The efficiency of paradise


This is a little long story about Easter week.

It is also a story of the prise one has to pay to live in paradise.

Most of all it is a story about idiots.


The story begins on a Friday before Easter.

As I have told before we have got a new family member, named T-Rex. The mission was to extend the legal documents for her by crossing the border to Nicaragua for a few days. We later found out that this is not possible if you do not stay out of the country for 6 months or more.


Naively we still drove up to the border to try, if it did not work, at least we got a few good surf-days in San Juan del Sur out of the trip.

We thought.


To get our passports stamped with exit stamps went smooth. Then we were asked to turn around in order to get the car-papers stamped. Obviously this was handled by another office than the passport stamps.

After some time we found the office. Que.


After a long discussion regarding the tourist import papers being in the previous owners name the first shock came. We were not allowed to drive the car in the country.

At all.

Keyes were taken and our dear lovely T-Rex was put in the impound lot.

No problem though, we were told.

Just come here with the previous owner tomorrow morning and it will all be fine.


The fact that T-Rex at this point were our home and contained all our earthly possessions including our bed for the night seemed to be a totally irrelevant point to the customs staff.


We were forced to check in at the "cabinas" at the border. A shack in the words true meaning, walls threatening to cave in at any second, ants all over the floor, electrical wiring sticking out here and there from walls and ceiling, leaking toilet and a hose for shower. The madras were only marginally thicker than the sheets covering it and if one did not lie down straight away there were severe risk of falling through the floorboards of the bed.

The price of this cockroach Hilton?

$20- on par with any AC-equipped hotel room with pool access and ocean view balcony anywhere else in the country.

Supply and Demand in true play.



Saturday morning at 06.00AM we tell our story to a local cab-driver who kindly agrees to drive us all the way to the previous owners house for a greatly reduced fee. We arrive and wake up J, the previous owner of T-Rex, K, his Nicaraguan girlfriend wife, L, his 6yearold autistic son, and U, the housemate who is kind enough to lend us his truck. Without much further ado we are off.


Back at the border we are passed from one customs officer to the next. We wait, we tell our story, we get help with translation from K, we get sent to the next person, and is back at square one.


Finally, after a good 5 hours of waiting and being shoved from one person to the next we are shown in to someone that is supposedly some sort of boss. We suspect that the only reason that the person in question has this title is due to threats to either eat or sit on anyone who objects with him. Without so much as a look at us he waves us away, saying "lunes, lunes" repeatedly (meaning Monday).


We emphasise the fact that this is our one week holiday and that we LIVE in the truck they without apparent reason has impounded, and that we have complied with every instruction given to us, including dragging the previous owner and his whole family half way across the region on his day off to get this problem solved.

The obese man shoots us a look like we were the bastard children of two scabby street dogs and says without effort to hide the sarcasm; "I guess you have to buy a Motel then"... He then returns to his papers and refuses to answer us any more.


J, K and U are nothing short of angles and puts us up on their living room floor for the weekend, taking us along for what turns out to be a fantastic kite-surfing weekend, gives close to free lessons in the sport and lends us anything and everything we need to compensate for our "stolen" stuff.



(click to enlarge)


Monday morning 07.30AM we are once again back at the border, autistic son and all, making a new attempt.

The first information we get is that everyone we would have to speak to, pay, or see, in order to get the truck back spent a very calm day at the office on Saturday, having all the time in the world to process our matter, had the fat idiot just felt like pointing us in the right direction.

Great start.

We are then shoved from one desk to the next, forced to employ an import agent, an attorney as well as pay the import tax of the truck immediately. (Despite the legal documents being valid for a good week more. )


The truck must then be imported in J's name, which for some unexplained reason nullifies a suggested fine of $500 for me driving the vehicle without permit. This does however adds another two visits to the attorney, including a legal transfer fee of $70, and additional paperwork. We run from office to office, person to person, all the while with L picking at peoples desks, the heat driving us mad and conflicting information is given to us constantly.




At 4PM we pay the import tax on the 17 year old, slightly rusty truck; a whopping $2,400, almost 100% of the value of the truck.


An hour later we are once again called in to the customs office where our import agent pretends(?) to argue in our favour over a matter of the model of the truck. We are told that the "standard" model of the T-Rex does not exist in the Costa Rican vehicle-database. The very same public online database that we several times consulted during the day to determine the tax amount.

The "semi-full" version does however exist. At a premium of an additional $400.


We are, after straight-out offering the chief of the customs office $100 cash to solve the problem, told that sure, we can, in fact, import the truck as "standard".


All we have to do is take pictures of the truck, send ALL technical data, including engine manufacturing codes and factory information to San Jose and thus "create" the "standard" category that supposedly now mysteriously does not exist.

The process time of this is estimated to between one and three months.

During which time we OBVOUSLY can not use the truck.

I hint a smile in the face of the custom officers face as we realize that our only chance of getting the truck back is to pay the made up fee.

So we do.


At three minutes to five the chief of customs comes out, tells us it is all taken care of, goes back in to the office and comes out a little later, not saying a word, turning the corner and picking up his pace. As we follow to get a proper confirmation his steps turn into an outright run and at the backside of the office he jumps into an idling awaiting car and speeds off.

I guess this is normal behaviour of the senior officor of the customs office here in paradise...


As our customs agent appears some time later we are suddenly very short of time and has to sign the dotted line and run over to the impound lot with some 20 pages of supposedly legal documents in different copies and piles to get the truck back before the station closes for the day. (That the station on Friday night were open five hours longer than on a Monday seems strange to no-one but us.)


We are told that we will have no problem with the police and will not have to do the technical inspection until a few days after Easter week.



I avoid looking at the papers too closely as all chiefs at this point has fled the office and drives away from the customs office of what is described as the most evolved and developed country in Central America.


Does any of you want to bet any money of what the truck finally got taxed as?

"standard" or "semi-full"??


I hope you had a nice Easter holiday for those extra $400 Mr. Chief of Customs.


Now I just fear what else than engine number they have left out of the documentation to create problems for us at the next stop in the import process of this wild west of this bureaucracy infected, complicated, illogical system... My guess is that we have another 4 days and hundreds of dollars ahead of us before we are done with the tax papers..



At night we did our best to help J out to fix and service his motorbike and left relived and a little guilty late Monday night, knowing that they would all have to go through the whole process again tomorrow in order to get his motorbike to Nicaragua for the holidays..



[the week then continues and we have a wonderful time without bureaucracy-hugry idiots]

(click to enlarge)



As we arrive back to our exit of the "highway" after a fantastic end of the holidays we are waved in by a traffic police. The American plates on our car sparks a light in his eyes like a child before a Christmas tree.

We show him our new papers.


We are not allowed to drive the car, AT ALL, before inspection and national plates are taken care of.

We try everything, including a lot of references to the prestigious institute where I study and mentioning of a imaginary lawyer that has booked us an appointment with the inspections. We are told we would have to tow the truck to inspections and then find storage for it while waiting for the national plates to be done.

(All of which I suspect to be complete lies)

A long while of broken Spanish later I try to steer the conversation to alternative solutions of the problem. He tells me how much problems TOURISTS cause by complaining of corruption and causing problems for him and his colleagues.

I outright ask "how much".

He sais it's up to me so I reach for whatever spare cash I have (less than $16) and he walks away without a word.

I guess little has changed in the real world here in paradise..



As we arrive back "home" we find that the guarded community we live in has had burglars for visit over the holidays and two of our friends have lost their fairly expensive new lap-tops.

Not strange since almost every door on the residential buildings can easily be opened by any amateur with a screwdriver..

Still sad for our friends who feel so unsafe that they decide to terminate their stay and return to their respective country. Will miss them dearly.


To the institutions defence security is beefed up around the house in question, an intermediate fix is applied to the door (hardly increasing the difficulty of entry, but still) and rumours of full compensation for the lost lap-tops circle the campus.


A week after the incident no official announcement has still been made from the institution.



Tags; Import a car to Costa Rica, Study abroad, bribes, corruption, taxes, bureaucracy,








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