The title of this post may be what my new book title becomes. It is one of the most common phrases I’ve heard since arriving. But it’s not exactly said in a warm and welcoming way, it’s instead said in a funny, sarcastic way. Other suggested book titles have been: “Real Life in Costa Rica”, “The Real Costa Rica”, “The Downsides of the Rich Coast”. All would totally fit into how this last month has been for me, adjusting to life here on the Rich Coast. I’m not complaining, I knew there would be a lot of red tape, and all I can do is laugh at it and go about my day.
The latest was on Friday when I rented a car ($130) and had planned on spending the day in Liberia. Since I still don’t have my cell phone from the States and I really feel much safer having one, I decided to buy a cheap one in a shop called Gollo in Villa Real, before going to Liberia. The cheapest one they had was $64. I then needed a “pre-pago chip” (pre-paid simcard). The store did sell them but I was told their internet was not working so they couldn’t give one to me as they weren’t able to set it up.
Since I was going to Liberia, I decided to go to the Gollo there. The two Gollo’s I visited were both just a little larger than a 7-11 and have all kinds of electronics and large and small appliances. It’s amazing how much stuff they can fit into one small store.
Driving in Liberia can be equated to driving in San Jose, only on a much smaller scale. But it’s still chaotic. It was 10:30 but there were tons of people and cars in the streets (why aren’t these people working!?). I found the Gollo (gracias a dios for my GPS) but the only parking was next to a yellow curb. I noticed that there were lots of other cars parked in the same area, next to a yellow curb, and there were no signs so I thought, I guess I can park there. Later I’d find out that parking next to a yellow curb is like parking next to a red curb in the States. Fortunately, nothing happened to my car.
In Gollo, I asked for a pre-pago and the man went into a back room. When he returned he told me that the woman who sells them was not here and he wasn’t sure when she was returning. I know you can buy these chips in many places so back in my car, I tried to search for ICE (the electrical company in Costa Rica who is the primary distributor) on my GPS. But it couldn’t find ICE. There were lots of police officers around so I asked one and he tried to give me directions but it seemed very complicated. So I asked him where else could I buy a pre-pago and he sent me to Jimbo, a grocery store.
Now at Jimbo, I asked for a pre-pago and the woman said I’d have to go to ICE. But she pointed to a store in the shopping center and I walked over towards where she pointed. I found the store (although it was a Kolbi, not ICE – which is the same thing but Kolbi’s only sell electronics and ICE is the actual electrical company) but when I approached the woman and (in Spanish) asked her for a pre-pago, she shook her head and motioned her hand towards the door, like I needed to leave – she didn’t want to deal with me. She wouldn’t even speak to me and barely looked up from the magazine she was reading!
But across the courtyard was a Movistar and I knew they also sold pre-pagos. And fortunately, the man at the counter was very nice and sold me a chip ($6) and put it in my phone. Success…I now had a working phone. And it worked fine…until I got home to Tamarindo. It turns out Movistar chips don’t work in Tamarindo. Only Kolbi/ICE chips.
So then I went to the Supermercado 2001 as I remember people buying chips there and it was near the hotel. But they only do recharges and she sent me to a store next to Subway (yes, sadly, Tamarindo has a Subway and a TCBY). However, like the Gollo earlier that morning, that store’s internet was also not working and the man there told me to go to the Automercado. However the Automercado only does recharges as well and they sent me to ICE in Huacus. Which is where I finally got a Kolbi/ICE chip and when I returned to Tamarindo, I still had a signal (or “sign” as the Tico’s call it).
It was about half a day (not including travel time to Liberia) spent trying to get a cell phone and a simcard and when I told the story to a friend later that night, she said, “Superb…1/2 a day is almost record time…Welcome to Costa Rica!!”