While it was a long travel day from our summer home (a rented room behind a friend’s garage) back to our last Central American stop in San Jose Costa Rica, we made all our connections, met many new friends, and even got all three of our bags back, totally intact. It was a very successful day.
We felt bad for not sharing the same excitement others would show when we explained we were headed to Costa Rica. Of course we appreciate the gift we’ve been given in our life with this opportunity, but stereotypically rainy Portland is smack in the middle of beautiful fall weather, while all of Central America is deep into rainy season. More than the weather though, we were apprehensive about the looming adventures in bureaucracy in store for us.
We left our truck in a government bonded storage lot four months ago. This allowed us to suspend our temporary import permit, which is only good for 90 days, and be sure it would be safe and secure under the watchful single eye of a very sweet black lab puppy and a small army of elderly men armed with billy clubs. Arriving back in Costa Rica meant navigating a small maze of government offices in our (very) rusty Spanish to collect the correct papers, in the correct order all leading up to the single paper (our new import permit) that would convince the storage lot our truck was free to go.
Just to spice things up, we began our attempt on Friday am. The secure storage our truck was in closes at 4pm on Friday’s and doesn’t open up again until Monday. If we somehow failed to get our papers in order before 4pm, we’d be hotel bound until the following week.
We started our day our with an excellent, hearty breakfast tipico breakfast from our hotel, chatted with our internet and now real life friends Driven To Wander who surprised us at our hotel with the same mission, and ordered up our first Uber of the day.
Uber Ride #1, 8:01-8:36 AM. (Tamy)
First order of the day, purchase government mandated liability insurance for our truck. We were worried about this step, as Okan (Driven to Wander) had been met with confusion and resistance the day before while undertaking the same task. Despite our apprehension and a busy office, we found it to be well staffed and very organized, with an automated number draw system and fast, knowledgeable staff. Everything went smoothly so $22 and about 45 minutes later we were ordering up our second Uber with our fresh Costa Rican liability insurance in hand.
Uber Ride #2, 9:14-9:24 AM. (Juan Diego)
Mission, obtain the elusive “Formulario Vehitur”
We were warned (via an excellent guide written up by Freedom With Bruno for this process) that we’d need a form from the storage yard called the “formulario vehitur” before heading over to the aduana to renew our import permit. They had made the mistake two years ago and had to make an extra run back to the Terminales Unidas (the storage place) to get it. Being smart, well researched (read: lazy and boring) we headed straight there from the insurance office to ask about it. Once there, however, they simply told us we’d need to go to the aduana first, counter to what we’d been told. We asked, and double checked with them, but they assured us the aduana was the place to go and didn’t seem to recognize the term “formulario vehitur” when we used it. The guy seemed to know what he was talking about, and it had been two years since Bruno’s write up, so we took the information on faith and called up our third Uber of the day. On our way to the street, we passed Okan who’d already obtained his fresh TIP and was on his way into Terminales to pick up their own truck and camper.
Uber Ride #3 9:48-9:52 AM, Ricardo
Upon reaching the local aduana office near the airport, we were instructed by the kindly security guard where to wait and at which desk we’d be helped at. We waited patiently for about 45 minutes while the woman who’d be helping us worked through the paperwork of the man ahead of us in line. When she finished with him, there was a great chattering among her and several other women in the office. Lunch sacks were retrieved, purses grabbed, and desks vacated. 10:36 am. We waited around for another 15 minutes, assuming she’d be back soon, or that someone else would help us.
Eventually, another woman took pity on the two quiet gringos and asked us what we were trying to do. We explained that we were just there for a new TIP and she informed us the woman who did that had just left and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon. What time? Maybe one. Maybe two.
At this point we left the office to find something else to do for a couple hours, but there really wasn’t much around the airport. We made the decision to simply go back inside and wait, looking as sad and pathetic as possible while still remaining polite, and hoping for sympathy. After only about 20 minutes of waiting, leaning against our bags on the floor, the woman who’d originally suspended our TIP four months ago took pity on us and invited us to her desk.
She began the process of issuing us our permit, and we began fantasizing about being reunited with our truck. Everything went swimmingly until she started counting days in her calendar, and then asked if we had the license plate of the truck. This was the first time we’d heard anything about needing a copy of (or the original) plate and we don’t typically carry them with us. She looked very sad, and apologized profusely, but explained that we’d need a copy of the plate and… wait for it.. the formulario vehitur since we’d been out of the country longer than 90 day.
She explained that the formulario is obtained from another aduana office located inside Terminales Unidas itself. This we knew, from the guide we’d been following, but had assumed something about the process had changed since we’d been asking about this additional form all day and had been told we didn’t need it. I think that our longer term storage is not as common as those who store under 90 days, and our Spanish was too poor to ensure we were on the right track.
The woman helping us in Aduana called “Edgar” in the satellite office and explained what we needed to him, then hung up and told us he’d be back from lunch at 1:30 and to meet him there. Oh, and to get a plate from our truck.
Getting a bit nervous about the 4pm closing time at Terminales, we called up our fourth Uber of the day.
Uber Ride #4, 12:04-12:13 PM, Jose Rodolpho
We arrived back at the storage facility an hour and fifteen minutes before Edgar had said he’d return, hoping maybe he’d still be there. He wasn’t. We decided to split up. While Taylor waited for Edgar’s return I struck out into the yard in an attempt to steal my own licsence plate off my truck. A little pleading and a lot of documents proving who I was (the security is actually pretty legit) I was allowed into the yard to be reunited with our home for the first time in months. Everything looked good, but I was on a mission so I quickly removed our front plate and met up with Taylor in hopes that Edgar had returned early. He hadn’t. Taylor had made friends with a very nice, but also very frustrated Sicillian man with a case of wine he’d imported as samples stuck in aduana limbo for the last two months.
We all talked wine and travel until Edgar arrived just before two. While he wasn’t able to help our new friend retrieve his wine from the warehouse, he did know exactly what we needed and proceeded to process through our paperwork while juggling an incessantly ringing phone and several other antsy Costa Rican’s in the office.
License plate and formulario vehitur in hand, we called up the next Uber, back to the main aduana office.
Uber #5, 2:16-2:22 PM, Deibys Gabriel
We arrived back at the Aduana Santa Maria, jumble of paperwork and one front license plate in hand, where we were graciously expedited to the front of the line (at this point the security guards, staff, and eternally waiting customers were aware of our plight. While the paperwork process to get the tip is a bit time consuming, there were no more issues. We took the opportunity to purchase a couple fruit empanadas from a lady who gave her a lecture about carrying smaller bills in the future, and we were on our way.
Uber #6, 3:19-3:28 PM, Pablo
We clambered out of Pablo’s Nissan with 32 minutes until closing. The security guards didn’t even bother to check our identification at this point, we’d been joking together about the process all day. They simply cheered us on as we ran past them, protecting our precious documents in the now pouring rain.
There were still multiple stops, offices, and documentation checks, but everything went smoothly. Despite more waiting around, there was no more confusion and they happily took our payment, issued us a receipt, and allowed us to take our truck back.
I hooked the battery up and she started instantly on the first try. We expected everything to be musty and damp, but we found most everything to be dry and smelling a tad fresher than when we’d left it. Before setting out we’d purchased a few large chemical drying blocks from a hardware store and they seemed to have helped immensely, pulling a gallon or more of water from the air inside.
We’re now happily back on the road (despite the San Jose traffic) and are already comfortably settled back into our camper, spending some quality time with Okan, Donna, and Indigo from Driven to Wander while we all re-adjust to life back on the road.
Truck’s Obtained: 1
Empanada’s Eaten: 2
Uber’s Taken: 6
Total Uber Cost: $19.47
A BIG NOTE: As I mentioned before, we got all of our information for the storage process from Freedom With Bruno’s blog post on their experience. We found every bit of their information to still be accurate and their write-up was incredibly helpful. As long as the process was for us, without their help I can’t imagine what we’d have done. A big thanks to them and a link to their post on storing a vehicle in Costa Rica.