Yesterday I set out with a friend to go look for some finishing touches to complete Villa Migelita. I was feeling happy and carefree on a beautiful sunny day here in Palmira Valle, Colombia. Music playing, gorgeous mountain views with the sun high in the sky nothing could get in the way of buying a sofa for the upstairs living area, and shopping in Cali. As we were traveling to Cali we encountered a traffic stop. Here in Colombia police hardly ever give tickets for speeding, running stop signs which happens all the time, or other infractions. They set up traffic stops to check your papers for insurance, techno mechanical’s required here for emissions, to make sure cars have good tires and decent running conditions. They also check your license and ID occasionally. Yesterday when motioned over we had no fears because all was and always is up to date. Well, so I thought. What do you know both our Colombian drivers licenses expired as of Dec 12. Whoops. The police officer came to the window and asked for the papers, they are always professional. Colombian police have rules that are written in law about their behavior and to respect all the citizens of Colombia. They still give the tickets usually, and the fines are quite hefty. However, this police officer could have also towed my truck, but he allowed us to stop a taxi and ask if he would drive our truck to a parking area. The police officer also told us that we could pay the ticket in a five-day time period and it would be discounted by fifty percent. He was very nice, and to be honest I have to say I am grateful it was him who found this problem. I would have kept driving with an expired license and not have known because I thought I had a five-year license: it could have been a disaster if I had this happen in Cali and the same problem found. The truck would be towed, and the cost even higher because you have to pay the tow charge and to get the truck out, along with the ticket, while also having to renew your license which also costs money. So instead of getting upset with this situation, I was grateful. Now on to the rest of the day, shopping for sofas was not going to happen.
The taxi driver who pulled over to help us was a wonderful, kind human being. I have said many times in my past blogs that the Universe directs our lives. How lucky to get stopped in a small town area with a decent police officer who could have just towed away the truck, and then no one we knew answered their phones so my friend motioned a taxi driver who stopped. This taxi driver’s name was Antonio, and I will always call him a friend, as he saved the day. He stayed with us until the ticket was issued, which took a while. These things are slow in Colombia, as the police were motioning other cars over at the same time. I actually saw one woman rip a ticket up in the face of a police officer. Here the officers just laugh, as it is just like in the States, they have the license number and information they need and they will suspend the license. They do not chase after anyone, nor challenge with violence. That impressed me, as I can’t imagine if a person ripped a ticket up in front of the police in the USA how they would react, but I imagine they would be arrested. Next with the taxi driver taking over the driving responsibility of my truck, he started telling us the process to get our new licenses fast, as in that day. Then he drove us around the corner and said here take the truck and go park it. I tried to give him some money but he would not take it and had to walk back to get his taxi! We asked him to pick us back up and take us to the place for the exams needed to get a new license here. Yes, you read that right, every single time you renew your license you go through a barrage of tests. As he drove us to the first stop of a long day he explained we had to go to another place to get the actual license with our results and it was in another city. We could have taken the bus but he gave us an incredible price (around 20$ USD) to take us there. He dropped us off at the first place with his number to call him when we were ready to go on to the next step.
We enter the Driver License exam building and the employees were so professional and helpful. I am always somewhat of a distraction as they do not have a lot of Americans who visit these offices in Palmira. The fact that I can speak Spanish and I always do my best to talk for myself impresses the Colombian people. Even if it is not perfect, they like that I am learning their language. My friend does speak English, but I am very firm about letting me try to do by myself first. We found out we could get a ten-year license, and then we were given paperwork to fill out. We always have to put a fingerprint next to our signatures here in Colombia for anything important like a license or any document. We also get a picture taken, even though it is not for the actual license. Then you sit in a waiting area for your call to start the exams. Now I need to digress a bit. When I first moved to Colombia I got a license which I thought was for 5 years and thus I never looked at the expiration date. I had to take exams then also. One was a computer generated program of me driving on a road with motorcycles coming at me on both sides. I passed, but I really don’t know how. We Americans do not encounter this sort of driving in the USA, however rest assured you do have this happen here in Colombia. Motorcycles whip in and out of the traffic on either side here and you need to be vigilant as they can come up into your blind spot. I assumed my exams here would be similar. However they were not. This time my first exam was for vision. I am fine with my far vision so I passed as my examiner said with excellent results. Then I went to the next place and this was a computer with questions I needed to read and answer with a no, yes, sometimes or very much yes: no, si a veces, si mucho. I study Spanish everyday so I am not bad at reading Spanish.
The questions were all about depression! They asked if I had feelings of aggression, if I felt that the world was against me; I am sure you get the point. I could read all of them and just needed help with a word now and then. I passed, no depression with me. How can I be depressed living in Paradise? Then I was on to the doctor who examines me for health. Yes, I had a mini-physical! Again, I did this by myself with no help in translation…I guess I am really doing ok with my Spanish. She asked regular questions about my health and then took me to a table just like at a doctor’s office and examined my blood pressure, my throat, my lungs, my reflexes, and my pulse. Then back to the chair about my general health again. I passed and I also was told my Spanish is very good for less than 4 years…but my ability to know I need a new license sucked. I just put that in. She did not say that. HAHA! Then on the last test which is a booth for hearing. I am just saying they need this in Florida where I am from! Why not check people’s vision and hearing? I think it is smart. I sit inside a booth and have on earphones. They have you raise your hand when you hear sounds. They do it for both ears. I passed. YAY.
After that morning a good lunch was next at my favorite restaurant Karen’s Pizza. What a relief to have the exams in our hands and know in a few hours we would have new licenses that will last ten years. I know many who follow my blog want to look for places to retire that are less expensive than the USA. However, sometimes I find I still encounter some small problems, like this day. Believe it is small when you compare getting a ticket for an expired license to the difficulties everyone experiences . I learned from this day, I will never allow my driver license to expire again. When lunch was over we called Antonio the most wonderful ‘pay it forward’ person I have every encountered. He really gives the meaning to that phrase. He came and picked us up with a smile. We arrive at the next place (did I mention he had the best cab with air-conditioning?) and waited in line to get our actual license. This was the funniest part of the day! Colombia is a country that is behind but it is also very forward thinking. I wish that rules were enforced in the USA the way they are here. No one gets preferential treatment. Rules are written and followed. It is simple. However, they are behind with some basic technology. Here you get photographed again, this time for the license. As I stood in line, I saw the camera on a little shelf in front of the woman who processes the licenses. Every person had to pull this rolling board over and sit on a chair to be photographed. It is so funny, and believe me a lot of Americans would make a fuss about it. I loved it, and was smiling the entire time while in line. I talked with others who were laughing too. NOW this is the funniest part. Everyone had their pictures taken without problem and then I sat down. I was too white for the camera. Everyone was helping behind me. The lady said “move the board that way, now a little closer, oh now to the left” Nothing worked! The photo was not good. Then a young man behind me who spoke English said let’s turn the lights down. YAY. My photo was taken and processed. I left with my friend with a brand new license for ten years! My taxi driver and new friend will come visit Villa Migelita, and he will be welcome. He saved the day with his knowledge, but most of all with his kindness. I will always be grateful.