Linda had been telling me since January that her friend sent her a Christmas present from the States, but she hadn’t gotten it yet. She heard it was at the post office and went there several times to get it, but it was never there. Somehow, she found out that it was in Penonome, which is a good 45 minute drive from us. So off we went with Jackie driving.
I’ve been to post offices in Costa Rica before and this one was no different. She tells them who she is, the guy goes and looks for it and miraculously comes back within a few minutes with the tiny priority mail box. The cost to mail it was about $24 and was sent three months ago. The man looks at the package, writes some things down then motions us to go pick it up somewhere. We stand there waiting, as the package is now in the hands of the woman that was next to him. We wait. And wait. By this time, we’re getting antsy. She finally motions to come over there and she too inspects this box like there’s some kind of invisible writing on it she must decipher. She takes out a clipboard and writes things down. She asks Linda for her passport and her signature. Jackie and I kid that we hope her friend didn’t send anything illegal because then we’re ALL going down with her. They’ve made sure at this point that Linda has agreed this is really her package so there will be no question about ownership if indeed there is something illegal inside of it. The woman asks Linda for $3.20 and Linda is a bit irate about it at this point, but we encourage her to not argue and just pay it. She does.
It’s been about 25 minutes at this point, if not longer. Then we’re told to go outside and pick up the box next door. We step outside of the post office and about half a foot away is another door. A guy opens the door which leads to a small hallway with an office on the left. An air conditioning unit blows hot air into the hallway making practically unbearable to stand in. We step into the office where there’s another guy sitting behind the desk. It’s a typical government kind of scene. Metal desk, uncomfortable chair, nothing on the walls…very plain jane.
Of course he has to inspect the package and get her to sign AGAIN for it and he wants her to open the box in front of him. Linda jokes that it was a Christmas present that should’ve been here long ago. So here comes the moment of truth. We sincerely hope it’s just a cutsie gift. He takes out a small box cutter, instead of just pulling the tab which easily opens the box and proceeds to cut where the glue holds the box shut. We sigh heavily under our breath, just wanting to get this over with. Linda opens the box and inside is a small jewelry box wrapped in Christmas paper. Ripping off the paper we see ‘Hallmark’ on the front and we all say ‘Ornament’. Linda shows the man the Christmas paper and exclaims “Feliz Navidad!” and we all laugh. Sure enough, she opens the box and there are two silver ornaments inside. But to our horror, there’s a plastic bag with what looks like a bunch of cocaine in it…the cardboard topper says, ‘Just Like Snow’. Jackie and my eyes widened, mouths agape and blood pressure rose. I think we both saw ourselves in some Panamanian jailhouse within the hour. Linda is still laughing away and the guy didn’t even LOOK at the bag. Or rather, he didn’t inspect it. We just wanted to bolt out of there before anything else could happen. He miraculously handed over the stuff to Linda and we left immediately!
When we got outside, we breathed a sigh of relief, wondering what the big production was all about. We figured they’d be looking for drugs at the very least since Panama does not take that stuff lightly. It could not have been more obvious, even though it wasn’t even drugs! We went down the street to the beautiful mansion of a restaurant and celebrated our ‘freedom’ and the ability to enjoy a first class meal instead of sitting in a hot holding cell for the next few years!