Like the last time I ventured alone into the disturbing netherworld of Costa Rican bureaucracies, by the end of this adventure (trying to get Morgan his driver's permit) I got back home wanting to cry, then choke something, with just a smidge of incredulity thrown in. Not incredulous that seeking The Final Stamp is so frustrating. That's a given, I accept that. Incredulous that I got sucked so easily into the vortex, led by the invisible (to me) ring in my nose through all manner of hoops until I was sure it was me who was unreasonable. Haha.
I swear it's like that. Go ahead, move here. You'll see.
8:15a Wednesday morning. After dropping Ryan at gym class, Morgan and I arrive at Cosevi in La Uruca, the sprawling government complex for all things driver's license. I pulled over in front of the gwatchyman (guard/watchman, the parking guy) to ask where to park. But another man immediately stepped up and asked if necesitan ayuda (do we need help)? If you don't speak Spanish, don't know the ropes and didn't bring your own helper, you want one of these guys to help, at least get you started.
Our guy directs us to a different building a little further up the road where Mo gets his documentos, blood test, and eye exam, all for just 20,000 colones. (I find out later there are several places around where you get all that done for 10,000 colones. Sigh. Si habla español, you will save so much money, trust me on this.)
By 9a, Morgan has gotten his initial paperwork from an efficient young woman at the front desk, had his blood typed* and passed his eye exam: 20/20. Ah, to be young. While Mo was in line for the eye exam, he chatted with a young woman who mentioned stopping at the bank to pay the license fee on her way back to Cosevi. We have to stop at the bank? Ok.
After the eye exam, on the way out the door, I ask Miss Efficient necesitamos ir al banco (do we need to go to the bank)? She says no to the bank, but informs us that Mo needs copies of both his passport and of the document she just gave him 20 minutes ago. I ask where can I get those copies, please? What a coincidence: she can sell me copies, we'll just need to wait our turn in her line. Again.
Now, why, after we waited in her line the first time, sat at the chair in front of her desk, gave her 20,000 colones for which she gave us the document on which she'd written Mo's passport number, which she got from – you guessed it – his passport which she was holding in her hand… why didn't she sell us copies then?
It is pointless to ask this, that much I know for sure. I assume I offended someone (been known to happen) and this is payback. I am suspicious now of any info she gives me, but will figure it out as I go along. (I'm clearly still way naive about my ability to "figure it out as I go along." Dumb may be the more precise word.)
9:30a: The Cosevi line, into the actual driver's license office, is out the door, easily a 30-60 minute wait. As we step in line, a nice guard lady walks up and asks what we need. We tell her Mo's looking to get his driver's permit (permiso para aprender a manejar). She looks at our paperwork, nods her head yes with a big smile and walks away. Good! At least we know we are on the right track. I leave Mo there and head off to get Ryan from gymnastics.
At 10:15a, Ryan and I arrive back at Cosevi just as Mo is just walking out. He does not look triumphant. Turns out, he got to the door and discovered he needs his original passport in hand. Of course, I should know this. Everyone** has to see the original passport, no matter that the first person who saw it vouched to the fact in writing on the official document. Everyone needs to see it. Fortunately, I have it. We head back to the door, skipping the line.
The nice guard lady is there, checking paperwork before people are allowed into the sanctuary. We show her the passport. She smiles, then looks at our paperwork again. Then she asks, "Donde esta su póliza de seguros y su receta del banco?" (Where is your insurance policy and your BANK RECEIPT?)
Remaining calm, I ask, "Póliza de seguros? El necesita una póliza de seguros?" He needs an insurance policy? I did not roll my eyes or mutter wtf, but it was all I could do to stop myself. Proof that I am still in control.
She smiles, "Si!" Then she explains that all drivers-in-training need this. Ok, at least this makes sense. Plus, we do need to pay 5,000 colones at the bank for the permit. I swallowed the prolonged whine at the tip of my tongue re. having asked the bank question of Little Miss Efficiency at la oficina de documentos. Still in control. "Par for the course," I tell myself. We thank Ms. Guard and head out.
Una póliza de seguros is not that simple to procure. For one thing, that's gonna be real money. And another bureaucracy. Oy vey. But at least I can do the bank – it's right around the corner.
10:40a and we are now in line at the bank. By 11a, we are in front of the teller. She looks at us expectantly (uh oh). We tell her we are here to pay for mi hijo's license (I'm not even trying to pretend I speak Spanish anymore.) She asks for the paperwork. I push it under the glass. She looks it over, then asks – you are going to love this – if he's passed the test?
"Que examen?" I ask, a smidge too loudly. She c
an see my frustration (because she's a Rhodes scholar and not because anyone in their right mind would be taking a step back from me) and patiently explains that Mo has to pass a test. I tell her everywhere we've been, we've been told something different to do. The teller nods sympathetically. I continue in Spanglish: "Like the inefficient señorita at la oficina medico?" (She nods.) "Like la guarda at Cosevi?" She nods. Because she knows. She tells me to wait, she will bring me the phone number that you call to make an appointment to take the test. She asks if we have the booklet to study. Mo says he does – we thought that was the booklet for the driving test, not for the learner's permit.
She takes our 5,000 colones, gives us the coveted receta, leaves for a moment, comes back with the phone number. She smiles nicely, confidently. We adios, feeling perhaps now, maybe, we are on the right track.
11:30a, we are back home. Actually, three and a half hours is not a bad Costa Rican bureaucratic time sink***. Mo goes to the phone and calls for an appointment to take the test. The guy on the phone asks for his cedula number, his passport number, name, phone number, date of birth, address, favorite color and shoe size. Then he tells Mo to come down to the office to make the appointment. Mo, with a sweet teenage wtf written all over his face, asks if he can't make the appointment over the phone? The guy says, "Oh, no, no hacemos citas por telefono. Usted necesita venir al oficina." No appointments over the phone, silly. You have to come to the office.
"Donde está su oficina?" Mo asks. Gets answer, eye roll, a gracias and hangs up. Where is the office? Cosevi in La Uruca, of course.
*His results say O+. I thought he was A+. While I'm waiting for Mo to have his
eye exam, I notice that the results for next three people who walk out
of the blood test say O+. Perhaps we will have Mo's blood tested again.
**This is important and worth repeating (although it didn't help me – I
forgot!) Whenever you do anything bureaucratic in Costa Rica, take
all your original documents and at least two copies of everything. If
there are pertinent stamps in your passport, make sure you copy those
pages, too. The bureaucracy will not make copies – most of them don't
have copy machines. And if there is one in that department, it won't be at your desk. It will be a few desks down and you'll have to wait in line in front of that desk, get your copies done for a small fee and come back. So be sure to bring all originals and at least two copies.
***Hal spent six hours at migración once. He arrived in the morning on time for his appointment. They said wait over there, we'll get your file and call you. Six hours later, he was told they couldn't find the file and could he come back in two days?