Second Star to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning; Getting Directions from a Tico

“Which way are you going?”
“I go to Calle 0 and take a right to get home.”
“Calle 0?? Where’s that?”
“You know, it’s the one that ends in Central Park.”
“What?”
“It’s maybe, I don’t know, 5 blocks down?”
“5 blocks.”
“Yeah, you turn right like 100 meters after the Pregnant Women Park.”
“Well, why didn’t you just say that?”

You would probably think I’m the one that’s confused with the street directions in this scenario, you know, being the gringa with no sense of direction and all.  You would be wrong.  I had this conversation a few days ago with a tico friend of mine.  You see, here’s the deal: there’s this fantastic and perfectly sensible numbering system for the streets and there are signs that could help even the most directionally-challenged person figure out where she is.  Avenues run east-west and roads run north-south with the intersection of Avenida 0/Calle 0 at Central Park–it’s simple enough.

The system makes so much sense, it’s obviously not used. 

My tico friend asked me how I knew that particular street was Calle 0.
“Because it says so on the signs.”
“What signs?”
I pointed out the nearest street sign, which was in plain view.  “Those signs.”
“What?!  They put that there yesterday!”

Ticos don’t even describe distances by “blocks”.  They measure by meters, with each 100 meters being a block.  Numbers are tough in a foreign language, so this took some adjusting to.  There’s also places with nicknames, like Parque de las Embarazadas (Pregnant Women Park), so named because apparently that’s where expectant mothers go to exercise.  I don’t even know what the real name is, and I don’t think anyone else does either, except maybe the person who named it when it was first built.

Before I came to Costa Rica, I was sent an info sheet with my address:

Heredia, Santa Lucía, 50 mts norte del comercial Santa Lucía

This meant absolutely nothing to me, and in reality, means almost nothing to ticos.  It’s always fun to call a taxi and try to convey where my house is in Spanish.  I never bothered memorizing the address since it was useless the first time.

“Heredia, Santa Lucia, 50 mts norte del comercial Santa Lucia.”
“?”
“Ok, do you know where the castle is in Santa Lucia?  It’s about 150 or 200 meters after that.”
“No, I don’t know where that is.”
“How about Pollos Pepe (restaurant) in Santa Lucia?”
“No…”
“Alright, just drive the bus route from central Heredia to Barva and Pollos Pepe will be on the left side of the road.  I’ll meet the taxi there.”

Add in language confusion and an inability to understand Spanish over the phone, and you’ve got a couple of nice long phone conversations with the taxi business.  Usually taxis know where the castle is, so this isn’t a huge problem when I’m headed home.  Other students have addresses that are easier such as “200 meters west of Walmart” or some other well-known landmark, but it’s still relatively vague in my opinion.  I have no idea how these people receive mail.  The mailmen must be pros, or maybe everyone uses post office boxes.

Who wouldn’t know where this is?

When I was submitting my visa information, the man who was working asked me what color my house was.  Even though I had already been in Costa Rica for at least a month, I had no idea.  I hazarded a guess and told him orange.  I was wrong.  It’s light and dark brown.  Whoops.

It’s interesting that I noticed street signs that someone who had lived here for years never saw, and yet didn’t know the color of my house, which is something I’m sure any tico would know.  I wonder what that says about how our cultures have evolved.

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