Holiday vs. moving to a different country
First months in San José did surprise me quite a great deal. They shouldn't have that much, I knew I was coming to a very different country and got myself ready for the cultural shock. There is a huge difference between going somewhere on holiday for few weeks and actually moving somewhere for about a year.
First few week I was living at my friend’s Alex' place in San Pedro - part of San José where the university is. The apartment was one block away from "Calle de la Amargura" - the Street of Bitterness (in catholic church it's the road where Christ was carrying his cross) - bars and clubs only. At night the sight of quite interesting people, the sound of music, the smell of beer and pizza. During the day the image changes. The street is covered with trash left there by everybody - it's difficult to find a trash can so people drop things where they stand, more so when they are drunk. What adds up to this are mountains of trash bags left outside by the employees of all the bars and clubs. They all lie there in the heat of the day and wait for the council trucks to be collected. Before that happens normally the rats take care of their lunch.
Alex lived in the apartment with three of his friends. The problem was it took me weeks to figure out who exactly they were. Every day I saw someone different. That way I met Mango (Eduardo - every guy has a nick name, no way around it) and Santa (no clue about his real name), who actually lived there. Then another Eduardo, Rafa, Jarold, Flaco, Juliana, Daylin and many others, whose names I don't remember but who were constantly of need of a place to sleep. Alex's roommate Marlon, was visiting his family in San Carlos, so I met him last.
There were never enough keys for everyone so on top of a window next to the entrance we had a hidden knife, that was used to crack the not very complicated lock. The apartment itself looked like it was about to collapse on itself any minute. Squeaky floor, wholes in the roof and shabby walls. Also can you imagine the apartment of 3 lazy Latin party boys? There was a cloud of weird odour and all the armature was covered with a sheet of a sticky substance. I did take a shot at cleaning, I had a suspicion there was a dead mouse somewhere but gave up quickly on the search. The bathroom wasn't any better, mainly cold water - if there was water at all. And - which for me was the most difficult thing to get over - basket for used toilet paper next to the toilet itself: the sewers weren't good enough to take toilet paper as well.
That was one thing that I struggled with almost the whole time I lived in Costa Rica. Most of the places you visit - except for pricy hotels - don't have hot water. At homes people get around it by installing a small electrical appliances that heat up the water as it flows, but I have stayed at homes where the shower was a pipe sticking out of the wall. Alex' place wasn't so bad, someone I know luckily noticed the cables smoking during his shower and he turned off the damn thing on time.
Finding a place in Costa Rica can give you a heart attack. Addresses in San José - so called Chepe - are confusing as hell. The centre is not so bad, at least the streets have names and signs - the scheme is based on New York so the streets are numbered, although locals usually don't use them. The most important thing is to know your north, south, east and west. The city centre is easy Avenida Central and Paseo Colón divide the city into north and south. So if you're standing facing north it means on the left you have east and on the right is the west. An address like: 250m north from Toyota on Paseo Colón shouldn't be a problem. You only need to know there is a Toyota dealer on Paseo Colón and next to the building you just turn north and go 2 and a half blocks (100m corresponds to 1 block). A slightly bigger problems start outside of city centre where there is no Avenida Central and people go by characteristic places or buildings. My address for instance was: 65m west from Super Si Mart, house of light blue colour, no gate, on the right, Vargas Araya, San Pedro. Or 300m north and 65m west from Soda San Bosco and the rest would be the same. Postcards did miraculously arrive but I didn't risk any packages - I just used my friend's PO Box.
Funny situations start when the address tells you to turn east at a big tree, which was cut down couple of years ago. Try to find that.
The adventure started at the airport. My good buddies Alex and Eduardo came to pick me up. We had to go up to the top floor and wait for someone. It turned out he guys had to organize a pirate cab because the official airport taxis charged a fortune - the airport is quite a ride from the city.
The weirdness continues when I had to take a cab home for the first time on my own. Rule number one: always articulate very loudly in front of the driver that your friend is waiting for your call as soon as you get home. Rule number two: always sit behind the driver. Why? It's more difficult to threaten you with a knife when they have to turn around 180 degrees.
Pure "pleasure". Buses are not numbered, there is always a small sign at the front listing all the places the bus will stop at. If you're going towards Chepe, no problem, all the buses go there. However if you're trying to get to some other place you almost need a pair of binoculars. Before you start waving down a bus you need to make sure it's the right one. Once you start waving down you should hope it will stop or at least someone needs to get off because if the driver doesn't see you, forget about it.