I think one of the things I miss the most about the states is the availability of stuff. Need a new printer? Head to Best Buy, Costco, Target. Need a baking sheet? Target, Walmart, Fred Myers…and you get the idea.
Costa Rica is not a third world country like some people think (yes they do have toilet paper and refrigerators) but when you live in a small beach town, you might have to do some digging to find certain items.
But shoes? I knew in San José it would be easy to find them but for the rest of the country, I didn’t realize it would take us a whole journey for us to find shoes for Yeison.
The Difficulty of Finding Shoes in Costa Rica
On our trip to Arenal, Yeison brought only a pair of flip flops (all his other sneakers were made when shoelaces were invented) and we planned to buy him a pair of nice hiking sandals for him for all the hiking we will be doing in the future.
Since it’s pretty hot in Costa Rica and we don’t do intense hiking, we thought that Hi-Tec athletic sandals would be the perfect shoes. Nice and light, breathable and not too expensive.
We try to avoid buying high end brands because the cost of clothing and many items in Costa Rica is a little ridiculous.
But before I divulge into our shoe finding journey, I need to rewind a couple weeks.
It all began with Riteve
Every year, each car has to go through something called Riteve which is basically a permission slip for your car to be on the road. They check everything, your brakes, your engine, your shocks, your gas emissions, everything. It’s like a full body physical but for your car and you need that sticker on your window or else you get in big trouble.
We went a few weeks ago and unfortunately we didn’t pass Riteve due to our carbon monoxide emission being .32% and the limit is .30%. They gave us a document stating that we had a month to fix our car and this was our pass to drive our car on the road until it did.
OK back to shoes. On our way to Arenal, we stopped in Liberia and checked 3 shoe stores including the mall. No luck. So we figured we’d check La Fortuna, it’s a touristy town so they would definitely have them.
How many days does it take to find shoes?
Day 1: We got to La Fortuna and went to the most popular zapateria, Isa. They did have the perfect sandals he wanted but no sizes. How is it possible that the biggest size they carry is 9 for men? We asked the salesgirl and she adamantly told us that they had nothing bigger.
Alright, onto the next store. All four shoe stores we visited in La Fortuna had the sandal he wanted, but not the correct size.
Day 2: Back to Isa and a different girl said that they would be getting a shipment very soon of Hi-Tecs but didn’t know when. We didn’t need them for another 3 days so we said we’d come back the next day.
Day 3: Again no shoes and nobody was able to confirm anything and couldn’t bother to look it up on the computer. I spot a pattern here…
Day 4: Went back to Isa and surprise! We were told the shoes were here. But for the oddest reason, the owner said that they were not allowed to sell them to us, even though we could see the box they were in. “Is this normal in Costa Rica?” I asked Yeison.
He has experience working in a clothing store and he was baffled as well. Frustrated, we left and asked around for the nearest mall or shopping center. One local pointed us to Ciudad Quesada a thirty minute drive away where there’s a big mall. So onto Quesada we go.
A stroke of bad luck
I think when you have a streak of good luck, it’s only fair to catch some bad luck once in awhile. Our bad luck was a combination of many things and only looking back now, could have been prevented. Life is a balance and that’s how the wheel turns.
On the way to Quesada, the police had set up a station to stop and check cars. This is actually a common practice in Costa Rica, they check for tickets, driver’s license, illegal immigrants, and permissions like Riteve. One thing about driving in Costa Rica is that their tickets are expensive. A driving ticket on average is around $600 and don’t even get me started on parking tickets.
Unfortunately we got stuck and they called us over. “Oh sh…” Yeison pulled out the Riteve document and I sat in the car, nervously waiting for him and the officer to figure things out. I could see in the rear view mirror an intense conversation going on with lots of hand signals and looks of concern.
As Yeison opened the door, I asked him what happened and he handed me a long slip with the dreaded words, Boleta de citación. 47,000 colones (almost $100) because of the Riteve. Ughhh. Guess it could be worse and be 300,000 colones.
The police officer claimed that although we had the slip from Riteve, he still wanted to give us the ticket. Seriously? Fine, whatever. He must’ve been having a bad day.
Two hours of traffic later, we reached the “mall” (more like a small plaza) and yup, you guessed it. None of the shoe stores had his size. (Is 10 that abnormal of a size for men?) But as we were driving through town to go back, I spotted El Caminante and yelled “Stop!” We parked and Yeison ran inside to check.
After about 15 minutes of waiting I figured that that was a good sign and indeed, he finally came back with a box of shoes.
The story doesn’t end here.
On our drive back we noticed that the scenery was different and we ended up coming back to La Fortuna through a completely different way. So if we had known there was a second route to get to Quesada, we could have taken that one and avoided the police altogether.
Day 5: We stopped in Isa again to check women’s sandals and what greeted us at the window was a pair of the exact same shoes he just bought. Apparently the staff just didn’t get around to sticking a price tag on them and that’s the official reason as to why we couldn’t purchase them the day before. That made absolutely no sense to me but what an ironic turn of events.
After all the time and effort we put in just to find a pair of shoes, they happened to be ready the day we needed them. We stopped one more time at the mall in Liberia on our way back and realized that they had a Penny Lane on the second floor that stocked tons of hiking and outdoor shoes.
If only we had known this before, we could have bought them even before we got to La Fortuna. So after three hours of traffic, 10 shoe stores and one driving ticket later, the moral of the story is… well there are a lot of morals.
What did we learn
First, pass Riteve the first time. Second, don’t rush things. Third, avoid the police when you can. Fourth, always ask more than one person for directions. Fifth, understand that customer service in Costa Rica is not the best. Of course it could have been worse. We could have been in a car accident, got robbed, etc. I’m just grateful that a driving ticket was the worst thing that happened.
But I think that traveling is one of the only ways to experience and live life.
Some situations are stressful in the moment but you look back at it in a positive way. Things aren’t always perfect when you travel, there are always hiccups here and there but it’s the way you handle it and realize that there is something to be learned from every experience that makes traveling so rewarding. Even something as simple as finding a pair of shoes is a learning experience in itself.