“First say no, then relax” – Moroccan proverb.
The next step of the sale was the van temporary import permit (TIP) transfer. Jason needed to have his name on La Chichona’s TIP to drive away. It would seal the deal. With his name on the TIP, I'd get the money and him the key.
Jason landed and came to Lucio’s house, 10km from the airport. TIP transfers are usually done at the border (4 hours away). But Lucio had done it at the airport before. To ease things up, he advised me not to mention the sale. To say only that Jason needed his name on the TIP to drive La Chichona back to Canada. Early the next morning, Jason and I drove to San Jose International airport.
The customs building was clean and quiet. Officers worked in a square of desks around the main entrance, and people waited in line. It looked like a proper first-world administration. Jason and I waited until a young gentleman gestured us to come. I put on my most confident smile and approached his desk.
- Good morning sir,
- Good morning,
- I need to add a name to my TIP please,
- Passport, driver’s license, and TIP, please.
He examined our papers, then excused himself and entered a tinted-glass office. I smiled nervously to the ladies behind their desks. The young gentleman returned.
- I am sorry but it cannot be done.
- Why not?
- Because you did not enter Costa Rica on the same day.
The bullshit was strong with this one. I took a deep breath and added,
- Sir, I am a lawyer and I read the customs code with great attention before coming here.
- I have a license in law.
- Great! Then we speak the same language. The language of law and regulations, do we agree on that?
- Therefore, what the law dictates we must abide by.
- Perfect. Could you please show me the article stating that the entry date must be the same? Because I read the entire TIP section and could not find it.
- I will be back . . . Please wait.
It was a bluff, but bluff and balls were all I had. The gentleman disappeared behind the tinted glass and came back fifteen minutes later. He handed me a piece of paper with a highlighted passage. I took my time to decipher every word.
- Thank you. Is this the article that dictates TIP changes?
- I see no mention of dates. Do you?
- No, but it states the status must be the same.
- True . . . the status. Correct me if I am wrong, but status refers to a person's legal status in Costa Rica. Temporary resident or permanent resident are the two main statuses for foreigners. Under temporary residents are tourists, or visitors, among others. Am I right?
- I am a Canadian tourist. Jason is an Australian tourist. We are both temporary residents of Costa Rica. Therefore, we DO have the same status.
- Yes but it has to be the same date too. You did not enter Costa Rica on the same date.
- Beg your pardon, but this article makes no mention of entry date. You are a law graduate and your Spanish is better than mine, so I may have missed it. Please show me the entry date reference. Maybe in another article?
- No, this is the only one.
- Indeed. That confirms what I read yesterday. Then sir, in the absence of a specific article mentioning entry dates, the law speaks in my favor.
- Uuuuh yes but . . . Please wait.
The gentleman disappeared behind the tinted glass and an old man came out ranting. He took a determined step toward me and spoke with authority.
- You cannot transfer the TIP.
- The law says that I can. Even your colleague agrees.
- It says here that you can’t.
He waved the same highlighted paper in my face.
- NO IT DOES NOT! Show me where, please! There is no mention of entry date. If there was another article maybe, but that article says nothing about dates.
The old man pinched his lips together in a small vicious line. “IT CANNOT BE DONE!” he yelled. He stormed off behind the tinted-glass office and slammed the door. I stood there in shock, boiling with rage.
You old scum! Come back here and do your job. I’ll get out of here in handcuffs I don't care! But I'll drag your lazy ass with me and ruin your fucking retirement, you hear me! You won't get off with it. I'm staying here. Let's have it bitch!
As I turned, about to make a scene, Jason pulled me aside. I started to explain out loud for everyone to witness when I stopped mid-sentence. This was El Salvador customs episode all over again, a deja vu. All at once the rage was out of me, like venom drawn from a snake fang. Calm and smiling, I approached the closest lady officer,
- Hello madam, excuse my interruption. Could you please tell me who has authority over this administration?
She looked skeptical. I added,
- You saw what just happened. For some reason, the gentleman behind the tinted glass is denying me my right. Costa Rica is a democracy, and I need a higher authority to bring matters to justice.
She answered in a timid void.
- The director’s office is upstairs.
- Thank you. What’s the director's name please?
- Señora Maria de las Angeles Perez
- Very nice of you. Thank you.
Jason and I went in search of Señora Perez. The first employee pointed to an office at the end of the second floor. As we approached, a lady passed us. I asked,
- Excuse me, I am looking for Señora Perez.
- That is me. How can I help you?
- Oh! Thank you. I would like some clarification about a legal article of the customs code please. My friend Jason here needs to add his name on the TIP to drive my van back to Canada. The law article says it is possible for two people of the same status—we are both tourists. But the gentleman downstairs said it cannot be done. I am a little confused. Could you please explain to me why it cannot be done?
She scanned me from head to toe, same for Jason, and back to me again. I held her gaze and smiled.
- Can I see the papers?
- Of course, thank you.
- Please wait there, it won’t be long.
- Thank you so much.
Half an hour later, she came back with the papers.
- Sorry about that. It is an IT problem, not a legal one. I had to call HQ to make the change manually before it could show in our system. Ask the gentleman downstairs to print you a new TIP. It will have your friend's name on it.
- Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
- Pura vida!
I wanted to hug and cover her with kisses. The young gentleman got the memo. He printed a new TIP in Jason’s name and apologized for the inconvenience. I double-checked everything and thanked him for his ethics.
With my paper in hand, I walk around the lobby, holding my TIP like a victorious gladiator.
In front of the tinted-glass office, I stopped and yelled, “SEE MISTER, IT CAN BE DONE. HERE IS HOW. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INVALUABLE CONTRIBUTION!”.
I waved my TIP and hurried away. Jason followed, laughing.
Bluff and balls have won again.