I’m glad to be back. That was a long day.
I go straight into the house, take a three-minute piss, then I roll one. I come back out to smoke it; it doesn’t look like any of the landlord family is home.
I open the car to collect my stuff, and clean out some of the accumulated detritus. Here’s a passport! It’s an American passport, of one of the people I gave a lift to, from the border. I bet she’s missing that now.
When John and I arrived at the Costa Rican border, I’d been short of the available cash to get both a three month temporary importation permit, and three months of insurance, for the car.
Yesterday, thinking it was the insurance that I had got only one month of, I finally got in touch with, and paid a visit to, an insurance guy in Zarcero. However, while reviewing the crinkled mass of documentation, he discovered the actual facts; I had insurance for three months, no problem, but, it would be void and null when the temporary importation permit expired, at midnight, January 28th, which was tomorrow, yesterday, when I saw him, but it’s today, today!
He phoned around to find out the easiest way to renew the temporary importation permit. After an hour of calling different government departments and associates, it was confirmed that I would have to go back to the border, through which I had entered the country, in the first place!
Memories of the drive down discouraged me, but I had to go.
I got going, this morning, later than I should have. I arrived at the border office moments after 12 o’clock noon. Of course, nothing was happening. Only one booth was open, and he wasn’t processing temporary importation permits. Those clerks wouldn’t be returning until 1:30 p.m.
I consulted a customs guard who was lounging around a small out building, separated from the main building across the southbound lane. He seemed pretty sure of a worst-case scenario for me. I’d probably have to go into Nicaragua for a while. He made empathetic noises. He asked for my phrase book, and pointed to a word that he found, ‘fine’. If I didn’t get the permit, I’d get a fine. He assured me that it was a big fine, nodding then shaking his head, gravely.
I didn’t want the hassle of the entrance administration for Nicaragua, nor trying to find a place to stay, but if I had to, well… I could do it.
I could feel my physical tension releasing perceptibly. I thought of cool things I could do in Nicaragua; I’d go to San Juan del Sur. I remembered, from the trip down, it was 24 kilometres from the turn-off to the border; that’s not too bad, I thought.
I ordered some food at the cafeteria, a chicken sandwich. I could see the guy, through the open window to the kitchen, making the sandwich. It came on a decent crusty bun, with roasted red peppers and mayonnaise, and pickles on the side. I ate it slowly, savouring it, not thinking about anything else; it tasted good, strangely incongruent with the surroundings.
Regardless of the bleak outlook, I decided to plan on success; I went to make photocopies of everything I had, driver’s licence, ownership, etc. If I did need them, I’d have them already, and I wouldn’t have to stop in the process, and lose my place. I could be finished, and out in the minimum amount of time. I’d need them sooner or later if I had to go into Nicaragua, anyways, I thought.
While getting the photocopies, the guard spotted me; he hurried over, excitedly. ‘This could be trouble’, I thought to myself. Again, I thought of going to the beach; San Juan del Sur: I remember the email from a buddy in Toronto, who’d rode a motorcycle all the way to Patagonia, ‘the best beach in the world’, or something like that.
The guard was encouragingly positive. He had ‘good’ news; it might be possible to get a “prórroga”, at the same time pointing to the word in the Inglés-Español Diccionario, “extension”. He thought I could get one, without having to go into Nicaragua, after all.
I was the second one in the line at 1:30 p.m., when the clerk took his place on the opposite side of the wicket, and greeted the guy in front of me. But they’re interaction was lengthy, with much whining by the man in front of me, and much back-and-forthing.
Finally, he was ushered off; it was 2:00 p.m.
I had all of my stuff. The clerk was pleasantly surprised. He looked it over, stamped everything multiple times, took the fee, and printed out the receipt.
I was walking out, at 2:05 p.m. The inspector intercepted me on the way towards the car. He nodded towards the car; I nodded back. He made a sign to stop, then made a scribble on the tiny notepad he had. He ripped it off, handed it to me, then turned and walked away without another word.
‘¡Incredible!’ I thought.
I turned the car on, almost euphoric, eyes focused south, towards home. Just as I started to pull out, I was startled by a bang, bang, bang, bang, close to me.
What!? It took me a couple of seconds to figure it out, heart pounding; it was only somebody knocking on the window!
I turned to the window, initially relieved. A face was very near the window.
I got a strange vertigo; something was out of place!? I hesitated, frozen in the short moment between having recognized that something was out of place, but not yet having figured out what it was. For while it seemed to be the visage of a woman, something was wrong! There was some incongruity. Is that a moustache!?
Now it makes you wonder all sorts of things, perhaps an effeminate man? As I looked closer, I noticed the scruff, as well, but also the mostly hidden breasts.
Slightly embarrassed by my hesitation, though still a little uncertain, I pressed the button to put the window down.
They[i] introduced theirself[ii], from Toronto, they said. I shook the offered hand. They were travelling with a couple from Californian, Eileen, and Darrin. They’d met them on a bus in Honduras, and travelled together since. When they saw my Ontario drivers plate, they’d run over.
I was wary of hassles. There’d be at least a couple of stops at checkpoints before Liberia.
Though wary of complications with the immigration check-points, I felt compelled to help this person, from my home turf. I nodded, and yell over to the couple at the side of the road, to throw their stuff in the back, and get in.
I idled along to the booth, adjacent to the gate across the road, and handed over the scrap of paper with the squiggle on it to the guard standing there.
He asked for passports. He looked at them, two Canadian, and two American passports, and handed them back without opening them. He waved me on with his automatic rifle.
There was a little trouble at a subsequent stop, caused by the fact that the new entry visa for the car was a different date than my own, original entry visa. But, after a short period of time, during which I was completely unaware of any extortion, we were waved on.
They, all three, told me their stories, including how they’d got to where we’d met; all had come over land.
They, the one, was making a film, in eight millimetres, about their solo trip.
The drive south was made easy with the companionship.
I pulled over, in sight of the bus terminal in Cañas; the three of them were going to try to get a bus to Tilarán. I left them with my number in Palmira, and took all their email addresses.
After Cañas, the traffic got thick, and slowed. The car started to overheat. I could feel my back and neck tightening. All the way to Zarcero, I stressed about it.
Once in Zarcero, I kept it rolling, fearing that the car wouldn’t start up again, if I turned it off. So, I pushed on to Palmira, and brought it through the gates and into the parking spot, relieved, but needing to piss.
Now, what am I going to do with this thing? This is exactly the kind of responsibility I wanted to avoid.
I take the passport, and the rest of my junk and garbage, back into the house. I put the passport next to the phone, then get a beer.
I’ll send an email to her, and copy the other two.
That fucking car! The stress is going to cripple me. I have to do something about it.
I’m feeling a bit better. I roll another, and take it outside with my second beer.
Yeah, that’s even better. If only I could get a hotter, steadier stream out of that suicide shower.
The sunset is tantalizing, deep pinks and flaming oranges along the cloud bank above the Nicoya Bay; maybe it will be fair tomorrow.
The phone is ringing inside. I butt out the last of the smoke and hustle in.
It’s Eileen. We’re trying to figure out how she can get the passport. Getting up to Palmira is complicated, but, I could leave it at the tourist office! Yeah, that’s it.
I give her the numbers. She can arrange to get it directly with them. She’s happy and grateful, thanking me profusely.
After she hangs up, I call Tom, and speak with him about the passport. As usual, he seems genuinely happy to get the opportunity to help people.
[i]. “They” is used here as a singular, non-gender specific pronoun
[ii]. “Theirself” non-gender specific