Published: June 13th 2012June 13th 2012
Visiting Costa Rica is like boarding a ship for the first time. The deck moves strangely beneath your feet. Sometimes you even feel a little sick to your stomach. Everything seems somewhat “off” and it takes a little while to get your bearings. There are many things I have experienced this first week that strike me as peculiar in comparison.
Plugs and light switches look completely different. Door knobs are optional. Locks and faucets turn backwards. It is not common to have a set of dishes that match. Each plate can be a different color and size. Even in restaurants. There are no bathtubs, just large beautifully tilled showers. Very, very little air-conditioning. And the toilets fill up incredibly slowly!
Colors seem livelier. And there is color everywhere! Detailed, deep-colored tile is not only in the house, but also part of the driveways, the garages and the porches. Vibrant greens are everywhere because of the ever-present flora. The houses and gates are painted rich terracotta, blue, or yellow… there is no taboo color. Color is in abundance in your food at every meal. Even the money is multi-colored and different sizes. Sometimes part of the bill is see-through. The
Market in Heredia
An example of an open fruit and vegetable market in the Heredia province with our guide Johnny
colors all merge and match like a bouquet of wild flowers.
It has rained almost every day I have been here. (Yesterday it rained four times.) And these are not gentle drops, but more like angry torrents. Huge drops, too. Sometimes it lasts for hours or catches you for only a few moments. The rain is an ever-present part of this culture. It manifests itself in the light clothing, the two-foot deep gutters on the sides of most roads, and in the abundance of fruit served at just about each meal. Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, carry an umbrella constantly (for both the rain and the hot sunshine). I am quickly learning to do the same.
A walk about town reveals numerous differences. First off, there are tall iron fences and gates everywhere. I have seen only two houses here that are not surrounded by a fence. Barbed wire or broken glass on roof tops are common and provide a deterrent to crime. Most stores (but not restaurants) are locked. You knock and an employee opens the door. Banks have guards at the door that check you with detectors. None of this seems odd in this culture.
An open meat market
People do not act fearful of one another and there are not gangs hanging on street corners. (It is interesting to note that Costa Rica has a lower crime rate than the U.S.)
The women dress really nicely all the time. No one walks around in pajama bottoms. And Tico women love fancy shoes! There are so many shoe stores. ALL the school kids wear blue and white or blue and light blue uniforms nation-wide. There are also street venders selling everything under the sun. Sometimes they sell ice cream out of little push carts. I have seen them hawk chips, car chargers or toys. In San Jose, I even saw a fire juggler performing during the stops at a red light. Also, the drivers have the right of way. You take your life literally in your hands (actually your feet) each and every time you cross a street! Mucho loco!
Fresh foods, such as fruit and meat, come daily from open markets. There is a Walmart (one, far away), but daily shopping is done in these small stores. Each town has a central gathering place, usually in front of an old, large Catholic church that
Lots of options at the fresh meat markets. Skin of the pigs and chicken feet and livers, too!
is in use every day of the week. I’ve noticed that the towns and stores are clean overall.
Some things are the same however. A smile is universal. Parents hug their children. Friends laugh together. And people speak more loudly at me to try to help me grasp Spanish. (It doesn’t really help, but does give me a good laugh.) After one week, I think I’m finally getting my “sea-legs”, but I still turn the faucets off backwards. Every single time.
There are more photos below