill out, similar to the airlines.

We reached the border soon enough.  A short nap helped with that.  The bus unloaded all the luggage and we were shown into a thankfully air conditioned room, the only one we would see until we arrived at our hotel in Costa Rica.  An official made a roll call of all the passengers and then our luggage was (sort of) inspected.  

From there we went around the corner to another line.  While awaiting our turn a beggar came by with a paper cup.  From the looks of things everyone was expected to contribute something.

The clerk wanted our passports and our residency visas.  But neither of the two forms we had previously filled out.  Not sure what department we were dealing with here.  We got a passport stamp and our photo was taken.

From there we walked about 100 yds to a place that was customs, according to the signage.  

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But the clerk asked for our immigration forms, not customs.   Another stamp.  A sign at her window indicated requirements for entry into CR but she wasn’t too strict about it, at least not with us.

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Then just next door (actually, outdoors with a roof for cover), we were reunited with our luggage and waited, and waited, for a non-uniformed lady to eventually show up.  Once again, our luggage was sort of inspected.

 

Boarding the bus again we  had our luggage checked and were given claim tickets for the first time.  Didn’t happen earlier.  The guy loading the bags said something about a tip, in Spanish.  I pretended not to understand.  That didn’t work, so he asked for $2.  It remains unclear whether or not that was a legitimate  charge.  I suspect it  wasn’t.

 

Forty minutes or so after arriving at the border, we were on our way again.  The scenery, for  the most part, was the same as Panama,  except for vast acreage with palms under cultivation.  Later learned they were harvested for palm oil.

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Stopped for lunch at Flor de Sabana around 12:30 .  Cafeteria style, two of us ate for  something under 10USD.  Beer, as an afterthought, was another 2.26USD, or 1200Colon.  More than twice what I would have paid in Panama, but worth it at the time.  It may have been an n/a beer, as I’m a cheap drunk and I felt nothing, despite it being consumed midday.    But it tasted good.  In half an hour, we were back on the road.  3 hrs to go, +/-.

Refreshment and pit stop around 3:30.  Small bottle of tea, small box assorted candies, peanut brittle bar, small ice cream sandwich came to $8.  Ouch!

It was nearly 5:00 when we finally arrived at the bus terminal in San Jose.  The cab ride from there was a nightmare.  It was rainy and we arrived at just about the worst time for traffic.  It took an hour and cost $40.

Finally at the hotel (Holiday Inn Express) I was feeling smug that I’d thought to bring along some rum.  Couldn’t wait to get a Coke and r-e-l-a-x.  Incredibly, the Coke machine wanted  $2!  I know that sets a record for the amount of money I ever put in a Coke machine.

Following a refreshing drink or two … or three … we walked over to a Denny’s for a minimal dinner.  That came to over $30.

Next morning we’re up at 5:00, per Jan’s arrangement with the front desk.  I’m in the shower at 5:15 suddenly questioning why I’m up so early.  It turns out Jan thought our flight left a 8:00.  In fact, it’s scheduled for 9:00.  Now we’re waiting for the dining room to open for breakfast at 6:00.

The San Jose airport was a delight.  Smallish, but big enough.  Not at all crowded.  Things moved fast and progressed smoothly.  At least until we reached the boarding gate.  Like PTY in Panama City, there is yet ANOTHER luggage inspection before boarding the plane.  So far I’ve not been able to determine the reasoning behind this.  The inspection was so casual I wonder why they even bothered.  And not a single Muslim on the flight, as far as I could tell.   Maybe that’s why it was so casual.

 

 

There’s a New Doctor in Town

There was an e-mail announcement this morning of a new medical clinic in Boquete. Among other things, it really highlights the differences in medical practice between here and the states.

To start with, she (the doctor) publishes her office phone AND her cell phone, with the note that she’s available 7 days a week, 24 hrs a day. AND she makes house calls. How’s that for starters?

Then she goes on to list specific services such as injections, emergency sutures, medical certification for insurance, etc, etc.

The last item on her bullet list states that pricing is not based on nationality. (A very common term here is “gringo pricing”, meaning that gringos are charged more than the locals either because they are perceived as being able to afford it or they are too naïve to recognize it, or both.)

I guess we’ll have to make up some excuse for an office visit just to check out the doctor and her facilities..  It’s best to not wait until something is really needed.

Settling In

The container arrived a month ago and we’re still trying to put things away. We had a garage sale of sorts last Saturday and got rid of some excess merchandise, but with space and time limitations we weren’t able to display all of our offerings. And I knew from the git-go that would be the case. We’re already planning another sale before Christmas. We have a considerable quantity of Christmas items that need to go.

We both have a lot of accumulations from over the years. If someone from outside were to come along and throw away 90% of it, we’d likely never miss it. But when being personally previewed, the items tend to take on an exaggerated importance. And I’m far worse about this than she is.

Rico, born feral but he won the lottery.

Just 8 days ago my true love presented me with a kitten for my birthday.  She didn’t have to spend much time shopping.  He was found at a monthly spay & neuter clinic that we both work at.   Many times feral animals are trapped and brought in for this minor surgery in an attempt to keep the hungry and starving populations down to a minimum.  There are always cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, available for adoption.   A few, a very few, are adopted.   Many more are not.  The volunteers  who work these clinics almost always have enough animals already.  And almost no one from the general public shows up at these events with the express purpose in mind of adopting a pet.  For a feral animal to leave here for the food and comfort of a loving home is, regrettably,  a relatively rare occurrence.  But that’s what happened to Rico.  He not only went home with a loving family, he went home with US!  Life  does not get any better for a cat.  He indeed won the lottery.

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It didn’t take long for him to irreversibly worm his way into our hearts.  Maybe a few hours.  He came to us with a couple of good-sized wounds on his head and throat, probably from other, bigger cats.  The little guy we brought home was maybe 5 wks old and 3 lbs or so.

He loved to eat, every few hours suited him admirably.  He seemed accustomed to having his meals few and far between!  Reminded us of another cat we rescued 4 years ago as a starving kitten.  Cinco could not and still cannot get enough to eat.    Rico feels the need to constantly look back over his shoulder when eating.  A lesson learned no doubt in the feral cat community.  There was always some bigger guy looking to take over what he had.

Late morning today my lady commented that Rico must be growing up.  He’s not in her lap or otherwise right at her side as he usually is.  We thought little of it.  A couple hours later we realized he hadn’t made his presence known for a while.  Surely he must be hungry by now.  We called and got no response.  We called again and got no response.  He ALWAYS responds when we call as invariably that means food is at hand.  But he didn’t answer.  We looked all over the house and couldn’t find him.  I began to think the worst.  Many years ago a young kitten that we had taken in managed to kill himself in a most freakish accident.  I’m fearing the same thing again.  Rico is NEVER quiet for long.  I began pulling out and looking behind electrical appliances.  Refrigerator, dishwasher, laundry room appliances.  No Rico. Pulled apart the couches, recliner, furniture.  No Rico.  We did this not once but MULTIPLE times.  No Rico.

My love realized that the sliding window above the kitchen sink was open just a bit.  This was a new arrangement for the “big” cats when we brought Rico home.  Up to then we left one of the sliding doors open for their happy ingress and egress.  But I never saw Rico even up on the kitchen counters much less near the open sink window.  Still, my gut told me that if he was still in the house he was somehow dead.

We went outside in a light drizzle looking and calling.  Calling and looking.  I knew our only realistic chance was to lead him into answering our call.  He always did that readily.  We live on the edge of a rain forest.  A jungle if you will.  We never realized how many sounds came from the surrounding woods that COULD be, MIGHT be, a cat.  But they always disappeared before we could track them down.

We came back in the house and repeated the search procedure we’d done already several times before.  Then we went outside and repeated that search procedure, covering our entire perimeter and beyond.  No Rico.  We were both just sick, almost physically sick.  It had been fully 6 hours since we last saw him.   Not an event for the other cats but we were accustomed to having Rico around every few minutes.

I went down the drive to do some gardening work with the added hope that I just might hear him meowing.  After maybe 20 minutes my lady called to me.

“I have him!” she cried.  Could it really be?  I thought not.  Surely I just heard what I wanted to hear.

But when I got to the house, there was Rico in her arms.  She had been sitting in her favorite recliner when Rico just came nonchalantly sashaying up.  She has no idea where he was all that time but she was confident he hadn’t been outside.  He was clean and dry.

We will puzzle over this for a long time.  We repeatedly searched our home from top to bottom without success.  Where could he possibly have been?

Predictably, Rico was ravaged.  The chunk tuna we offered him was most graciously accepted.

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Getting the (temporary) Pensianado Visa

In Ecuador, and presumably a number of other countries, one can apply for the residency visa without the aid and assistance of an attorney.  Not so in Panama.  An attorney is required by law.  The cost is presumably fixed at $1500 plus expenses, although I have reason to question this.

July 8, 2015, and we’re meeting our attorney at Chiriqui mall in David to hopefully get my temporary pensianado visa.  Having finally gathered all the required documents,

  • Apostilled FBI background check  (far and away the most time consuming)
  • Apostilled verification of income (in my case, as in most, this is SSI)
  • Certificate of Health  (a joke, but still a requirement)
  • Six passport photos
  • A copy of our lease agreement in Panama
  • A copy of our electric bill

I was ready to go for it.  My lady love could only watch as I went through the procedure.  Her FBI application had  bounced because of unsatisfactory fingerprints.  She had to start the whole process all over again.  Three months or more lost.

Many if not most people apply in Panama City instead of David.  Everything of real importance happens in “the city”.  But if the stars line up right and the government folks in David are of  good humor, it’s possible to get the temporary visa there in a matter of hours.  Instead of 2 or 3 days in Panama City.  I was told to bring $150 in cash for various charges  if indeed they accepted the application today.

The immigration people are located in Chiriqui mall, immediately west of PriceSmart, the Sam’s Club of Central America.

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They occupy two levels of an office that has about 2500 sq ft on the bottom and 2,000 or so on top.  I’m told the top is basically the IT department.  Four cubicles below and three free-standing desks support more than a dozen federal workers.

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We arrived prior to their opening at 8AM and waited 15 minutes or so for everyone to get settled before going in.  Our attorney walked up to a clerk, presumably to tell him why we were there, and we were asked to take a seat.  No other customers at all were present.  Before long we were asked for $5 for the application fee.  More waiting.  Then I signed some forms, at my attorneys bidding, and waited some more.  Then my attorney had me sign five copies of another sheet of paper, and we waited.  It was about now that the attorney said we were home free.  The application would be received and processed here.  No trip to the big city would be required until the permanent visa was issued.  How wonderful that simple bit of news sounded!  Two or three days in Panama City dealing with slow-moving bureaucrats held no appeal for me.  None at all.

I was asked for more money, $100 this time.  $50 was for a multi-entry permit and $50 was presumably for the temporary visa.  Unless one has the multi-entry permit, which is a stamp in the passport that says “Residente en Tramite”, one cannot leave the country after obtaining the temporary visa until the permanent is granted, typically 4 months.  Don’t ask me why.

After a bit more waiting I was called in to sit for my visa photo.  A Skype-type portable camera was hung from the clerk’s computer monitor.  On his desk to the left was a small machine that prints out a professional-looking card that says really nothing of consequence that I could tell, but it’s the temporary pensianado visa and has my unique ID number.  It has the full force of the permanent visa but it expires in one year.

The whole affair took about two and a half hours.  All things should go so smoothly.

The rain in Panama

The rainy season started a bit early this year. It’s not raining daily yet but the frequency is such that there’s no doubt that the dry season is over. A typical rainy season day is a pleasant morning with a slow rain in the afternoon. But that’s only “typical”. Sometimes the rain is accompanied by thunder and lightning.

Last night we had thunder and lightning. To the extent that our normally imperturbable animals were, well, perturbed. Jan suggested I unplug the computers. I thought that was a good idea, even if she thought of it first. Later she suggested that I get dinner ready so I wouldn’t have to do it by candlelight, less the power go out. At this point I feel compelled to point out that dinner is usually not my responsibility, but as we were having leftover gumbo (that’s the best kind) that I prepared in her recent absence, I was doing the honors tonight. Really all that was involved was making a fresh batch of rice and heating up the gumbo. Anyhow, ….. I thought she might be going overboard now with her suggestions but as a (sometimes) obedient mate, I indicated that I would do that. All the while thinking to myself, “silly woman”. Before long the storm was clearly letting up. Again, “silly woman” was going through my head. After a few more minutes, the storm was clearly in the distance. By now “silly woman” was virtually screaming in my head. But the sound was interrupted when, lo and behold, the power went off! I was surely pleased that my comments had not been verbalized. There’s nothing worse than hearing, “I told you so!”.