One phrase I’ve picked up in my first few days in San José is pura vida, a Costa Rican phrase which translates literally as ‘pure life’. Ticos (Costa Ricans) use it in almost any context as a way to say hello, goodbye, or your welcome, in a lighthearted kind of way. It’s a lot like hakuna matata—no worries, just pura vida. I use it to try and sound like less of a gringo.
I haven’t left the United States before, so almost everything about San José is new to me. One of the hardest things to get used to (other than the language) is the lack of street signs. Ticos describe where things are in the city using landmarks in combination with cardinal directions. For example, the address of the school I attend is something like this: 75 meters south of the pharmacy on the left hand side. Another little weird thing is that ’75 meters south’ doesn’t actually mean 75 meters, it means three quarters of the way down the block, even if the block isn’t really 100 meters. It’s a really simple way of giving directions, but is hard to get used to if you aren’t familiar with the city.
I think the directions also reflect the kind of controlled chaos that is the streets of San José. I’m sure it’s not as crazy as Beijing, but the traffic laws in San José are a lot more…relaxed than in the United States. The speed limit is more of a guideline, stop signs really just mean ‘slow down’, and if you are riding a motorcycle no rules apply. It seems messy at first, but everybody gets where they need to go.
Speaking of not being very familiar with the city, luckily there is a lot to see and do relatively close to the school. La calle de amargura (bittersweet street) or just la calle (the street) is right across from the University of Costa Rica, and has lots of shops, bars, and sodas to explore. Sodas are cheap diners that usually offer a couple different casados for lunch. A casado is a dish with rice, black beans, a small salad, and usually some type of meat (you can also get plantains, my new favorite food).
Another thing I like about San José is the graffiti—there is street art everywhere along the walk to school, and a lot of really cool pictures and messages written on the walls. Sometimes the messages are political, and sometimes they’re just uplifting, like the one below.
Luego. ¡Pura vida!