Today we visited the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. San Jose is located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, an area surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. The area was influenced heavily by the coffee and banana plantations in the area which thrives due to the fertile volcanic soil. The evidence of this influence is still present today. One indication of this is the railroad going into the city which was built to ship coffee and bananas to the ports to be exported.
Another indication is the lack of the use of addresses. While the main streets in the center of the city are well marked, as you move outwards the names of streets aren’t used as much and the use of landmarks takes over.
When you ask someone for directions, they will most likely tell you something like “200 meters from the library” or “100 meters from the church then left at the corner with the bakery”. This comes from when The Valley used to be mainly farms and addresses weren’t very helpful so people used landmarks to give directions.
This method is still in use today all over Costa Rica which leads to some very baffled tourists who aren’t aware of where these landmarks are or even what they look like. While this system is fine for small town areas, in a large city like San Jose, it can be confusing when completely logistics-based tasks such as delivery of packages, or locating a specific building. This system is inefficient and confusing, however, it is so ingrained in the local culture, that changing it would be nearly impossible. While adding an address to a place is easy, getting people to use it after so many years of not using it, is hard. While the method is not the best, the people have found a way to cope with and use it so that it is not a hinderance to San Jose and is instead a major part of their culture.
Coming from a big city like Pittsburgh, the hustle and bustle of San Jose is a familiar feel. The noise of cars, buses and trains just completes the aesthetic. The two cities actual have several similarities besides the noise. One of these is both of the cities have many historical buildings. Another similarity is that walking is very common in these cities because they are so compact and both bus systems are also popular. The last similarity is that crossing the street in either city is a sprint workout where you only have a few seconds to get across before a speeding car or a port authority bus comes barreling down the avenue.