Through the front window of my Alajuela bus is the line of people getting on the San Jose bus. Like I had earlier done for my Alajuela bus with all ages and all walks of life waiting patiently. Waiting in line is a part of life in Costa Rica; buses, banks, post office, medical services, etc. It builds patience and patience builds character. Pura Vida! 🙂
The bus broke down on the outskirts of Atenas today and in about 10 or 12 minutes another bus was there to collect us all and on to Alajuela. We arrived 15 minutes later than expected. Not bad! In more than 2.5 years this is only the second bus I’ve had to break down and both were replaced in minutes! Our buses are on time, efficient service, nice, large and modern equipment from different manufacturers. Some are labeled “Daewood” which I think is a South Korea company, but not sure. I think others are from Europe or other Latin American countries. Affordable and efficient transportation is necessary to get people to and from work, school, shopping, and in the case of one couple I met last Saturday on the bus, to go walk in the pilgrimage to the Cartago Church.
One of our Atenas buses leaving Alajuela. Yeh, I just missed it! But there’s one every 30 minutes in afternoon.
On our Atenas Costa Rica Info Facebook Group the other day a retiree considering a move here asked the question, “Can you actually live as a retiree in Atenas without a car?” And of course a bunch of us responded that we are doing it! I’m pleased to be going on to nearly 3 years without owning a car! And the excellent bus systems in Costa Rica make it possible to visit anywhere in the country or to other countries by bus! Plus walking is good for me.
Okay, I’m moving to a new rental and they need a deposit plus first month’s rent (in other words 2 months rent) which is expected – no problem – except my French Canadian landlord wants it all in U.S. Dollars Cash! After this I can pay my rent online through my local Costa Rica bank online, but not now. So what’s the big deal you ask?
The ATM is called “Cajero Automático” or loosely translated “Automatic Cashier.” They are scattered around town and operate just like in the states except they are more security conscious and have a limit you can get out in one 24 hour period. So to get my new house keys Thursday, I need to make withdrawals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from an ATM that gives out only Costa Rica colones of course. Then after my Wednesday afternoon third withdrawal, I take several hundred thousand colones into the bank to have them converted to U.S. Dollars for the next morning event. And another interesting fact is that the largest colones bill is just c20,000, which is about $40 USD. I’m talking about big wads of money needed before I can trade them for $100 bills in dollars. Glad I feel safe and secure here!
I did go inside with the musical chairs trip to a teller and learned I can get the money all at once from my U.S. debit card at a 3% fee which I refused to pay. (I’m beginning to wish now I had paid and gotten it over with!) So I went back outside to the Cajero Automático and got my first of three installments. In the meantime, I told myself that this is crazy when I have a local bank account but still have most of my money in the credit union in Nashville. So I got the form Erik gave me from the credit union to wire a large amount of money to my Costa Rica account. Should have already done this but been busy.
So today after the second installment of cash from the ATM I went inside the bank for a game of musical chairs twice! If you missed my earlier report on the bank, you wait in line for a teller or desk agent by sitting in a row of chairs. When the next person is served you all get up and move over one chair towards the front of the line. Really! (One time I sat in 24 chairs before I got to a teller.) Well, I headed for Ricardo’s desk who supposedly speaks English and helped me open my account. He was at lunch, so I read a chapter in my Happier Than a Billionaire digital book on my phone’s Kindle App while others wondered what I was laughing about. I finally get to Ricardo and he has suddenly forgotten how to speak English. Seriously. This time he only spoke in Spanish and acted like he did not understand what I said in English. I think he misunderstood and thought I wanted to wire the money from the account here and told me I didn’t have enough. But anyway, after a bit of charades and broken Spanish from me, Ricardo sends me across the lobby to another desk where I start the musical chairs game again! I’m only number 3 in line this time, but the customer being served (who looks like a woman prison guard) has some complicated business that takes another 30 minutes while a read a couple more chapters in this book. (I’m taking a break from Lord of the Rings with something lighter and funny about Costa Rica). At least the second customer ahead of me didn’t take very long and I’m up again with another Spanish only person. “Necesito dos números por favor,” pointing to the empty spaces on the form for a Swift Code and an IBAN number. She has to take the wire transfer form back to another office and talk to someone, then returns and asks if the money is going into my colones or dollares account (Yes, I have two accounts here.) which I’m able to answer “dollares.” Then back into the office she goes and returns later with a computer printout of two numbers I can use for the transfer, so next month’s rent can be paid from my local bank account, assuming these numbers work! Whew! Another exciting afternoon! Everything’s an adventure!
But you know what? I’m learning the systems around here and even though it may not sound like it, life is simpler, more relaxed, and much more spontaneous. The birds are singing happier today it seems, maybe because of the rain. And a flock of squawking parrots just flew over! What a place!
It is also cooler since Sunday’s first rain of the season. It looked like more rain today (Tuesday) but hasn’t happened yet. And today’s laundry is already dry! 🙂 Hey! By Thursday I’ll have an electric dryer! Let it rain!
A Broader View of Atenas Banco Nacional than the last image
Okay, I go back to the bank this morning hoping the line for a cashier won’t be as long as the 37 person line on Monday. Well, it was shorter! Only 24 people! But I kept moving my little butt into all 24 chairs until after chair #1 it was my turn! I not only paid for the “token” (electronic device for security when using online banking, giving a new code number each time I use online) for 3,000 colones (sorry I said 300 yesterday) which is about $6. But I also made a deposit of a check received from Nashville for the sale of my dining room table and chairs. Finally! AND I paid my electric bill which was the equivalent of $32 that included using the a/c in my office almost every afternoon. Not bad!
Then I get in the shorter musical chairs line to see Ricardo (7 chairs this time). When I finally get to him with my little receipt for the electronic token thing he is supposed to give me now, he says, “Oh, you were suppose to log on to your account first and create your secret password before I can give you your token.” (No one told me that and I didn’t know how or even the web address.) I tell him, “I don’t know how.” (He speaks broken English but better than my Spanish!) Then he says, “Oh, I will help you.” He leaves the other people waiting and goes to the public computer and logs me into my account where my ID # is my passport # and a bunch of other IDs and address and email, then their secret code I got when opening the account and then a place for me to create my personal secret code. Thieves beware! I’ve never seen so much security! Once that is finished (he had left to help other is the line) I go back and I am 4th in line this time, hoping he didn’t decide to break for lunch before me, like yesterday.
Finally I am back to Ricardo (an indispensable person for this bank) and he helps me log in my online account again on his computer to the point when the little token’s number is needed. I type it in from the token he has given me. Then he says “Wait a few seconds for a second code to go in the next box online.” Sure enough, the first code number goes away and a second one appears and I type it in. Then the account is officially set up! Everything on the web page was in Spanish, so I ask, “Is their an English page.” “No.” Oh, I’m going to have so much fun! AND, before I go online I am to call this phone number for instructions and he said there might be an English-speaker for that. My online banking could be limited for awhile! 🙂
And to think, I paid an attorney to make this process easier! Well, she did write a reference letter and introduce me to the first desk where we stayed for nearly 2 hours and got me past that one. But it is Ricardo I’ve spent the most time with since! I have a bank account here now. My primary bank is still in Nashville, but I can use my new Banco Nacional Debit Card at the Super Mercado or a restaurant! And once I learn how, I can pay my electric bill online! And once I am in the Caja, the national medical plan, I can pay my monthly fee for that online. So this account will grow more valuable for me.
Here I’m waiting in line to board a bus to Atenas from Alajuela. 23 km, 15 miles. Buses go everywhere cheaply, just don’t be in a hurry! This one is $1.43 USD, or 715 Colones, and as a “collectivo” making local stops, takes about 45 minutes. Nice vehicles, made in China, window for air & curtain to shield the sunshine. One trip I had a large package and driver put it under the bus at no extra charge.
If I go to Alajuela to pick up mail at Aerocasillas or shop at Walmart, that is one day’s activity, usually just one or two things accomplished per day. That trip is usually a half day or more if I eat lunch in Alajuela. San Jose trips can take longer and I have combined the two cities for most of a day. Below is photo of bus schedule in Atenas for Alajuela & San Jose. I have this printed and on my refrigerator to check for when the next bus leaves:
Bus Schedule from Atenas to San Jose & Alajuela. First column is Mon-Fri, Second Saturdays & Holidays, Third Sundays Most buses are packed full to standing room only. The most popular way to travel.