Quadrants of San Jose
San Jose is very easy to navigate because of the way it is set up. The entire city (or at least the main downtown area) is divided into four quadrants based on the intersection of Calle Central Alfredo Voilo and Avenue Segunda.
From here, the Calles run north and south and have even numbers heading west and odd numbers heading east.
The Avenidas (Avenues) run east and west and have odd numbers heading north and even numbers heading south.
So you can figure out where you are in the city easily based on what intersection you are on. If you are at Avenida 7 and Calle 15, you are in the northeast section of town. If you are at Avenida 10 and Calle 22 then you are in the southwest, etc.
Juice is plentiful, and tasty. You can order them usually 2 ways. Con leche, or con agua. With milk or water. With water, you get what you’re usually used to, juice and water. With leche, you get something that is almost like a milkshake. With leche is usually about a quarter more, and since it uses milk instead of water, weak stomachs are safe. I prefer the ‘con leche’ version.
Love the Little Children
If the number of children we saw in San Jose is any indication, the population of Costa Rica must be growing at a healthy clip.
A few of the children we encountered on the streets of San Jose approached us with hands extending asking for $1.00 in return for letting us take their photograph. I'll admit that I've paid a kid (and a few adults) a dollar to take their picture a few times in past travels, but this time I didn't. I've got mixed feelings about the practice. No doubt the person receiving the dollar can use it, but I question what kid of work ethic this is teaching them - and especially the children.
The photo taken here was gratis - and from a little distance away. We saw more than one group of uniformed school children, all wearing black and white freshly laundered uniforms, and bright smiles. Those seen here are waving at our bus as we drive through the streets of San Jose.
Above Ground Graves
We were interested to see this cemetery of above ground tombs in San Jose which are remarkably similar to those found in New Orleans, Louisiana. But much of New Orleans is situated below sea level, and San Jose is in a high mountain valley.
According to our guide, the tombs here are above ground because heavy tropical rains can saturate the ground to the extent that the water may disturb, or even float, the caskets if they are buried six feet under.
Telephone calls, Internet
Sometimes doing and receiving international phone calls was not that easy, even if you are doing it from a five-starred hotel. A few times my international calls got cut with no apparent reason and the telephone cards offered a little amount of minutes (as for me, I could only call 10 minutes to Peru with a 3000 colones' card). At that moment, the cheapest way was calling through the Internet, but now it's more convenient to use MSN and chat.
As for the internet, the cheapest way is going to the internet cafes located around Avenida Central, in downtown San José. The fee per hour is in average 500 colones (around US$1.5).
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Money Exchange, Credit Cards, ATMs.
The exchange rate is around 1US$ = 517 colones. However, dollars are widely accepted even if the bills are stained or has medium-size fractures. You can use the US$1, 2 and 5 bills to pay little expenses like taxis. Finally, for exchanging colones, you can do it at your hotel/hostel or any bank safely.
As for credit cards, Visa, MasterCard and American Express are also generally accepted. If you have Visa or Visa Electron as I do, and need cash, you can take out your money from the ATM of Scotiabank. I did it in the ATM in Multiplaza Mall and it was completely safe.
tamales and eggnog
It is a tradition around Christmas time that mothers around Costa Rica make tamales for their families. I was fortunate to be staying with a family last year and I got to try them out firsthand. Tamales are made of a corn type dough which is mashed together with pork or chicken and spices. They are bound with banana leaves to form a mold and then this mold is slowly boiled. When the tamale is done you unwrap it and you use the banana leaf as a disposable plate or placemat. They are really good and it is common for families to give them to each other as gifts because each family has their own recipe and so the tamales always have a different flavor depending on who makes them. If you don't have a local connection they do sell tamales in stores during the holiday season so that you can try them out and see what they are all about.
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Lottery, Chances, Tiempos
You’ll see (and hear) street vendors downtown with lottery tickets pinned to their wooden tables. Lotería nacional (national lottery) tickets cost c2,500 with a chance to win c40 million on Sunday nights. Chances and Tiempos are sold for c1,000 and have a top prize of c10 million on Tuesday and Friday nights. Foreigners and tourists are allowed to play. Funds from the lotteries are used by Junta de Proteccion Social (JPS) de San Jose for its social program.
- Casino and Gambling
If you venture into a residential area, you’ll notice that all of the houses have metal security bars protecting their windows, doors and yards. Walls are often topped with razor wire and other sharp implements. All of this is in an effort to prevent break-in’s and theft. Apparently, even this is no longer enough as some enterprising burglars using fishing rods to snag items behind the bars through open windows. Just something you might want to consider if you are staying long term or considering buying a house.
I like a country where they wait their turn in line. It just seems polite and proper to me. So I like the Costa Ricans because they’re patient enough to wait in line for buses and taxis and cash registers. In general life runs at a slower pace, but an orderly one.
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- Hiking and Walking
I saw this several times walking around San Jose and finally got the courage to take a picture, albeit when his back was turned. No need for machines when a willing arm with a machete is available. Just don’t upset the gardener.
- Hiking and Walking
women, sit on your rumps more often
Call it a phenomenon if you will, but I always notice that whenever I go sit on a bench and people watch or relax, I always stick out like a sore thumb. I rarely notice females sitting alone, doing nothing. Men do it all the time; it’s status-quo. Women, however, are generally accompanied by friends, children, mothers, whatever. They just don’t sit alone. Yet I do. Hence this is why I experience awkward stares and looks of confusion from passerbyers.
Churro is a fried dough with fillings, a type of snack on the streets of Costa Rica. It somewhat resembles a donut, except that it shapes like a stick. You can find churro stands along Avenida Central. It costs about US$0.35 for one.
addicted to soccer
costa rican people are fascinated by soccer and that's why televisions mustn't miss in any household. the "seleccion tricolor" has participated the FIFA world championship in 2002 for the second time after 1990 and enthusiasm for this sport is growing steadily. talking to local people and teachers I found out that their success is probably the result of a governmental program: it doesn't matter how small a village you visit, you are very likely to encounter people playing soccer. usually the ground is not very good, but at least the government managed to take kids off the street to soccer places and reached another success: the streets in the cities got saver.
if you happen to get in touch with local people playing soccer, don't miss the opportunity and participate! watching the national soccer team playing football is also worth an experience.
Waiting for the wife to complete the shopping
The central district was very busy on Christmas Eve afternoon. Lots of people completing their last minute shopping. But these guys obviously had had enough and chose to wait out the shopping trip in the central plaza in front of the National Theater. Can't say that I blame them since shopping is not a particular favorite of mine either (or couldn't you tell from the plethora of shopping tips that generally appear on my pages.)
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