Showing posts with label living in Grecia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label living in Grecia. Show all posts

Monday, June 2, 2014


I had several errands to run in downtown Grecia. I found a parking place on a side street and parallel parked with the help of a Watchiman (or Guachiman or Cuidacarro) one of many mostly older gentlemen who guard your car while you’re shopping. Watchimen, wearing official-looking Day-Glo vests, work for tips. (Realtor Ivo Henfling wrote a comprehensive article about Los Guachimanes click here.) The first two times I’d parked, I’d thought they worked for the city and I didn’t tip them. I know better now and have begun tipping between 500 and 1000 colones ($1-2), depending on how long I’m going to be.

Watchiman from Ivo's Blog
After about an hour of walking around town, loaded down with two large shopping bags, I returned to my car, only to find a flat tire. Before I even opened the way-back, I knew I wouldn’t find the lug nut wrench.

(A few months ago, we took our artist friend/neighbor and his monoprinting equipment down to the art festival in San Jose. Right before we arrived at the festival, he slapped his forehead. “I forgot the handle!”
Mi esposo Paul, always one to think on his feet, said, “You should be able to use our lug nut wrench.” He was right. The wrench made a perfect handle and our friend was able to do his demos. He promised to return the wrench once he got back to Grecia the next day. He didn’t. And we forgot to remind him.)

In the car’s way-back, not only was there no wrench, the jack was missing too. Then I thought back to a noise I’d heard several weeks earlier. I’d fallen asleep reading in bed and was partially awakened by what sounded like a car door opening and shutting outside of the bedroom window. The next morning, I asked Paul, “Did you open the car door sometime last night?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, I was sure I heard the car door open and close. I must have dreamed it.”

We didn’t think to check the car. We are really terrible about locking the car door; we rarely locked our cars in any of the places we lived in the states, so we never developed that habit. And because where we live now is basically a dead-end rural road, it didn’t seem that critical. But we’d heard that a few of our neighbors on the main road had had their jacks stolen recently. Apparently we had too. (Note to future thieves: we now lock our car -- mostly -- and we almost always take the keys out of the front door when we go to bed. So if you come to steal our new jack and the car is locked and the keys aren't in the front door, try again tomorrow.)

So now I was facing a flat tire with nothing available to fix it. The Watchiman seemed to think that a teenager who lived on the same street might be able to help. He couldn’t. So the Watchiman and the teenager and I walked a down the block to a lumber shop. The lumber guy couldn’t help either. A young man pulled up in Toyota Corolla. The Watchiman explained my dilemma. “I think I have a jack,” he said. In English. My day was looking up. Currently my Spanish works best at the butcher shop or the farmer’s market. I’ve focused my studies on grocery shopping, not car repairing.

Toyota Corolla guy dug around in his trunk and pulled out a Toyota Corolla-sized jack. We walked back to my vehicle, a Subaru Forester SUV. Toyota Corolla guy pumped the little jack all the way up. About four inches remained between the top of the jack and the bottom of the car. The jack was just too small. Moments later, the Toyota Corolla guy flagged down another guy in a shiny red Suzuki SUV. The Suzuki guy, who wore an official Municipalidad de Grecia shirt, had a much more substantial jack and it worked. Soon Toyota Corolla guy (whose name was David) was jacking up my car.

I hated to play the part of “helpless female” but all I could do was sit on the stoop of a small restaurant and watch.

The Suzuki guy stood on the sidewalk with the Watchiman. They watched.

The teenager who lived on the block watched.

Various neighbor-ladies watched. From a polite distance.

David removed the nuts on the tire. He tugged at the tire. It wouldn’t come off. He whacked the tire with the Corolla jack and it finally loosened. David rolled the flat tire over to me, pointing to a large nail head in the treads. “Well, that’s your problem,” he said.

“You are my guardian angel,” I said, all helpless female.

David picked up my spare and tried to line it up with the bolts. The car wasn’t jacked up high enough for the spare. The jack was pumped to its limit. So David sent the teenager down to the lumber shop for a block of wood. The teenager came back and David lowered the car and slipped the block of wood on the jack, re-jacking the car up. He tried to line up the spare on the bolts again. Still too low. He sent the teenager back to the lumber shop for more wood. The teenager came back with a meter-long piece of 2x4 with big nails sticking out of it.

David looked at me and shook his head. “Don’t cry,” he said, peering up at the ever-darkening sky, “the rain hasn’t arrived yet.” It being the rainy season and it being the afternoon when the rains typically came.

Waving the nail-studded 2x4 in the air, David spoke to the teenager in rapid Spanish that I couldn’t parse but figured it had something to do with the inappropriateness of the 2x4. The teenager took the 2x4 and headed back to the lumber shop. He returned with several chunks of wood of various thicknesses. David smiled. He turned to me, “Don’t cry,” he said for the second time. “This is going to work.”

I had no intention of crying. But I was grateful that someone who wasn’t me was handling all of this.
David slid the spare under the car and then stacked up the chunks of wood on the jack and began pumping. The parts of the jack handle that were supposed to connect to make the handle long enough were smashed in, so he couldn’t put them together. To get the proper leverage, he had to push the handle down with his foot and then pull it up with his hands. Slow going. Just as the car finally seemed high enough, the blocks slipped and the car came crashing down. Fortunately, the spare tucked under the frame kept the car from crashing to the street.

By now about 25 minutes had passed. David’s cell phone rang. He answered it and spoke again in rapid Spanish that I was unable to catch. He smiled at me, “If we’re lucky, the rain will come soon.”

 I moaned. “That’s supposed to be funny, right?” I said. He brushed the grit off his knees.

“My jeans are dirty,” he said.

“Lo siento,” I said. I’m sorry. “When you’re finished I’ll buy you a cervesa,” I said.

“Not necessary. Today you; tomorrow me,” said David. He smiled warmly. Very Pura Vida of him. 

An older man showed up, cigarette dangling from his lower lip. Without speaking, he took the little Toyota Corolla jack, grabbed a stack of wood blocks and slid everything under the back of the car. He laid down on the asphalt and carefully placed his lit cigarette on the ground next to him.

Now all I could think about was: there is a lit cigarette smoldering beneath my gas tank.

The little jack had a crank handle. Cigarette guy had to manipulate the crank handle from his position on the ground. It was very awkward. While he was doing that, David began re-pumping the larger jack. So now there were two guys pumping my car higher and higher. And one lit cigarette under the gas tank.

With both jacks holding the car up, David rolled the spare over again. This time it aligned perfectly with the bolts. “Not raining yet,” he said, turning to me with a grin.

Cigarette guy slid out from under the car, picking up the remainder of his smoke and replacing it on his lower lip.

“Gracias, muchas gracias,” I said. He nodded almost imperceptibly.

With the spare on, the guys picked up their various tools and wood blocks. I gave David a hug and slipped a 20 mil note into his hand. “Cervesas para todos,” I said.

“Forty-five minutes,” he said. He looked up at the sky. “No rain yet. Now,” he said, “drive very carefully and get your tire fixed right away.”

I thanked all the guys again and got into the car. I pulled away, blowing kisses to my guardian angels as the first big plops of rain hit my windshield. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

THE BUS INTO TOWN: Part 3, The Detour by Marilyn

This morning I had an appointment at 9 with Dr. Juan in Grecia. So I went up to the top of our road to get the 8 o’clock bus.
At the bus stop was one of my neighbors. After some uneasy, smiling silence (I really can’t wait to be able to speak in actual paragraphs in Spanish), she asked me if I had any “chicos” and I said “dos” and then she asked me if “estan vivienda aqui” and I said “no” and she shook her head sadly. We again fell into uneasy, smiling silence. If Paul had been with me, he would have found a way to continue the conversation – I tend to freeze.
The bus came and my neighbor smilingly ushered me to board first and I smilingly ushered her to board first. While we were miming “after you …” “no, after you …” and neither of us was getting on the bus, a young woman carrying a little girl started down the bus steps and handed the child to my neighbor – along with a teddy bear and a bag of clothes. Ah, I was getting it! My neighbor was the abuela of the little girl and she was babysitting. So after I realized my neighbor was staying behind, I boarded the bus, waved goodbye to my neighbor and her granddaughter and the bus continued down the mountain.
Until about 500 meters from where I had boarded. The bus stopped. At first I thought the driver was just stopping for more passengers, but no one boarded. The driver had the bus door opened and was talking to some men. People on the bus started standing up and looking out the front window. A truck was blocking the road. I thought it may have broken down as it was backing up and was now stuck. Of course, because I didn’t understand any of the conversations, it turned out I was dead wrong (I also can’t wait until I am able to comprehend actual paragraphs in Spanish).
The bus driver turned the engine off and we just sat there. He made a phone call. He talked to the guys that were standing around the truck. After about 10 minutes, he restarted the engine – but he began backing up the mountain. Rapidly. This is a very large, heavy duty Mercedes bus. Have we mentioned in previous blogs that the roads are narrow and have no shoulders? I looked out the window in amazement as we continued zooming deftly up the mountain – backwards. Finally, the driver pulled off on a small side road and turned the engine off again. This was getting interesting.
After a few minutes, his cellphone rang. When he finished the call he started the bus. We made our way down a much narrower and winding side road. At each hairpin turn he’d slow the bus to a crawl. This road was just a bit more than one car in width, so the bus took up the entire road and then some. The “then some” did not include any shoulders, because there were no shoulders, only deep drainage ditches.
We wound our way down to the river. I’ve noticed that most bridges on Costa Rican side roads are even narrower than the road leading into them. Another thing is that the bridges are often at the base of a “U” in the road. This means that you have to stop on your side of the bridge and make sure that no one is coming down the other side. You can’t tell if someone is coming down the other side until you’re right at the bridge. So there we were, stopped at this narrower-than-the-narrow-road bridge and on the other side, an SUV was stopped facing us, taking up the whole road.
I looked out the window. The non-shoulder of the road that was parallel to my side of the bus dropped about 20 feet straight down to the river. I decided to concentrate on the lovely tropical foliage that we would be crushing should the bus roll down the embankment. Meanwhile, the SUV backed up off the road and onto a front yard to enable the bus to pass. The bus driver beeped a thank-you and we crossed the bridge (I held my breath for everyone on the bus, just to be safe) and headed up the other side of the narrow, winding road until we came to the main road again.
Above us on the main road, a barricade had been put up. Several very large trucks were parked on the part of the road that we hadn’t been able to drive on. There were no detour signs, just the barricade. In other words, if you live here, you should know how to take the detour without anyone telling you. I still didn’t know what was going on.
The rest of the trip was uneventful except for the careening down the mountain part. We were about a half hour later than normal. I’ve never experienced our bus being anything but exactly on time. To make up for some of the lost time, the driver gunned the engine going down the mountain between stops. Amazingly we made it to town unscathed.
After my doctor’s appointment, I boarded the bus to go home.
As we made our way up the mountain, the bus driver stopped the bus and started beeping his horn across from an auto repair shop. Eventually, a young guy in work clothes strolled down the repair shop drive and walked up to the bus window. The bus driver gave him a box with an auto part in it. They chatted for a bit. Then we moved on.
I have now noticed several of these informal transactions – like the child being handed off to her grandma. Once a tiny, elderly woman stood by the side of the road at a bus stop. When the bus driver stopped, he reached down near the front seat and picked up a box of plants. He got off the bus and handed the plants to the woman. Another time, the driver stopped and a woman went up to his window and handed him what looked like his lunch. And then there was the time that the bus driver stopped the bus next to a large garage, left the bus and disappeared into a side door. He reappeared a few minutes later, hopped back on the bus and drove on.
(I love every one of these events. I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel like I’m truly part of a community. At this point it’s a community with whom I can’t communicate with very well – except for lots of smiling. But it feels very real.)
After the auto repair shop, the ride was uneventful until we reached the Bienvenidos a El Cajon sign, which is about a half-mile below our road (Echo Way, or Calle Eco). The barricades were still there. I could see that workers were pouring asphalt. The bus driver pulled into the side road and I thought he was going to take the same detour – just going in the other direction – that the earlier bus driver had, but instead of continuing down the side road, he turned the bus around and faced back down the mountain toward Grecia. He said something and all the passengers stood up. We were getting off the bus!
Everyone started trecking up the mountain through the freshly poured asphalt. A young man came up beside me. “We have a long walk home, don’t we?” he asked in perfect English.
“Good exercise!” I replied, determined to appear happy with this turn of events. I was regretting wearing my clogs instead of my sneakers.
“The driver told me to tell you that we had to walk the rest of the way,” he said.
“I figured that part out when we all got off the bus and started walking,” I said, adding, “your English is very good.”
He smiled brightly. “Thank you,” he said, “I study in Grecia.”
“I’ll be starting Spanish lessons tomorrow,” I said. “I’m Marilyn.”
“I’m Jason. Maybe we could practice with each other,” he said.
“That would be great.”
“You live in Jenny’s house?” he asked.
“Yes, are you related to Jenny?” Nearly everyone on our mountain is related to Jenny.
“We have been neighbors for many years,” he said.
We continued to plod up the mountain – the steep, steep mountain. Chunks of asphalt were sticking to my soles. I took the last sip of water from my thermos. I would have really liked to stop and rest at the bus stop in front of the church, but all the other passengers seemed to be keeping up the same pace and several of them looked a lot older than me.
Shortly after we’d passed the upper barricade where the road construction began, a white car pulled up. I recognized the woman in the passenger’s seat as one of the people who’d been on the bus. The driver looked just like her, except that he was a man and about 20 years younger. Had to be her son. Jason walked up to the car, said something, and then turned to me. “Do you want a ride the rest of the way?”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful!” I said. We climbed in the back seat. As we roared up the mountain, I thought I could have easily hiked the whole way, but this was much, much better. They dropped me off at the top of our road and I “muchas gracias-ed” as they rumbled away.