Worst Vacation Ever
tomorrow we may lose our bus...
We made it back to town yesterday and boarded the bus for san jose. It turned out to be first come first serve despite the fact that we bought tickets the day before, but we were among the first in line and make the cut. My fever had broken overnight thanks to a few rounds of costa rican drugs...but im still worse for wear and the ride was tedious.
We got off the bus and taxi'd directly back to Margaritas, where we stayed before leaving a year ago. Finally a few hours of rest and comfort!
We woke up early and had a driver waiting so we could start crossing items off our list early. As you may recall from earlier posts, our only reason for returning to CR now is that in a few days our vehicle will have been here for a year (meaning that the government can impound and auction E off at will). We have to renew our permit, get E running and drive away, only to return the next day and start the process over. Sounded easy enough.
First stop was INS, which luckily was open this time. We pulled our number and waited in line...basically the costa rican DMV. We approached the window, explained our situation and were on our way. Step 1 successful!
We then went back to the almacen fiscal where E has been waiting for almost a year. Rather a sad sight covered in a thick layer of dust, and while we couldn't see well in the darkness of the garage it appears we may have some mold and a lot of other work to do. In hindsight we would happily jump at that worklist.
We got the document from the aduana (customs) upstairs, and removed our dead battery before taking off. Step 2 success! Its barely 9am and we are feeling good about things. All we need is the final customs papers releasing our vehicle and we'll move onto getting E running (which had been our biggest concern thus far).
This was the end of our good news for the day.
Maybe its bad karma for our attempting to sell the bus a few months ago. Maybe its because we were dreading this trip- or maybe we sensed all along what was coming...but things began unravelling quickly. We ended up sitting at the aduana for several hours. First one problem then another. Apparently a document didn't get plugged into the computer appropriately upon our departure... meaning our vehicle permit had expired months ago. You've got to be kidding.
Not a problem he explained, you simply have to pay the fees and sign a letter (that he wrote for us in spanish) canceling the permit officially. Then, we simply request a new one and hope they grant it. We fought this because it would leave us without any formal ownership, but they reassured us that as soon as we signed they would setup a new one. We finally caved and signed the doc...only for them to find another problem. When we arrived last week Immigration at the airport gave us only 12 days in costa rica, and he is unable to accept our request for a new permit without a 90day visa.
We have yet to find why this rule exists, but we talked to everyone in the office and nobody would complete the transaction (nor explain why).
As directed, we returned to the airport immigration to ask for a visa extension. They cannot. We head into downtown san jose for the main office of the immigration. We arrived at 1pm...they, of course had closed for the day at noon. Fair to say, at this point our stress is growing rapidly. Im still working at maybe 15%, but jen was amazing in her willingness to talk to person after person despite unwillingness or inability to fully understand our spanish or our dilemma. She simply refused to take no for an answer.
We finally get someone to call someone else, and while he can't help us today, he explains that if we collect a list of paperwork, turn it in and pay 200USD that they might be able to give us an answer (yes or no) about our extension within 5 days . We scramble around knowing that 5days is too late to save the bus but hoping that once our documents are together we can press the timeline. Passport copies, official passport photos, an official extension form and a properly worded explanation (in spanish) of why we we're worthy of the extension. We were lucky enough to accomplish all without further driving, but even as we tried to turn the documents in (prior to the deadline he gave us of 3:30) we learned that he had already departed and the banco had closed.
For the first time we actually started feeling defeated.
We made it back to our hotel after battling a traffic jam (of course) and i watched jen break down as we explained things to margarita. I can remember many a frustrating day spent at mechanics and border crossings, and sometimes both in a day- but this is the first time i can recall our travels bring her to tears.
Margarita loaded us up into her car and took us back to the airport, hoping that perfect spanish would change the outcome. Andres, who works at the Almacen Fiscal and who helped us with all the paperwork last year later showed up to explain things further from his end. The answer is still "no".
Our options are bleak. Certainly we will be at the main immigration office first thing tomorrow in hopes of a different answer, but 5 days leaves us no better than we are. One suggestion is to board a bus for nicaragua or panama, hope they let us back in same day and hope that (despite our return flight still being for the 24th) that we can talk them into granting us a 90day permit. That option holds little promise for us, especially because of stories we've heard of other travelers not being able to return for 3 days (meaning we miss both our window to save E and our return flight). In my current state the idea of loading a 6hour each way bus ride sounds like a death sentence.
The other option outlined is to pay $500 in taxes to the aduana, which would begin a process of "freeing up" the vehicle, but may take 10-15days. Essentially, this option is to hope that our vehicle isn't auctioned off before we return. Even less attractive, especially given the stories of corruption we heard today.
We finally return to the hotel after dark. We are defeated, exhausted and starving. A full 11 hours after our day began with no stops for food or rest. At this point we feel as though our odds for getting the bus back in our name are slim to none...and the timeline is anything but in our favor. We keep telling ourselves that it's going to be fine, or that worse case scenario its just stuff. But honestly, its not easing either of our thoughts. Take our mini...we'll happily give it up, but E's family. At the very least a symbol of something we worked so hard on for so many years and a symbol of who we are. The very thought makes me sick to my stomach.
At this point i would happily break our rules and jump on any clearcut bribe that led to a certain yes rather than another no. We wont let go without a fight, but so far we feel like were fighting with both hands tied behind our back.