Wed 29 Oct 2008
Costa Rica is a country that relies heavily on the revenue from eco-tourism. While having lunch with Julio, the manager of the KTM motorcycle dealership in Santa Ana, we found out just how deep this revenue stream is.
Julio asked if we’d paid our eco-Tax yet. Shannon and I were confused so Julio took out a 5000 Colone note, about $10, and showed us the Toucan pictured on the bill. He then asked if we’d seen the police that stand roadside wearing white gloves. Instead of driving around in cars and stopping law breakers with flashing lights, these cops stand at traffic circles and intersections. When they see an infraction, they point at you and motion you to pull to the curb. They threaten with confiscation of your license, towing your car, and a court date a month out. Its all a game and what they’re working towards is getting you to pay a little something so you can drive away, or as Julio explained, they put their finger out, hoping a Toucan will land on it – the Eco Tax.
Well, we hadn’t paid our tax in CR, but on our way to Grenada we were pointed to the curb at a traffic circle. The cop asked to see our licenses and explained that we hadn’t signaled our turn as we entered the circle. No, I’m sure we didn’t. Those things are nuts with traffic across four lanes of a two lane road, cars both stopped and flying through, no road signs and us about lost, I probably didn’t signal that I was going to exercise my only option and turn right into the circle. So, the cop had our DL’s in hand and explained that he would need to keep them until our court date a month out. And he would need to write us a ticket for $40 each. And it was Sunday and we couldn’t pay it till Monday so he would need to tow the bikes. (This guy was good)
After his speech he just kind of stood around waiting. We did too. This frustrated him, so he explained to us again just how dire our predicament was. And then we stood around some more. To move things along, he went to his car and got out some papers and a pen, shuffled them a bit and then walked back over. We obviously didn’t understand what was happening, so he explained it a third time. Yeah, we got it. What he didn’t understand was that he had laminated photocopies of our licenses and that we had two more to give away in our luggage. We didn’t care.
What I did care about was time. It was late and I was tired and hungry and after about 15 minutes I was ready to go. I asked if there wasn’t some tax that I could pay to take care of the problem now. He lit up like Christmas morning. I opened my wallet and showed him that I had 120 in Nicaraguan currency – just under $6. His face fell like he opened his present and found underwear inside. He asked if my friend had any money. I asked, and Shannon said “yes, but no.” Ok, so we play some more.
Back to the car and more theatrical shuffling of papers. Then a conference with the other cops. He walked back over and said – “OK, 120 and you have no more problem” So, there in the middle of traffic I get out my wallet and without looking at me he says “esperae, esperae!” Wait, Wait! He doesn’t want the cars to see what hes doing. When theres no traffic he holds out some papers and motions for me to put the money between the pages.
So I do, and we drive away having negotiated our “tax” from $80 down to $6.