Hey, where do you live? 200m south of that really big tree.
By Shakia Stewart
Last updated: 10th November 2011
Getting a taxi home after a night out is usually a straight forward procedure. I tend to follow these easy steps: get in taxi, tell taxi driver my address, fall asleep, wake up on arrival at destination, pay fare. Wonderful. I’m home safe and sound, in one piece, and I can roll into bed (usually still fully clothed). Getting a taxi home in Costa Rica, however, requires a bit more attention. Addresses here are not what you might expect. The streets here have names, and the buildings have numbers – of course, wouldn’t it be really weird if they didn’t?? But the difference is, noone uses them! In fact, most people couldn’t tell you the name of the street that they live on. Instead of giving an address as a house number and a street name, Costa Ricans use points of reference and landmarks, such as a church, a bar, or a tree (yes, a tree, I’ve heard it with my own ears) and then explain the distance from said points of reference in a northerly, southerly, easterly or westerly direction. For example, if I were to ask someone where they lived in San Jose, they might reply ‘About 100m south of Santa Teresa church, on your left’. Great if you know where Santa Teresa church is. Not so helpful if you don’t. But as my teacher Edward explained it: Costa Ricans don’t give addresses or directions, they describe them.
Hence, when jumping into a taxi last night after a long and extremely fun night of reggaeton dancing, I realised I would not be able to follow my usual steps. Instead of telling my driver my address and falling asleep, I would have to describe my address in more detail and watch out for landmarks along the way to make sure we’re heading in the right direction! Thankfully we made it one piece, so I think I’m getting the hang of it!
In any case, I think it’s really a demonstration of Costa Ricans’ particularly close relationship with their environment and the world around them. I’m really looking forward to seeing this more as I head out of the city of San Jose into the mountainous countryside tomorrow morning. I’ll be heading to the Pacific coast to visit a turtle project, check out a few waterfalls (totally casual) and the beautiful Manuel Antonio national park. Oooo yeh, bring it on!