Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

Heredia, My Cradle

Translation of the cover image:

“By the zephyrs (breezes) rocked
by the birds sung
in a wide valley nestled
among hidden flowers
Heredia, my cradle…”

This was painted on the side of a building (beats me if I remember where) in Heredia.  It’s not like Heredia has poems painted on every street corner, but I keep finding them in random places, and I love it.

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Translation of above photo:

“I would like to have enormous hands,
violent and savage,
to rip out borders one by one
and leave of border only the air.”
-Jorge Debravo

Jorge Debravo is a famous Costa Rican poet.  I’m actually reading some of his poems for my writing class right now.  I found this on the sidewalk in Parque Central, Central Park, in Heredia.  But I digress.

I promised in my last post, But I Really Am Having Fun, that I would write about Heredia, the city where I will be living for the next few months.

For some background info, Heredia, the City of Flowers, is a city just outside San Jose.  I am attending Universidad Nacional (UNA), the main university in the city.

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When I first arrived in Heredia, I saw a strange city with a jumble of colorful houses almost stacked on top of one another and no skyscrapers.  Narrow roads bordered by cracked sidewalks twist around corners and past cafés that the Ticos call sodas.  Concrete gutters for rainwater that are a foot wide and often a foot deep divide the sidewalks from the roads and people are everywhere, walking, waiting for buses, driving like maniacs.  Green mountains with the tops often lost in the clouds surround the city on all sides and every once in a while when I’m in a high point of the city, I catch sight of a view of tin roofs spread out below me.

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It was a city filled with the rhythm of a gibberish language, full of unfriendly faces staring at me and men leaning out the car window as they drive past to make kissy noises and wink at me.  Cars and motorcycles swerve into the opposite lane and zip past stop signs.  The houses are fronted with painted concrete walls and iron fences topped with barbed wire and the narrow connecting tiendas, stores, stretch back further than expected.  And the buses.  So many different buses.

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I still live in the same city, but something shifted in the last week or so, and it has become familiar.  Cars stop at intersections without stop signs and wave for me to cross.   When I smile at people, they smile back and say, “Buenos.”  I don’t have to anxiously look out the bus window for fear of missing my stop.  A man stands and offers me his seat on a packed bus.  Even though there aren’t any large bookstores as far as I can tell, there are parks in front of all the big churches where I can sit in the grass or on a bench and people-watch.

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This is a tower in Parque Central that you’ll see a lot as a symbol of Heredia.  It’s a lot prettier in real life, but my camera has trouble with pictures in low light.  In reality, all the windows, including the ones that look white, are different vibrant colors.

I’ve settled into a routine of life that I like.  In the mornings I put more effort into what I wear than usual since I’ve decided t-shirts and shorts are not an option.  My host mom makes me breakfast, always with fruit and café con leche y sin azucar, coffee with milk but without sugar, and we watch the news or cooking shows.  If my host brother is there, he talks to me (in English so he can practice).

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The fruit changes every morning, but ever since my host mom learned it’s my favorite, there’s always pineapple.  Also, I’m going to have to buy my host family a UNT mug.

The parada, bus stop, is across the street.  It’s interesting because the sun rises so early here that even though I usually catch the bus around 7:30, it feels like it’s 9.  I pay 190 colones, around 40 cents, to get on the bus.  I love public transportation in general, so this is always fun for me.  I get off at the bus stop next to the colegio, high school, that my host mom attended and walk three blocks to the university.  In Costa Rica, they say 300 metros, meters, rather than three blocks.  Also, there’s a fantastic road numbering system with avenidas, avenues, running one way and calles, roads, running the other, but no one uses the street numbers to give directions or record addresses.  Instead, they navigate by landmarks and use relative positioning.  For example, my home address (that I would give to a taxi, not where I receive mail) is:
50 mts norte del comercial Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia, Heredia
Heredia is divided into neighborhoods that generally have their own church and plaza.  I live in a relatively small community called Santa Lucia, south of  Barva and north of the main part of Heredia.

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At the university, I go to my classes and when I have downtime, chill somewhere in the sun and read poetry in Spanish for my creative writing class.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have classes in the afternoon as well as the morning, so I usually go home for home-cooked lunch.  When all my classes are over, I ride the bus back.  Sometimes, when it’s sunny and I feel like it, voy a pata, which takes 25-30 minutes.

–“Voy a pata” is a Tico slang that literally translates to “I go to a duck”, but means “I go by foot.”–

In the afternoon, my host mom usually asks if I want coffee, which I decline, but I do accept the offer of some kind of homemade empanada that is the most delicious thing ever, excepting, of course, desserts that include ice cream.  Then, I do homework or write for my blog or hang out with my host family, with dinner thrown somewhere into the mix.

I do occasionally deviate and hang out with friends or eat elsewhere, and I purposefully arranged my schedule so I would have three-day weekends to travel and do fun stuff.  All in all, a pretty good setup.

Also, as promised, here’s the picture of the castle that’s about a block from my house.  Mind you, this is in the middle of a regular part of town and someone actually lives there.  I know.  I asked my host mom twice to make sure I understood her.

First week of school 048 webThat picture was a skill shot out the bus window.  Pura vida.


3 thoughts on “Heredia, My Cradle

  1. Hey Renee,
    I am Joanna’s dad, She gave me your address. Love your pictures and your comments. I am trying to see the things Joanna is seeing through your eyes. Please give Joanna a hug when you see her. Have fun and be safe.
    Bill Dages

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