exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Monday, March 12, 2007

Aside from the language, city life in Costa Rica doesn't strike me as too different from city life in the US. I'm sure if I went to some of the more remote locations, I would be in for a bigger culture shock. But in and around San Jose, people carry on just like people everywhere. There are a few things worth mentioning:

  • Go before you go. Public restrooms aren't too common, and where they exist, they can be a little scary.
  • Speaking of toilets, there are little trash cans next to all of them. They're for your TP. Since there are septic tanks nearly everywhere, rather than sewers, it is important not to flush the paper so everything keeps a'flowin'.
  • Line, signs, and signals are all just suggestions on the road. I've hinted at the insanity of driving in Costa Rica, but I don't think I can truly do it justice with words. Where there are two lanes, people make three. And amidst those three crowded lanes, motorcycles, scooters, and bikes weave in and out. Pedestrians cross where they can. And they often have to walk along the street because sidewalks are either too full, unwalkable, or nonexistant. I was originally worried about crime in San Jose, but I think if anything happens to me here, it will be because of the traffic, not the criminals.
  • Let them do the driving. The bus systems here are fantastic. They are equally mysterious. You can get anywhere by bus. They're cheap. Inside the city, they run often. Around the greater San Jose area, they run 4-6 times an hour. I haven't had a chance to take a bus to a further destination yet. The trick, however, is finding the bus stop for where you want to go. The routes are unpublished. There is no central bus terminal. There are some signs, but most are misleading. The best way to find the right bus is to ask at least 3 different people.
  • Hail, hail. If you do happen to see the bus you need, you can hail it like a cab. Stick your arm out. Show a little leg. Flash some coins. Everyone has their own method. It's all about style, baby. Of course, if the bus is packed or the driver is feeling surly, he may not stop. If you are an attractive woman, however, you are guaranteed a lift anywhere, at any time.
  • Almost everyone here is friendly and helpful. About half of these friendly, helpful people would like to sell you something or get a handout. When you go to shake hands, keep your other hand on your wallet. Too cynical? Maybe a little.
  • You'll pay a Gringo Tax. Or rather, you'll pay the published price for most things. Locals, however, will often get a discount without the need to haggle. Or they'll get a few extras thrown in. It doesn't matter if you speak Spanish, either. Ticos know Ticos. And they take care of each other.