Leaving your your vehicle under the care of the "guachiman' while at the office, shopping or eating at your favourite restaurant in San José is like handing over the keys to a car thief and asking him to look after it.
A group of reporters from La Teja set out to do just that last week. Shirley Sandi and her coworker picked the area around the courthouse to test the theory that the guachiman did nothing more than collect a fee for the right to part on "his street".
Before handing over the keys the reported quizzed the Guachiman on how safe her car would be. The questions were aimed to engage the guachiman into learning something about his customer.
Ten minutes later the reporter's coworker, a tall man with a beard, drove off with the vehicle without being quesitoned by the guachiman. In fact, the guachiman, after sticking his hand in the man's face for his money, helped in getting the vehicle out of the spot safely.
Another 10 minutes pass and Shirley now, acting frantic asks the guachiman for her missing vehicle. "Your boyfriend drove off with it a short while ago", was the answer.
The reporter, screaming told the guachiman she did not have a boyfriend, had not given her keys to anyone and what now of ther car? The guachiman stepped away and alerted a nearby policeman of the situation.
Had not this been a test of the guachiman, Shirley would be plain out of luck, the only thing to do is visit the nearby OIJ office and report her vehicle stolen.
The point of the exercise is to learn what is widely suspected, the guachiman does nothing for his fee. Your vehicle is not better off with or without the guachiman.
There is no guarantee that your vehicle will be where you left it and the guachiman has no legal responsibility. There is absolutely noone to complain the problem to.
The best policy is to always park your vehicle in a lot and walk the block or two. And if absolutely no other choice available, question the guachiman of his affiliation with the restaurant, for example.
Raul Rivera, head of the San José municipal police explains that the guachimen operate at the margin of the law and that if you are going to leave your vehicle with such a person, take the time to take note of the physical description of the man in the event you may have to make a report.
Rivera says that most of the guachimen are indigents looking to make few colones to buy booze or drugs. And sometimes are the ones responsible for the theft or breaking of the vehicle.
In many cases, the guachimen make claim to a section of a street and even an block sometimes, even selling off their "domain" to other guachimen.
The end result is that there is no obligation on the owner of a vehicle to pay the guachiman. But, then...