We renewed our driver's licenses last week. We both dreaded the event. Costa Rica is not known for its efficiency… In fact, remember 27 January – almost three weeks ago – when we were headed back to migración for a stamp? ONE stamp? Had everything we needed because we had already been to the correct office and gotten a list of what forms we needed? Praying for short lines? My post on that trip (not yet up because I'm suffering P.T.S.D.) is titled "I Just Want Someone to Choke." If you look up S.N.A.F.U. in the dictionary, there oughtta be a picture of Costa Rica's migración HQ. That place is seriously f—ked up. Seriously. Worse than customs at the airport.
Even thinking about going to a second Costa Rican bureaucracy in a single month gave us serious agita. We put it off as long as possible but it had to be done: Costa Rica changed its driving laws and increased the fines for driving without a current license. After you've been in Costa Rica for three months, you are required to have a local license. Then it has to be kept current… ours were expired for a year. Yeah, procrastination r us. Who knew what kinda time and headache that little detail was going to add to the task. Still, even though the job had to be done and we both knew it, it took a burst of loud, persistent nagging by one of us that managed to drag the other one out of his chair and into the car for the task.
CONSEVI (Consejo de Seguridad Vial, the Council of Roadway Safety) is in Uruca, about 15 minutes from our house. Not a long drive. At least if we got lost we wouldn't be far from home… Going anywhere new is still an adventure. If you don't get lost the first time, it's still a miracle.
To get there, take the circunvalación away from Hatillo to the end (which is Uruca). Go right at the light. Go about 1/2 mile and on your right you'll see the word "CONSEVI" painted on the side of a building. If you are lucky like we were, there is a parking space right there under the sign with a gwatchyman. (Gwatchyman is Spanglish for guard to watchy your car. Get it?)
Now, here's a phenom in Costa Rica that I suspect is the same in other developing nations. There are guys that hang around bureaucracies, waiting to be hired to interpret and guide. (Like at customs where I foolishly refused the help of the drunk guy. Sigh. Live and learn.) No different at CONSEVI: a guy timidly walked up to us and kinda stood there (he musta been new at this). We knew why he was there and were just as happy to have the help. We smiled which is like the implied contract. He started walking. We followed. So simple.
First stop is the "doctor's office" which is a block or so up the road past the CONSEVI building on the same side. You go here for the "medical exam." Like in the U.S., we call this a charade. We paid 15,000 colones ($30) each for the exam and 11,000 colones ($22) each for the new license. Fifty bucks each for a new driver's license. Maybe "charade" is the wrong word. Maybe the word I'm looking for is "racket."
The medical exam consists of answering a few questions asked by a doctor, reading one line on the eye chart and, these days, a blood test to find out your blood type. I assume this is in case you're in a traffic accident, they'll know what to pump in.
The blood test gave me pause. If you are going to get your driver's license, get your blood typed at a lab and bring the documento to CONSEVI. I knew my blood type and had been told by others that they just ask, no documento required. Well, that was yesterday. Today, unless you have the documento with you, they perform the blood test right there in that dingy, government building. It was not just a finger prick. And it was a little unnerving.
The room was clean. Trust me, I looked. In desperate need of paint like every other government building I'd been in so far. At least they don't waste tax dollars on government buildings. I prefer a poor government with prosperous citizens. Like the U.S. government, they are still working on prosperous citizens. Working on them as in doing their best to make them less so. But I digress.
We were in a tiny room off the main room. La enfermera (la in-fair-MARE-ah, the nurse) had sterile needles, cotton balls, alcohol… she looked prepared. Ok, I take a deep breath, a little reassured. She pulled off a hunk of cotton, sprayed it with alcohol… then placed it alcohol-side-down on the desk. WTF. It sat there soaking up desk-germs while she pulled off a second chunk of cotton for afterwards, got her needle and rubber thingy ready.
There have been too many times in my life when events unfolded in front of me like in a dream. Like it's happening to someone else and I'm watching. In my mind, I'm saying, "Jesus, I wouldn't let this happen to me/my child/my husband." But I do. She picked up that definitely unsterile cotton ball, swabbed my arm with it, stuck in the needle (painlessly at least) and confirmed what I'd told her. So far I'm still alive.
The doctor signs the medical form and we walk back down to CONSEVI to get the license. You walk in thru the massive gate and walk all the way back to the last office on your right. If you lived here, you would not believe what I'm about to tell you: there was no line. No line at all. No line at a Costa Rican bureaucracy does not happen ever. Ever. I guess the gods were trying to make up for the migración fiasco. They were making headway. This was sweet.
We each sat in front of a bored employee, handed over our medical form and old license. The fact it was a year expired was not mentioned. As it should be. The employee typed some stuff and told me to get my picture taken across the aisle. I did. Less than a minute later, the new license popped out and we were on our way. The whole thing took less than an hour.
The first half of the drive home was spent in silence, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We were half expecting an official car to pull us over and drag us back for all the paperwork and stamps we'd neglected to get. But didn't happen. By the time we got home, we were giddy. That was too easy. Still not going back to migración anytime soon… not unless they promise me someone to choke on the way out.