There’s something comforting experiencing a city under siege. Thousands of police officers lining streets, locals nowhere to be seen. The normal buzz of a busy city ground to a halt. What better way to get downtown!
Of course you have to be prepared for the bus driver to come up with ingenious ways with all the road closures to get the few passengers into town. A hairpin turn or three around extremely narrow streets before being ceremoniously dumped somewhere near Avenida 2. Perfect. Just where one needed to be to watch US President Barack Obama drive by and return again.
And, yes, I swear he waved back! Even the owner of stall 3 at the Artisan Markets, next to Parque Nacional, believed he waved. He and everyone else at the market were out in force filming the spectacle on their smart phones. I said it was probably a guard seated in his place holding a machine gun. But he wouldn’t be convinced. The US President had waived back. So I’ll go with that!
What a chaotic time for Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. Even the local florist on the corner of Calle 11 and Avenida 2 moved her chair closer to the barriers to get a better look. She said it had been the same yesterday, the day Obama arrived. But this morning between 9am until just after noon, on the US President’s final day in the San Jose, only workers and sightseers on foot were allowed into the city centre.
For over an hour helicopters flew over, high-speed police bikes swept through the avenue, more bikes, police cars, surveillance trucks, then a posse of police bikes, followed by one high-speed motor cycle, and then a high-speed car stopping suddenly to pick up one of the police on the street and as they drove by a not-so-secret hand signal went up. Next minute the sirens sounded, another posse of bikes and finally the black limousine with the US flags on each side drove by. Impressive. So much so I just had to stick around for the return drive down Avenida 2.
But how long would that be? The police weren’t sure if they’d come back this way. The previous day officials diverted the return route … so one could stick around in vein. Not to be dissuaded I hung out at Ashé, a nearby Lounge & Spa, where the owner persuaded me to part with 12 million colones [$US24] for a wash, cut and dry.
So while Obama visited a business school nearby, I sat in a beautiful salon filled with no patrons but me, the police outside guarding the street, all of us doing what we needed to do while we waited for the US President to return.
For me that was being served only the best Columbian coffee Ashé had to offer. As I savoured each sip chatting about how some Americans I met were slipped a hotel note advising them not to open their windows during the presidential stay, I could only wonder whether Obama was getting as good a Tico welcome as me. And as luck would have it, I was done and out by the time Barack was on his way back!
Chaos one minute, normal the next
So at 12.10 on a Saturday afternoon, Obama’s entourage of police escorts once more swept through followed by that now famous limousine down the avenue. Within minutes the barriers were down, cars and buses appeared out of nowhere as did the locals. Life was back to normal and weekend trade could begin.
It was time for me to get out of the city.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who by good fortune or plain serendipity got to enjoy in style the drama of US President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Costa Rica!