27 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving Day is almost here, and this is the perfect time to remind our family and friends, both near and far, that we love each and every one of you. We are so very thankful you are a part of our lives. For those of you back in the old country, we miss you very much and wish we could be with you to celebrate. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Today we are smoking a freshly brined ham to share at a Thanksgiving feast hosted by friends tomorrow afternoon. They expect 70 guests will partake in the celebration and folks will be bringing all sorts of yummy goodness, including several turkeys and all the trimmings. This is the 5th year our friends have hosted the annual Thanksgiving celebration and we are very grateful to have been included.

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Update on the new license plates

Success! After 4 failed attempts, we were finally able to place the order for the new license plates for the Subaru at our local Post Office yesterday. We made our first attempt on November 4th, and you can read the humorous tale here: Why are retired folks so darn busy?

After the ticket fine had been paid, we made three more attempts to order the plates; on the 5th, the 12th and finally on the 14th. I think the clerk at the Post Office was finally as frustrated as we were, because he said he would contact someone he knew at the Civil Registry to get to the bottom of it. The clerk said he would call us when the problem was resolved. So, we let the matter drop and waited for a phone call that never came.

Yesterday, we dropped by the Post Office to pick up our mail and check on the status of the license plate order. Low and behold, the red flag saying we had unpaid tickets no longer appeared onscreen and we were actually able to order our new plates. We paid the equivalent of $41.50 USD and walked out with a receipt. The clerk said he would call us next week when our plates arrive. Just in case he forgets to call, I think we will stop by at the end of next week, and trade out the old plates for the new ones.

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06 November 2013

Why are retired folks so darn busy? This is why!

Let’s start with Halloween, 2013. I suggested we drive to the town of San Ramon, about 45 minutes from us, to try and find the COSEVI office, and renew our Costa Rica Drivers Licenses.

A little background info: COSEVI is the Council on Road Safety, a division of MOPT (The Minsitry of Public Works and Transportation. We initially got our drivers licenses at the COSEVI office in San José, back in 2010, when we were visiting on a tourist visas. The licenses were issued with our U.S. Passport numbers as our drivers license numbers. When the law changed in 2011, a tourist could no longer obtain a Costa Rica drivers license. Now, tourists can only drive here if they have a valid drivers license from their home country, and their Costa Rica tourist visa is still valid, usually 90 days. The new law states only Costa Rica citizens and legal residents may obtain drivers licenses and the drivers license number is now the same as the citizen’s, or resident’s cédula number. (A cédula is a national identity card.)

Our licenses were due to expire in early December, but you can renew up to 3 months before expiration. So, off we went to see our local Doctora, to get a current "Dictamen Medico" (physical exam) to indicate we are both healthy enough to drive. She went online and filed the "Dictamen Medico" report electronically. Then the Doctora gave us our receipt numbers on a little slip of paper, and we were off to San Ramon.

No sooner had we reached the center of town, when we were pulled over by a Transito for a missing inspection sticker on the windshield. All vehicles must be inspected once a year and the month the vehicle is due for inspection corresponds to the last digit of the license plate. In our case, our Subaru was due for inspection back in February, 2013. It is normally my job to stay on top of these things and make sure everything gets done on time. Somehow I dropped the ball, and el Transito issued us a ticket, or Boleta, with a fine attached to it of $94 USD. El Transito explained we would be eligible for a 15% discount if we pay the fine within 10 days.

With ticket in hand, we continued on to find the COSEVI office were we had been told it was fast and easy to renew a license. We followed the instructions from a gas station attendant and pulled up at this derelict building in need of some serious TLC, but there was no one around. A couple of doors further down the street, we spotted some guys loitering around, and they assured us we were at the right place. They told us to first go to the house across the street from the COSEVI office to pay for the renewal. (Costa Rica government offices do not handle any monies. All payments for government services are handled as a deposit at the national banks into government accounts.) So we walked into this guy’s carport and found he has setup a little portable computer workstation with a printer. He is logged into the Banco Naciónal and he charges a $2 USD commission to process the renewal fees. After a payment of $24 USD, we have 2 receipts to present to COSEVI.

When we walked across the street to COSEVI, there was a gate barring our entrance, a guard came out and let us in. Next, a clerk reviewed our old licenses, cédulas and payment receipts. He explained that only el jefe (the boss) could change the drivers license number in the computer system, and el jefe was out to lunch with his boss, la jefa, from San José. It was just a few minutes after 11:00 AM and the clerk had no idea when they would return. He asked us to take a seat while he tried to call el jefe on his cell. It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes when the clerk reported el jefe and la jefa were both back and they could attend us now.

The process was pretty painless, we signed lots of documents and they made copies of our cédulas and licenses. Then we had new photos taken, had our index fingers scanned, we electronically signed the licenses, and 30 seconds later we had our new licenses in hand. Mission accomplished!

Monday, November 4th, I went to our bank account online to see if I could pay the ticket we had received on Halloween, but it wasn’t in the system yet. Yesterday, I tried again, and it still wasn’t in the system. Very strange, especially since we only have 10 days to pay with the 15% discount.

Not wanting to get another ticket for driving without our vehicle inspection, I made the appointment at the nearest inspection station to get the Subaru inspected yesterday morning. We made the 30 minute trip to the inspection station early and Subie passed with flying colors. We had the new inspection sticker attached to the windshield before we even pulled out of the inspection station’s parking lot. On our way back home we decided to take the time to get a few more things done in town.

We went in person to the bank to try and pay the traffic fine from Halloween and the teller couldn’t find it in the system. From there we hit the hardware store to pick up a couple of things we needed. Then it was off to the local post office to order license plates.

November has arrived, and with it we are due to replace our license plates on the Subaru. The government has redesigned the plates to make them much more difficult to forge and have now included a bar code on the plates with a windshield sticker. The month you can order your new plates is based on the last digit of the vehicles current license plate. Our last digit is a 2, so we have from November 1st until January 31st to get the new plates. Since everyone with a vehicle has to do this, the government has tried to make it easy, and set it up so that the new plates can be ordered at the national banks and the local post office.

Armed with Subie’s paperwork we went to the local post office, where the lines are always shorter, and filled out the forms to order the new plates. The postal clerk keyed in all our data into the system and bingo! Red Flag! The owner of this vehicle has unpaid traffic tickets… sorry can’t get new plates until all the traffic fines are paid.

Now what? John noticed that the computer screen the post office clerk was rendered from the other national bank in town, so we thought maybe the ticket is in their system, and we had just gone to the wrong bank. So, we walked over to the other bank and sat in line for a teller.

Banking is so different here…. There are rows of chairs and a set order that everyone lines up. As the person at the first chair is called to a teller window, everyone gets up and shifts over one chair. This is repeated until you get to the head of the line and it is finally your turn. Sometimes there will be as many as 40 people in line, so you get to sit in 40 different chairs. We had about 20 bank customers ahead of us, so the musical chair exercise didn’t last too long this time.

When it was our turn, the teller keyed in the ticket information and found it wasn’t in their system either. “Now what”, I asked. How does one get the ticket into the system? The teller thought it might be a good idea to go to COSEVI and see if they could help. John and I looked at each other and knew the folks in San Ramon certainly wouldn’t be setup to help with this, and the next COSEVI office was in Alajuela, a 40 minute drive back in the direction of the vehicle inspection station.

We left the bank and were headed back to our parked car, when we ran into some good friends. They invited us to join them for lunch at a local restaurant and that sounded like just the break we needed. After lunch we took off in search of the COSEVI office in Alajuela. I knew the general area of town where COSEVI is located, so it just took us a few minutes to find it.

We were sent to 3 different buildings until we finally found the folks that could assist. We were in the Transito Delegación office and this is the place where all the traffic cops report into work. The supervisor in charge called the San Ramon office and confirmed our traffic cop had actually uploaded all his tickets from Halloween. The supervisor said we would need to wait until the office staff returned from lunch, because they are the only ones that can access the ticket information in the system.

We waited about an hour and finally the woman that knows how to run the computer returned from lunch. She confirmed the ticket hadn’t been released to the banking systems and got on the phone to San José. She conferred with her colleague in San José for a few minutes and he finally asked to speak to me. He verified all the data on the ticket; John’s full name, license number, vehicle license plate, etc. Then he told me he would have everything fixed shortly. He said we could go to the bank and pay the ticket in about 5 minutes.

We decided our day had been long enough and it was time to just go home. On our way back home we stopped at a roadside vendor and bought 5 pints of strawberries for $2 USD, and I fixed us some strawberries with whipped cream for dinner. I went back online with our bank and true to the COSEVI agent’s word, I was able to pay the ticket with the 15% discount.

I’m tired and I’m going to take a nap…

How was your day??

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