We thought San Jose would be a good spot to get a few things done to the truck. It’s a big city with all the global businesses and services. So while in San Jose, we planned to pick up our new camper batteries that we had shipped here, have the truck serviced at the Toyota dealership, and fix a flange weld that attaches the bumper to the truck frame. It broke somewhere in the Monteverde area in northern CR. Also while in San Jose, we planned to enjoy a nice hotel room and eat good food that didn’t include rice and beans (nothing personal).
We found ourselves in a reasonably priced room at the Sheraton Hotel a few miles outside of the center of town. It was a business hotel with a perfect location and a very good complimentary breakfast. It’s really weird for Paula and me to be in business hotels now, as we have no real business to conduct. Sure, we had a lot to get done in town, but no negotiating deals, no staff meetings (Paula used to come here often for work), nothing of the sort. Along with that, we had a schedule that was ours and we would be highly productive nevertheless.
Never thought I would love a Sheraton this much. It even has a casino!!
Mall Cuts. Another item on our to-do list was get haircuts. Which we did at the mall. Yep, it's all a big adventure.
The first task for the truck was having LoJo serviced at Toyota. The dealership down here is amazing. The service center is huge and run very efficiently. We stopped in to see about an appointment as soon as we rolled into town. We could come back in 10 days or leave it right then and there and pick it up the following afternoon. So we left the rig and took a cab back to the hotel, pleased to have a quick turnaround for the first task.
The next item was to retrieve the batteries that Fullriver had shipped to San Jose from Miami. The short story here is that our camper batteries (two 6 volts rated to 224 amp hours) were not performing well during this trip. I finally emailed Fullriver and gave them some examples of my issues. The tech said the batteries didn’t seem to be performing as they should and he asked me for the MFG # stamped on the battery. When I told him, he immediately offered to send me replacements under full warranty. I found out later that apparently that ‘batch’ of batteries had some issues. So the good news is that I could get new batteries, the bad news is he had no idea how to get them to me in Central America. To his credit, he spoke to one of his dealers in Miami who has experience shipping here and we worked it out.
So the batteries are in San Jose and I’m in San Jose, now I just need to do some paperwork and pay a bit for the Customs fee and I’m all set. When I receive the email from the shipping agent here in San Jose, she tells me that I can pick up the batteries from the warehouse after I pay the $800 customs fees. So $800 for batteries that are free to me?! That was a serious WTF moment. Oh, and the shipping agent doesn’t speak English and my Español is…lacking.
I put the battery situation on hold for a day and went to see a 4x4 repair outfit called TecnoPrecision in Zapote San Jose to see about welding my bumper mount back in place (GrupoTecno on Facebook – with pix of our rig). These people were awesome. Firstly, they work on some RAD 4x4 crawlers, old FJ’s, CJ’s, - you name it.
Second Stop...find a place to get the bumber weld done
Luis, the owner, has been doing this for 30 years and they were recommended to me by the Toyota dealership. Luis has also branched out and started to manufacture his own bushings for 11 different automobile manufacturers and is looking to start distributing them outside of CR. I was very impressed by their shop and how much they enjoy the work. I made an appointment to come by the following morning to have the work done and then I headed back to Toyota to buy a bike rack (one of our bike racks was hanging on by zip ties).
Here is where things got interesting. A few blocks away from Toyota, I noticed a Porsche SUV that appeared to be following me. As I pulled into Toyota, they pulled in right behind me. Apparently the driver, Gerardo Moreno, was in Punta Islita in Guanacaste last weekend, as were we. He and his wife saw our rig parked there and pulled over to take photo’s of LoJo. He showed them to me on his iPhone. Then I drove by him in San Jose and he wanted to come say hello so he followed me into Toyota. He was a man in his 60s, and he was with his son and daughter who work with him in the family business. Gerardo Jr. and I did most of the talking as he spoke better English than his father. I told them about our trip so far and our destination goal of Argentina. Gerardo Sr. had traveled in Argentina for 2-3 months with his family a couple of years ago – in a truck camper similar to ours! Later, he offered to buy our rig when we finished the trip (that would be the second offer we had to buy it while in San Jose).
We chatted a bit more about the rig and then I mentioned that I was in San Jose to pick up batteries but the shipping agent wanted to charge me $800 to get them out of customs. That didn’t sound right to both Gerardo’s and they should know – they own a beauty supply chain under Grupo Moreno that has 75 stores in CR and they import products from 21 countries. Gerardo Jr. immediately got on the phone with his shipping agent and started the process of switching shipping agents from our current agent, JPL, to his agent. We exchanged information and agreed to go down this road and see if he could get my batteries out of customs for a much lower fee.
The next day I drove to TecnoPrecision where Luis and Esteban put together a plan to reinforce the bumper flange. We agreed to add an additional piece of steel with an additional stud to add another bolt to the bumper. While they were doing that, I installed a replacement bike rack on the rear swingouts. It was then that I met Alonso, an avid mountain bike rider. We chatted in Spanglish and he gave me a mountain bike sticker and a local mountain biking magazine. After I finished my install of the new bike rack, I gave him my old one. It still worked fine if it was mounted as intended and you didn’t drive thousands of miles on bumpy, rocky dirt roads. It was another great exchange between cultures and humans.
After my bumper flange was repaired and the bumper reinstalled, I asked Esteban for a tour of their shop. I wanted to see the other rigs as well as the manufacturing area for the bushings. I think they were surprised that I cared to see it all, but they were quite happy to show me and very proud of what they were producing. I had my big camera out and I took photo’s. Then Luis wanted me to take photos with him and his product display and then with his daughters who work with him. It was another very cool experience. Good people – making a living – having an idea on how to build something better and going for it. I found myself daydreaming about working with them on U.S. distribution and flying back and forth to San Jose – staying at the Sheraton – and having breakfast meetings. Then I awoke and decided I would file that one away too in the Possible Future Endeavors file. That file is getting thicker.
Louis and his daughters.
My next task I thought would be the most difficult. Gerardo emailed me and said he needed my original Bill of Lading (Fleteado) and the current location of the batteries. I needed to find the JPL office in a city without street addresses and then use my Español skills to get what I needed. Oh, and the conversation would be awkward in any language – ‘I met someone who said you are charging me too much money so I won’t be using you’. Oh, and this city doesn’t use addresses. The address for JPL is “del ICE 300 metros Norte y 50 metros Este, edificio fomento urbano” Literally, find the ICE building, then go 300 meters North and 50 meters East and look for a building called Fomento. It will be on the first floor. It felt like a following a treasure map, but I found it!
Somehow when I absolutely need to communicate in Español, I find verbs and nouns in my brain that I string together, in seemingly coherent and understandable sentences. I was in the office of JPL for 30 minutes explaining to them that I have a friend who can get my batteries out of customs for a much lower fee. The Jefe of the JPL office tried to show me (and himself) how they arrived at the $800 fee. He couldn’t and we both knew, regardless of language, that he was being shady. He was very polite and knew that he was caught, so he gave me the originals and a Google map printout of the battery location and I was on my way.
I gave the docs to Gerardo (he came all the way to the Sheraton to get them) and a couple of days later I went to his office/warehouse to pick up the batteries. The final cost was $152 U.S. I don’t know how much time Gerardo spent on my project, but it was not an insignificant amount of time and effort. Once at his office, he gave me a little tour where I saw photo’s of his great grandparents who started the business in the 1930s after they left Spain during the war and fled to Costa Rica. A friend of theirs from France gave them the formulas to make beauty products and they set up shop in San Jose. Now they have a thriving family business that has grown through four generations. It seems to me that the generosity of their actions toward me are likely emblematic of the Moreno family’s successful business model.
Old photos on the walls of Grupo Moreno's headquarters. Can't believe I didn't get a picture with the Moreno's
We thought our time in San Jose would be about checking tasks off our list. But San Jose offered something different - the people. They were open and friendly, and I was taken aback by the generosity of complete strangers. What we thought would be an unremarkable stop in Costa Rica was in fact, quite remarkable.