Follow the yellow brick road- Adventures in driving in Costa Rica

A couple of weeks ago, our daughter was invited to a birthday party. It was in the next town over which we weren't too familiar with but we had directions: '500 meters east and 200 south of the church. There are balloons outside the gate'.  We followed the directions, saw balloons outside a gate, went in, greeted guests and sat down. After about 5 minutes, when we noticed that the only other kids under 3 at this house were ours, we realized we were at the wrong party! Why didn't you just use the GPS you ask? Because that would require a house number and street name, which 'Ticos' generally do not use.

(We eventually got to the party in 'Tico time').

Our official address here is: 'when you see the first gas station, go 200 meters and turn right'. 

You feel like chicken tonight? Go to Raymi's.  It's just 75 meters west of the 'Delta' gas station.

And if you can't find it there's alway "Pollos Tip-Top" just 25 meters north of "Musmani" bakery.

(the actual address)

Interested in visiting schools for your kids? Try Berkeley Academy. Just 150 meters west and 350 meters south of the 'Red Cross'.  

(from google maps)

Driving in Costa Rica proved to be very adventurous for us.  Not just because we had to watch out for tracker trailers, pedestrians, stray and farm animals running along the highway.  We got used to that pretty quickly.  The biggest challenge was going somewhere new. Because very few roads have street names save for the city centers which are usually named 'calle' or 'avenida' 1, 2 or 3, (and those are apparently just for the tourists) you have to rely on landmarks and reference points. Every town has a church. If you live in Santa Ana, you know where the Red Cross is. Ciudad Colon only has only 2 gas stations and 1 bakery called 'Musmani' so there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't be able to find those landmarks.

Simple enough, but the tricky part is finding landmarks which only exist in the hearts and minds of the locals. Take for example 'La Coca Cola' which is one of San Jose's main bus stations. It got its name for being located next a Coca Cola factory, which hasn't existed in over 20 years!  But this is a minor detail since the existence of the factory is in the collective memory of Costa Ricans and they'll happily tell you where the bus station is located. 

As frustrating as this can be for tourists/expats, this system has worked for the 'Ticos' for hundreds of years and it forces outsiders to get to know the 'community' which I think is a plus.  Less than a year ago, Costa Rica introduced a postal address system aimed at making it easier to find where you're going (especially for postal workers- watch video here).  But should you find yourself looking for 'Hotel Paradise' in Escazu, it's 200 meters from the big 'palo de mango' - mango stem (the tree was cut down many years ago because it was growing in the middle of the road. As the Ticos say: Pura Vida!


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