Urban Exploration: San Jose Editon

After a few quick email exchanges via CouchSurfing, we jumped on the bus with our Czech friend Michal to go meet a (mostly) total stranger in San José for some coffee and urban exploration. Upon our arrival, we stepped out of the Puriscal Bus Terminal to see Mariano waiting there for us on his trusty little blue Fiat. Curbside pickup. Right on 🙂 As we drove to find a good parking spot, we got to know each other a bit and Mariano explained the disorganized driving habits of Central America to us. Mariano found a suitable spot and as we started to head toward Avenida Central, he was stopped by a "watchy man" (an under-the-table person who keeps an eye on your car if you pay him... if not, not guarantee of what might happen). He paid the watchy man and we moved on.  

We found Avenida Central to be packed with pedestrian shoppers hustling from store to store in an all-too-familiar Christmass frenzy. As we walked, Mariano told us about the Christmas shopping traditions of Costa Rica. In December, every Costa Rican gets an extra check for Christmas use. So even though we were in a country of very low income, everyone had money at this time. He said if we came back in January, we would find mostly empty sidewalks with a few tourists and most of the Ticos would be broke and back at home.  We had never been to the Mercado Central (Central Market) and hadn't yet tried Costa Rican tamales, so we headed there. The Mercado Central is an indoor flea market packed with small shops selling anything from fresh slabs of meat to produce to electronic gadgetry to touristic trinkets of any variety desired. We sat down to eat at one of Mariano's favorite sodas in the market and he treated us to a round of coffees and tamales. In Costa Rica, tamales consist of meat and an original sauce packed inside a masa flour patty and wrapped in a banana leaf. Delicious indeed. If you know how & where, eating in Costa Rica can be quite cheap. For this particular meal, 4 coffees and 4 tamales came to just under $10 U.S.

With happy bellies, we left the market and walked east. We passed San Jose's largest brothel and the Parque National as Mariano told us all about Costa Rican politics and the history behind the country's revolutions and train systems.  We chatted and meandered our way up to a section of San Jose called La California and WOW. Just... wow. Walls and run down buildings absolutely covered in massive graffiti murals. My eyes glazed over as I tried to soak it all in. We found a small doorway in one of the walls and stepped in. Our nostrils were overwhelmed by the stench of crackhead leavings, yet our eyes were well rewarded with the beautiful remains of an old building covered in more graffiti, garbage and overgrown foliage. I guess we're just suckers for this kind of stuff. This was definitely not the image my mind's eye had formulated as I dreamed of the things I might see here in Costa Rica.

We wandered the graffiti lined streets until dark and finished up the night with some Seguas (the only microbrews in Costa Rica) and learned of the legend of the Segua. Legend has it after a heavy night of drinking, a Tico man may stumble out of the bar to see the back silhouette of a very shapely and beautiful woman. As she sways her hips and walks away into the darkened streets, the man would follow her with much more than a casual introduction in mind. As soon as no one else was around the woman would turn to face the man BUT instead of a beautiful face, this woman (the Segua) has a dead horse face. Upon seeing her, the man would drop dead instantly. Lesson learned.

Getting to La California: From La Coca Cola bus terminal, head south 2 blocks to Paseo Colon (the main street running east to west through San Jose). Follow Paseo Colon east for several blocks and eventually you'll run into La California. You can't miss it. Once you're there... just wander and be amazed 🙂

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