Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oh goody, another protest.

[Language alert: I'm gonna drop the F-bomb a whole lot in this post. You've been warned.]

For the most part, I am all in favor of protesting, whether I believe in the cause or not. I believe in free speech, and I believe people have the right to speak up when they feel wronged, however stupid they may actually be. For the most part. However. There are limits to my sympathy and understanding, as is sometimes the case in Costa Rica, when one group or another (seems to be mostly relegated to taxi drivers, bus drivers and truckers) decides they've been wronged and the only way to right that wrong is to block the streets off.

Which is what happened this morning. Pirate cab drivers (so called because they are ILLEGALLY carrying people around without any meter, license (taxi license that is, not necessarily driver's license, though who knows), or insurance (generally speaking) in a tin can on wheels) decided the government had done something they didn't like and thought the best way to get the idiots in power to comply with their demands was to block most entries into San Jose. 'Scuse my languge, but Fuck. That.

I work in the city a few days a week, including today. I usually leave the house in Santa Ana around 7:00 and get to work before 7:30. This morning, though, pulling up to the Escazu toll, it was obvious something was wrong. There were about 20 cars in every toll lane, even the right-hand QuickPass lanes. Shit. So I headed over to the left-hand QuickPass lanes, which were not backed up... and I should have known right then it was a mistake. Traffic was completely stopped about 8 or so lanes wide (in a normally three-lane road), and I figured there was an accident up there. So I somehow managed to make my way through all of this mess and got off at the Escazu exit, thinking I'd go over the Los Anonos bridge and up the back way to work. Of course, ten thousand other people had the exact same brilliant idea as I did, so I sat in traffic another 20 minutes just getting to the bridge, but at least it was moving, and after that there was no real traffic to speak of.

Once I got to work, I found out the dumbass piratas decided to protest by blocking traffic. Wow, this pisses me off so much you have no idea. What right do they (or anyone else for that matter) have to block public access roads? (Turns out they don't; it's illegal.) What if there is an emergency? (Turns out there was, and an ambulance couldn't get through. How would they feel if it was their mother or kid or best friend in that ambulance? Fuckers.) So along with half of the workers in the city, I was quite late to work. (A friend at work knew about this ahead of time and came in at 5:00 a.m. I said I wasn't quite that enthusiastic about getting up so early, and I would have just stayed home if I had known ahead of time.) Now, my company is pretty cool about flex hours and days, but a lot of companies are not. How in the world could these morons possibly rationalize blockading the streets, basically depriving people of an hour or two's worth of wages, not including the wasted gas and irritation, and for what? They're like a big bunch of babies who cry and take their toys home when they don't get their way.

And what sucks is that the stupid idiots in the government usually give in to their demands. Which they absolutely should not. I mean, really. Every parent knows that when kids start whining, the last thing you do is give in, as it just encourages the bad behavior the next time they want something. And that's exactly what is going on. So I hope what actually happens is that they start throwing these idiots in jail, taking away their license plates, handing out fat fines for this crap. And I'm pretty sure the majority of Costa Ricans feel this way, at least based on the few I've spoken to (i.e., everyone at work) and from the comments on La Nacion's article about the fuckers. Everyone is just fed up with this crap. The laws are there, freaking enforce them already!

Well I'll tell you one thing. If Costa Rica still had a military, this shit wouldn't happen. Not that I'm saying there should be one; however, the police force (both San Jose police and highway patrol) really need to get their shit together and put an end to this nonsense. Although I will give them credit for using tear gas on some of these dumbfucks blocking the roads near Zapote. Although I will take away just a little bit of that credit for not making sure the roads were open and the piratas couldn't block the roads in the first place, since everyone (except me, it seems) knew about this ahead of time.

Speaking of getting their shit together, you may have noticed the highway patrol handing out a lot more tickets lately, particularly, it seems, for driving into San Jose on a restricted day, talking on your cell phone, not using a seat belt, and having tinted windows. While I can see talking on your cell while driving can cause accidents, the rest really are kind of dumb. I'm all for using seat belts, don't get me wrong, but the only person you're going to hurt is yourself if you're in an accident and not wearing one (yay Darwin!). Child seats are another thing entirely -- where are all the tickets for lack of those (currently one of the most serious infractions under the new transit law)? I certainly still see lots of people driving around without them. Or how about reckless driving, drunk driving, speeding... you know, the standard things that do cause serious accidents. Where are all the tickets for those things?

Oh but wait, it gets better: Our "wonderful" deputies in the Congress this morning decided that some of the fines for things like drunk driving and reckless driving were -- gasp -- too expensive at almost $600, so they have been lowered to around $400. Hello!? Isn't the whole point of high fines (yes, even very high fines) to make people think twice about doing things like getting behind a wheel drunk? Morons. Who elected these idiots? And it gets better: The new law gave points for various infractions; if you got too many on your license, you would lose it. For example, drunk driving was 50 points, and thus automatically you'd lose your license. This whole plan is scrapped. Say what? So you can drive drunk, have the possibility to kill someone, get a ticket, but still manage to keep your license? Bull. Shit.

Well. There you go.

Oh, and? The morons are planning another "protest" aka street blocking on Friday, March 12. For fuck's sake. The National Pirate Cab Union and especially spokesjackass German Lobo need to have their asses hauled to court. And I quote: "We'll throw ourselves in the streets on Friday and as many times as necessary." See? Big, whiny babies. Wahh wahh wahh...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

More QuickPass info

Now that I've had a QuickPass for a few months, I can pass on a few "quirks" you ought to know about, in case you plan to get one yourself.

  1. Supposedly, you can go to HSBC's website and type in your QuickPass' number, and it will show you all the transactions you've made and how much you have remaining on your pass. Good luck with that. Let me know if it actually works for you, because all I get is "no movements, no information." Yeah.
  2. Sometimes you will find that the QuickPass doesn't work. It will say "QuickPass invalido" or "Vehiculo sin QuickPass." The first instance means you've run out of money, the second means it didn't read it properly. In the second instance, hand it to the person in the booth and they will type in the number, and if you have money left on your pass, you will be able to go through. In the first instance, if there is someone behind you, you can pay and they'll bitch at you; if there is no one behind you, they'll try to make you go in a pay lane, in which case you can bitch at them ("But I just charged it two days ago!" works for me) until they let you pay. Or you can back up and go in another lane, your choice.
  3. Try to keep tabs on how much money you've got in there. It would be great if the HSBC site actually worked, but since it doesn't, this is a little difficult. If you use the electronic tolls frequently, top up frequently (personally I just throw some cash at it each paycheck; I really have no idea how much is left on it -- maybe that's something I ought to look into?).
  4. Lots of idiots who don't have a QuickPass try to go through the QuickPass lane. Especially at rush hour, making the whole thing almost pointless. My advice is to hang back just a little until you see if the car/bus/truck in front of you actually goes through, then follow it. And if it doesn't go through, use another lane. If it's a bus, you can be about 95% sure they do not have a QuickPass, so avoid being behind those and use another lane.
  5. Wave at all the other suckers in line as you breeze through the QuickPass lane during rush hour. This is the fun part. heh heh...
  6. If you're using the Escazu tolls, know that the far left and far right QuickPass lanes are never open. I don't know why. It's really annoying. Heading toward San Jose from the direction of Santa Ana, make sure you get in the correct lane depending on where you're going next. If you're going to EPA or Escazu, use the far right lanes. If you're going to San Jose, the left lanes work best, but you can also use the third lane in from the right. I have actually seen someone cut across about 10 lanes of traffic (after using the far left lanes) to get off at the very next exit following the tolls. Yikes. Please don't be that person; it's so dangerous to you and everyone around you.
  7. Speaking of many lanes of traffice, there are like a gazillion toll booths in each direction. Well, maybe 12, I don't know. Costa Rican road engineers have not figured out how to get these lanes to merge into each other and then into three lanes, so you basically have what we call the "wild, wild west" section between the toll booths and the three-lane highway, where there are no marks on the road whatsoever. Again, yikes. So be careful. I don't think I need to tell you what idiots people drive like here. I'm pretty sure there is no direct translation for "merge" from English to Spanish. ;-)
  8. And after all these months of hassling with QuickPass, would I suggest getting one? If you use the tolls on a regular basis (I go into San Jose three or four times a week), I'd say hands down YES. The hassle of topping up seems relatively little compared to the hassle of digging around for change, waiting in lines, etc. If you have an HSBC near you with a drive through, that makes things even easier, although they can't tell you how much you have left on your pass at the drive through (you have to go in for that, and now you see why I have no idea how much money is on my QuickPass!). Also, you can use the QuickPass anywhere in the country that has QuickPass lanes, not just in San Jose. Now that there is a new highway to the beach, which I've heard gets pretty packed around the tolls during the weekends, this is another bonus to having one, even if you rarely go to the beach (personally, I can't stand going to the beach here, unless it's over in Manzanillo/Gandoca/Puerto Viejo area -- to hot and filthy).
That's all for now. I start working full-time on Monday (though it feels like I've already been doing that), so I'll probably have even less time to dedicate to this blog. So I'll sign off for a while, saying thanks for reading! I really do appreciate every comment, every page view I get! :-D

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Learn Spanish for free!

A friend of mine shared this link with me, which I will share with you. He's learning Portuguese, and I'm thinking I'll try either that, or refresh my French, or maybe do something completely different and try Arabic (which I've always wanted to learn).

Foreign Service Institute Language Courses

I know at least a few of you out there read this blog because you're planning on moving down to Costa Rica (or thinking about it, at least). If so, I implore you to, if you don't already, learn some basic Spanish! You'll find life here a lot more pleasant, and you'll get ripped off a lot less (yep, the rumors are true: Gringos who can't communicate in Spanish are likely to get charged more). You might still get someone who tries to charge you more, but if you can communicate (and argue) your point in Spanish, well... you get what I'm saying?

One of the most annoying things anyone has ever said to me on the subject was back in college. A girl in one of my classes was planning on coming down here to Costa Rica for a year, like, you know, to surf and have fun and stuff? (That last bit needs to be said in Californian -- hee hee...) I was surprised, and asked her if she knew any Spanish. She said, "No, but like, doesn't everyone there speak English?" And then I was all, "Seriously?"

If you have any of these delusions as well, no, not everyone speaks English. Many people speak very basic English; some people speak English really well. But to go to a foreign country and expect people to speak your language is beyond rude -- learn their language, even if all you can manage before you get there is a few simple phrases. Trust me, it goes a long way!

And now you have one less excuse for doing so, as I've just given you a link to a whole Spanish course for free!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Woof, Woof!

The World Woof Tour 09 hits Costa Rica on November 21, and I hope you'll be there! (Click on the poster below for a larger image.)

The most important thing about the fair will be the pet adoption program, and there will also be fun things for people, auctions, contests with your pets, plus low-cost vaccine and spay/neuter clinics, etc. It's at Country Day School in Escazu, which is just a couple of blocks up from the Red Cross in downtown. Esposo and Mrs. P. will be providing deeelicious savory and sweet treats, so stop by and ask them, "Hey, are you esposo/Mrs. P.?" That would probably freak them out. Ha ha!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"The Snatchback"

Yesterday, while looking for something on a completely different subject, I came across this article in The Atlantic, about a guy who had to kidnap his son out of Costa Rica from his biological father. It's a bit long, but compelling, so I'll wait while you go ahead and read it.

Whistles. Twiddles thumbs.

Done? Good. Ok, there are some things about this story that just don't add up to me. The father, Jason, did not have custody of Andres when Andres and his mother, Helen, came to Costa Rica. In fact, Todd secured an injunction against Jason to retrieve his son. But the Siquirres police wouldn't take Andres out of the home, saying they didn't have that authority:
So Todd got an injunction from a San José court ordering Jason to surrender Andres, and he and Helen accompanied the Costa Rican police when they went to Jason’s office to deliver it. Jason still refused to relinquish Andres, and Todd says the police told him that they didn’t have the right under Costa Rican law to enter Jason’s home and take the boy.
I call bullshit. Now, to me, what Jason did is kidnapping. Sure, he's the biological father of Andres, but Andres was raised by Todd and Helen. They were his parents. Jason did not have custody of Andres. So how in the hell did the Siquirres police not do anything about it? Do you mean to tell me that if a child has been kidnapped, you know who did it, you go with the police to the kidnapper's door, and the kidnapper says, No, I'm not handing the kid over, the police can just walk away? Oh. Hell. No.

At that point, why didn't Todd and Helen get, at the very minimum, the PANI and/or the OIJ involved? Surely they both have the authority to remove the child from the home if the police are too pussy to do it. (And, as an aside, pretty much everywhere in Costa Rica, the police are next-to-worthless. If you really need something important done, go to the OIJ.) Instead, Todd spends a ridiculous sum of money ($25,000 iirc) to get his son out of the country. Granted, I'd do it too, if it were my son. I'd spend every last cent I had, and then go find more. But I think the whole surreptitious snatching Andres back could have been avoided if he'd have tried other avenues than simply the local police (not making any accusations here, but sounds like something else was going on there, you know what I mean?).

Well, at any rate, I'm glad it all ended well and that Andres is back with Todd in the U.S. To me, family is what you make it. Blood ain't always thicker than water.

(I'll grant that this story is fairly one-sided, from Todd and somewhat Helen's point of view. La Teja apparently also wrote an article about the case, but since they couldn't even be bothered to spell Todd's last name correctly, and in general seem to be more concerned with photographing women's big butts than anything else, that "paper" would be the last place I'd turn for reliable information. I also found this article from, but it's basically just a rehashing of The Atlantic's piece. Apparently no other newspaper in Costa Rica gave a shit, sadly.)

P.S. Mr. Hopson? I'm glad you got your son back, I truly am, but please don't call my country third-world. Sure, parts of it look like Appalacia, but the politically correct terms are "developing" and "developed" countries. Saying Costa Rica is third-world just makes you look like a rich asshole. Maybe you should visit some truly "third-world" countries before throwing terms like that around. Just sayin'.