Ticos: The Costa Rican people call themselves Ticos. They have been great. I know very little Spanish, but they were patient, kind, and helpful. There were a few quiet Uber rides because the driver didn’t know English but still no frustration. It didn’t matter if it was the meat counter guy at Wal-Mart or the waitstaff at any number of restaurants across the country, everyone either tried to understand what I thought was Spanish or played charades with me until we figured out how to communicate. I never felt not welcome anywhere. Ticos offered great suggestions of where to eat, places to see, and things to do in their great country.
Currency: I’ve never thought to compliment another countries currency before, but the Costa Rican colon is not only artistic and colorful, but also conscious. It’s named after Cristóbal Colón (who we know as Christopher Columbus). The country redesigned the bank notes in 2012. Each denomination is a different color, texture, and size. These features were added to help the visually impaired to be able to tell the denominations apart. So, visually impaired or not, you don’t have to worry about giving the cashier the wrong bill at checkout.
Landscape: Beautiful, lush, and green is how I’d describe the landscape. The views of the flora and fauna from the mountains were awesome. In some areas, when you looked over the edge, all you saw was green in every direction. Another great thing was seeing hawks gliding by your window so close you felt like you could reach out and touch them. Also, it seemed like the plants and trees grew larger there for some reason. Tree leaves were huge, and the color of the plants and vegetation were so vibrant I felt like I was looking at them on a super high-definition TV. Whether at the beach, driving in the mountains, or taking a tour I enjoyed taking in the landscape. Now, I understand why it’s a great eco-tourism spot.
The Check: At every restaurant we visited, getting the check was a test of patience. Whether it was Denny’s, Mom & Pop, or fine dining, the waitstaff disappeared a few minutes after bringing out the food. You might see them once if you stare them down after helping another table. After you’ve received all your food, extra napkins, and hot sauce…poof! Gone! At the Springs Resort and Spa, we waited 30 to 40 minutes for the check after finishing breakfast. It wasn’t just our waiter that was missing. All of them disappeared. When we finally did get someone’s attention, they were surprised we hadn’t received the check yet. I don’t understand it at all. In the majority of places we dined, the food was good and staff was pleasant, but getting the check was exasperating.
Directions/Addresses (or lack thereof): Typically, when researching a country to visit you search weather, food, culture, people, and even native language. Who thinks of researching a country’s mail delivery system or how home addresses work where you are vacationing? Ticos do a great job interweaving their past with their present. The lack of a specific home address is a great example. It’s a nod to their farming history. In the past, streets didn’t have names or numbers, they gave directions based on visible landmarks to guide someone to their home. This still holds true today in Costa Rica.
Our Airbnb address was 209 Ruta a Tarbaca, 100 metros oeste e la Galera del Maiz, Aserri, San Jose 1450, Costa Rica, which is route 209 in Tarbaca, 100 meters west of the Galera del Maiz. These were the instructions given to us when we arrived, and of course, we got lost. The Airbnb owner had to come get us, and even that was an ordeal because there are no real street addresses.
In downtown San José, some streets have meaningful names and numbers, but the in rest of the country the main road (ruta, avenida or calle) has a number—and that’s it. I learned that the first week trying to get UberEats to deliver lunch. I watched the driver pass the road to our Airbnb at least three times (just like we did when we arrived) before he canceled my pizza order. This was the craziest thing to me. Even pinning our home location using Waze didn’t help.
We eventually learned to take a sharp right up the mountain a little more, but man you would think the ancestors would be good with having specific road names and addresses to make things easier.
Driving: I have always considered myself a good driver: defensive and aware with a touch of lead foot, but never reckless. In Costa Rica, I suck. No one follows the road signs, and people walk in the road because there are very few sidewalks. Add in motorbikes riding in between cars, and you have the wild, wild west of driving. Driving had to be the worst thing about our trip. In the city, in the mountains, or at the beach, it was the same thing. Cars pull out in front of you, then immediately stop and turn on their hazards. The main rule is no rules.
Sorry, there is one rule.
Never drive down a street the wrong way…even if there’s no sign or other indicator telling you it’s a one way. People on the streets yell at you, whistle, and you hear horns honking like you’ve committed the greatest sin. The first week we thought we were literally going to die in traffic.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country with great culture and cool people that you should visit if you have the opportunity. But drive at your own risk, and maybe wear some Depends the first week just in case.