Archive for January, 2010

I´ve been riding the chicken bus

January 30, 2010

Here´s a blog entry I did here for Costa Rica Traveler Magazine on my bus rides through Guatemala this week. Keep looking for more updates.


I Went to the Bank With My Coins

January 21, 2010

Going to the bank seldom is a happily anticipated chore, but dealing with financial institutions in Costa Rica push the limits of the human existence. Long llnes, byzantine procedures and a distinctly Latin affinity for paperwork and clunky stamps form the backdrop. My foray into Citibank yesterday was no different, except that I made a lot of enemies. I brought in my coins.

There were precisely 38 people in line when I went through the door, on a Wednesday, at 2pm. Children scampered about, folding brochures titled “Withdrawing You Cash” and “Loan Options” into paper airplanes, as we adults waited nearly motionless in the curved queue, shuffling one step forward about every 69.5 seconds. I know this to be true, because it took me exactly 44 minutes to reach the counter. The two open windows, looking distant and isolated amid the ten available teller spaces, stamped and thudded papers, counted bills, tapped numbers into their computers. Up until this point, I had yet to make any enemies.

The coins. I set down my impressive collection of coins. “Hello,” I told the teller. “I have 114,975 to deposit, all in these coins. I assume you have a machine that will cont them?” I knew that these machines did not exist, and even if they did, they wouldn’t work because there are several sizes, metal types and weights for coins of the same  denomination.”Coins,” said the dejected cashier. “We must count coins by hand.”

The other teller closed up shop.

“OK,” I suggested, “how about this: I have already counted the cons, as well as separated them by denomination, each in a separate bag. Can you count them later, when the line (still 28 people long, all waiting for me and only me to complete my deposit) has died down?”

“No, they must be counted by hand, at the moment of the deposit.” She wasn’t smiling, and the crowd behind me began to grumble.

And so she poured out my five-colon coins on the counter and began: “cinco, diez, quince, veinte, veinticinco…”

I turned around and faced the crowd. Should I make an announcement? Apologize publicy? Unleash a scathing criticism of the banking practices to a captive audience? In the end, I chose an embarrassed shrug, and remained with my back to them the rest of the time.

On to the ten-colon coins: diez, veinte, treinta, cuarenta…

Hundreds of coins of twenty, twenty-five, fifty, one-hundred, five-hundred.

The total: 114,975 colones.

Deposit made, sign, stamp, clunk. “Watch out,” the teller told me as I handed back a triplicate form that said that I had deposited 114,975 colones. “The people are mad. It’s almost been an hour.”

When I turned around, I think there were 114,975 people waiting in line. It stretched out the door. Then the alarm went off, and the guards couldn’t figure out the code.

This was fortuitous, as the angry mob had another evil to discuss, and I slipped into the parking lot, into the Lesbo Rider and made my way back home.

The Monetary Dregs of My Hobo Existance

January 16, 2010

When I arrive home for the evening, I toss my spare change into a jar on my counter. When that jar gets full, I hide it and begin to fill another one. The idea is to have a reserve of metal currency that, in a pinch, will temporarily fill the void. Today that void has begun.

I have not been paid since October 15th. My business is floundering, and even though there are mildly positive prospects on the horizon, I can’t hold out much longer. My other freelance jobs have dried up. Needless to day, the bank account is dwindling. Which is why I spent the last two hours sorting and counting coins.

Why do all that manually, you say, when at the bank they have automatic coin counters? Well, I say, in your land of 24-hour electricity and cheerful waitresses perhaps you have such technological advances. But we’re talking about Costa Rica, which just imported their first Blackberrys (even though the 3G network doesn’t work yet). And yes, they do have coin sorters: they call them bank tellers. Since many coins of the same denomination are different sizes and weights, the machines don’t work too well. So I spent my afternoon counting greasy coins in hopes of making it through the week.

The result:

  • 114,975 Costa Rican colones
  • 2 Euros
  • 3.22 US dollars
  • 3 Nicaraguan cordobas
  • 10 Mexican pesos
  • .56 Panamanian balboas

Translation: I now have around $218 in cash money to keep this monkey fed. It’s all sorted out on my kitchen table, in neat bags and jars and with slips of paper detailing the amount inside, ready for the teller to verify by hand my counting when I go to the bank on Monday. My hope is that my newly counted fortune isn’t stolen in the meantime.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

January 13, 2010

There’s a large government building near my office. Today I walked past and found workers sprucing the place up with some deep-beige-colored paint all over the four-story edifice. Much to my surprise (?), however when I walked to the front of the building, which had already been painted, I saw another worker filling in cracks along the facade with a cream-colored substance. So, the newly painted building is riddled with crack-shaped, off-colored accents. Which begs the question: Why didn’t they fill in the cracks before starting to paint?