Our man Diego from the Solid Car Rental company delivered a Rav 4 to us on Thursday morning. He explained that on a one-day rental we only get 150 km and when I told him we were driving to Caldera he said the additional miles would be more expensive than if we take the car for two days because then we get unlimited miles.
Ok, I said, and also requested the full insurance, which we know to do now that we don’t have our own car insurance to cover any mishaps. Nope, full insurance is only available when you rent the car for three days. But in three days we might be in Panama and we only need the car for one day to drive 200 miles and back. Why is this so complicated? In the end we took it for two days and we’ll take our chances on the insurance.
It was after 9:00 by the time we got on the road. We figured 200 miles should take us about 4-1/2 hours but by 2pm we were still slogging north on the two-lane Pan American highway, often stuck behind trucks on winding roads with rare opportunities to pass. We wanted to visit the park with the stone spheres that was closed when we drove by two weeks ago but we were afraid to take the time. The Customs office closes at four and we absolutely have to get there. Tick tock.
Somewhere between Uvita and Dominical the rental car stalled. We had run out of gas, despite the gauge reading 1/4 tank. We rolled to a stop right by a fruit stand, and the vendor called up his buddy who came right over, picked up Jack and Kim, took them to the gas station for a tiny little jerry jug of fuel, and within a half hour we were gassed up and on our way again. Tick tock.
We exited at Caldera and entered the big shipping port. At the main gate we asked the guard for “Aduana” but it took many tries before he understood what we were asking. He spoke with someone on the radio, then directed us to drive forward and something something something park. We found a parking lot and a building that looked promising but no “Aduana” sign. I jumped out and with the others fanning out in all directions I asked the only person I saw if he knew where Aduana was. It’s not here, he said, it’s in Puntarenas. He said to continue driving toward Puntarenas and when we see the hospital on the left make a U-turn and Customs will be on our right. I admit I was skeptical. While Kim looked for someone else to ask, I called Scott in Quepos. Tick tock.
“We’re in Caldera,” I said, “and we can’t find Customs.”
He told me to stay put and he’d call right back.
Jack and Sharon got the car and drove around to the parking lot entrance while I waited for a callback. In a few minutes Scott was back with confirmation. The customs office is in Puntarenas.
“Head toward Puntarenas and when you pass the hospital on your left, make a U-turn and Customs will be on your right.”
Call me crazy but wouldn’t street names and addresses be easier? Tick tock.
Twenty minutes later we parked at the Customs office and waited while Jack presented his passport and signed in, then we all marched into the office. We asked for the man Scott and the marina attorney had briefed on our situation, introduced ourselves and handed him Jack’s declaration about our dismasting and the repairs we need, the letter from the rigger detailing the repairs we need and how long it will take, the letter from the marina about the repairs we need and how long it will take and our almost-expired permit. He smiled and nodded and gave every indication that he was expecting us, took our paperwork and said he was giving it to the boss.
As we waited we asked him about places to eat and made general Spanglish chitchat. As the time ticked by I asked if the boss was granting us a mechanical extension.
“You’ll have to write down the repairs you need and how long it will take.”
My face froze. I pulled out another copy of the letters and tried to point to the parts that explained the repairs we need and how long it will take. He didn’t look at them, but said “Don’t you understand me?”
“Don’t you understand me?” I asked, and I pointed at the relevant paragraphs again and pushed the letters across the desk to him. “We have done that. That’s what these are.”
He looked puzzled, then picked up the papers and held them three inches from his eyes. Holy crap, I thought, he can’t see!
“It’s in Spanish?” he asked.
“Si,” I said, “en Español.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds as my heart sank, then he went back into the office and Jack and I moved over to sit with Sharon and Kim in the waiting area. The four of us speculated about what was happening and Jack and I tried to keep calm.
Finally, minutes before closing time a woman came out and motioned to us. She was holding our passports and boat registration and other papers and smiling. She explained in Spanish that we have an extension and pointed to the expiration date. September 23rd. One month. I gasped.
“But it’s not enough time!” I said. “Our parts haven’t even shipped yet!”
She obviously didn’t understand my English outburst, and I pointed to the part of the letter that said in Spanish that we have no mast and can’t go to sea. Jack pulled out his phone and tried to show her photos of Escape Velocity. We went back and forth a little until it became clear that she didn’t understand the condition of our sailboat, then she explained that before the expiration of this new permit we need to come back and apply for another extension and she will personally go to the boat and see for herself if it still needs repairs. This from a woman who doesn’t seem to understand what a mast is and why it might be important to a sailboat.
We understood that this was as much as we were going to get, but we also realized it was a lot. More than that, she was friendly and smiled. We no longer have to make a beeline for Panama, but it isn’t clear what our next step needs to be. We thanked her, packed up our papers and piled back into the car to look for food. We were all starving and road buzzed and needed to digest what just happened. Kim and I pored over the new permit looking for any stipulation of where the boat has to be and found none. I called Scott who asked us to send him a copy as soon as we could. Since all the government offices were closed for the day I promised to scan and email it when we got back to the boat so he’d have it first thing in the morning.
In the meantime, we learned that Scott and our surveyor Mike McCook had appealed to the insurance company on our behalf and they agreed to cover the cost of the marina when we get there. That’s huge because the marina costs more per month than our cruising budget. The big question remains, do we still need to be at the marina in Quepos by midnight Saturday night in order to comply with the new permit?
We ate lunch and started the long ride back to Golfito, but as promised we stopped at Automercado, the deluxe supermarket that has foods we can’t get in Golfito. The four of us shopped like kids in a candy store, Sharon and I systematically aisle by aisle, with Jack and Kim running back and forth looking for their favorites or hard-to-find items.
Having Sharon and Kim along on this trek, while probably not so much fun for them, was wonderful for us. For sixteen straight hours the conversation never faltered and being able to laugh and share stories proved the old adage that a sorrow shared is half a trouble, a joy shared is a joy that’s doubled. We later referred to Thursday as “bonding day” for our friendship.
The drive home seemed endless and we finally rolled up to Tierra Mar around eleven. I scanned the new permit and sent it off to Scott and we dropped into bed, exhausted, feeling a partial victory but still not knowing if we’d have to drop our mooring in the morning.