Friday, January 18, 2008

Taking its toll

We were cruising on the autopista on a day trip to Sarchí when we approached a toll booth, and traffic halted. A long stretch of cars and trucks was ahead of us, and we were certain we were in for an interminable wait. We watched street vendors weave between cars, hawking everything from mangoes and bottled water to cowboy hats, sunglasses, and car phone adapters. As we inched our way along, and I fumbled for the 75 colones (about 15 cents) to pay the toll, we wondered aloud how long we’d be caught waiting.

Suddenly, the cars in front of us began to fly ahead. Dan punched the gas, and soon we were sailing through the toll booth, 75 colones still in hand. The money collectors remained in their booths while a handful of policemen animatedly waved us through.

Wow! This was such an unexpected surprise—it was our lucky day! No more waiting, no paying the meager toll, no little slip of amber paper (to promptly shove in the ashtray) indicating we paid our dues—weren’t we special? We later learned that when the waiting traffic line reaches about a kilometer, the government forfeits the toll money and lets drivers pass.

Here in Costa Rica, we’re living on Tico time—the pace of life is slower. Waiting is not seen as an exercise in frustration; punctuality is completely unexpected. Nothing moves at a frenetic pace … except the traffic. Driving in Costa Rica is not for the fainthearted. In a surprising juxtaposition, soft-spoken, kind-hearted, slow-moving Ticos become hurried, maniacal fiends when they get behind the wheel. Perhaps it’s for this reason that they open the tolls when traffic is congested. Tico time does not apply on the pista.

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