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  • karenleehall

September 15, 2013


A Sunday.

It is Independence Day in Costa Rica. (we can hear the school bands playing their oohm-pah-pah down in town. But by the time we put two and two together, and have made ourselves presentable to be seen in public, we get to witness the dispersal of the locals as they amble down the road on their way back home — all the festivities are done in time for lunch.)

Today is the day our car is ready for pick up. Don Melvin is our new guy. He has hosted the car for over a month waiting patiently for us to get the new part…(etc.). Don Melvin is another Cartago [local term for people from away, Cartago is an important town in the urban central valley]. I like his serious nature. I like his skill set. He’s a mechanic for large trucks, 18wheelers and the like. For Don Melvin our tank of a Toyota is a toy car. I’m always hopeful we have found someone we can trust.


We get there and the last bits are being finished. It’s mid day. Heat. Blue skies and epic cloud formations. I sit at one end of the beautifully manicured yard, the end next to the tree-filled lot next door, where there’s blessed shade.



Waiting. Nothing to read but lots to see. Something is up with the camera – newly repaired for one thing, it now appears to suffer a new problem. Christ. it’s like the car.



We leave to get diesel as it’s running on fumes. Learn that it’s also void of oil, so there’s that to do. The first place has no oil, but does accept the debit card for the fuel. We’re still charging the battery because it was sitting for that month (waiting for the part, etc., etc.)and we’re unclear as to when it will be fully charged so we keep it running. Here you can gas up while the engine still runs. Because here you can do just about anything you please. really. it’s so wild west here. everything is allowed, and there’s no one tending to the rules. I kind of love it. Until someone almost loses a finger, that is. Then it’s not fun anymore. (another story, another time.)



The second place is la Llantera La Gringa. Well, the second place has the oil, but now we’ve turned off the engine and yes, you guessed it – it doesn’t start again. After some Tom-foolery trying to push and jump start it (up hill = no go) we take a break and look at the new house being built across the street.


I take some pictures while we wait for the guy to return.





Harry gets the oil, and a jump start involving a tow (after a rather comical turning the car around through sheer force and bulging veins. this is a tank, after all.)

As we drive back to the gas station to ask for cash on the debit card to pay for the oil, Harry tells me the story of Costa Rica’s independence.

me, ” So who is Costa Rica celebrating independence from?”

Harry, ” Spain, 1821.”

He went on to explain, “Yeah, pretty much the argument was, ‘hey, there’s nothing here but headaches, so why not let us go?'”

“Some folks from the central american zones went to Guatemala to talk to the Spanish delegation there about independence. Initially putting forward this position that Spain didn’t really get much from this wild and unruly area other than problems with the Natives, they ended up simply claiming their independence. Didn’t really wait for an answer. At the time Central America wasn’t divided into the countries we know now. There were two camps as to what to do. There were those who wanted to join forces, and those who wanted to remain separate entities. Costa Rica didn’t want to join with anyone. Places like Guatemala and Nicaragua had flat lands, resources and a strong labour base – as a result there were various coups and other forceful power grabs within those territories. But Costa Rica is this wild place, with really difficult terrain, with many deadly snakes, animals, insects – that no one really fought for it. It was free to develop relatively peacefully by the rough people living here.”

And so I think again about the wild west nature of things here even now. People drive the most unroadworthy cars (us included), they may or may not pay their taxes, they definitely live and let live (except for the usual viscous gossip, but that’s everywhere I guess). People don’t worry, aren’t cautious, aren’t really rule followers, never show up on time, sometimes not a at all, and don’t sweat it when things go awry. They just laugh and roll with it. It is still going to be some time before I can really see the world through their eyes. But I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Viva la Independencia.


Originally published September 16, 2013

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