All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately.
As I embark on my fourth week here in Costa Rica, I have picked up a few cultural lessons that you aren’t exactly going to learn from reading a Lonely Planet book. To become a proper “tico” (Costa Ricans call themselves ticos), you must learn the ways of the locals. And that’s where I come in.
The first thing I noticed is the use (or rather, overuse) of the phrase “Pura Vida.” Literally, it translates to mean pure life but people will use it to say hello, good bye or your welcome and the phrase is seen as graffiti in most parts of the country. Think of it as Latin American slang. While we are on the topic of the way my beloved ticos talk, you should be aware of the fact that they usually don’t use the “tu” form. Those of you who want to travel to Costa Rica as non-spanish speaking tourists, ignore this piece of advice. But people who have been taking Spanish lessons for 5 years, where they were taught to use the “tu” form when adressing someone casually…listen up. No tu form. You use usted for everybody. Nothing informal about this place. Instead of saying “de nada” (your welcome), people say “mucho gusto”, which means my pleasure. Quick and slight modifications in the way they talk but it definetely differs depending on what country you’re in.
Now, the fun stuff: food. Beans and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s just what you should expect. On the side, you could have a salad or some meat but otherwise, get used to arroz con frijoles. Also, don’t mistake bananas with plantains. Plantains are the bananas older, slightly more attractive brother and they are usually never eaten raw. Instead, they are cut into thin slices and fried on a pan of oil and eaten as a sort of tropical version of dessert.
When it comes to architecture, it’s pretty much everything you would expect for a Latin American country. Tiny little houses (each a different color) and plenty of small and beautifully rustic churches fill the atmosphere and you can always see mountains or volcanos lined up in the background. But when you are walking through the cities, trying to enjoy these views, you also have to be a bit careful about all the cars rushing past you. No sidewalks. You walk on the side of the road, but there aren’t too many cars driving by.
The concept that baffled me for the longest time was that there are no addresses. There are no mail boxes. How do they get their magazines delievered to them? Or what if they want to order some shoes on Amazon? Whenever we were traveling to a different city and asked for the hotels address, they would all say “100 meters from the church” or “200 meters past the large supermarket”. Thank god for google maps!
And finally, we make our way to the bathroom (at least I didn’t talk about this right after food). Hot water is only for those who are witty enough to trick the shower into giving it to them. But since we’re such good friends, I’ll let you in on a secret. Turn the handle as slowly as possible. Bam! Not hot water, but at least its lukewarm. You’ll be happy with what you can get but make sure to shampoo quickly because it doesn’t last long. I guess all good things really do come to an end.