By Ivo Henfling
Moving to another country and another culture is sometimes harder than we think it is because we have to adjust to 101 issues and living in Costa Rica helps you do just that. Well, moving to Costa Rica that doesn't have addresses is another adventure. Years ago, I sold a property in Heredia to a client, who instead of writing down his address on a scrap of paper, wrote down my phone number, so the taxidrivers could call me for his address. At one point the taxidrivers stopped calling me, so he either got married or he learned who to say his address in Spanish.
For most of you, an address and driving directions are two different things. In Costa Rica, they're both the same thing.
If you are new to Costa Rica, buy yourself a compass, that's what I did and after a while you don't need it anymore. That's because our addresses are given with the north - south - east - west directions. And learn Spanish because they will give you the address in Spanish and not in English.
Cities like San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago use the US numbering of Avenue (Avenida) and Street (Calle). They number the even numbered Avenues from Central Avenue toward the south and the uneven numbers toward and then number the uneven ones toward the north. They number the even streets from Central Street (Calle central) to the west and the uneven to the east. Most streets have lost their street signs over the years and nobody bothered replacing them because most locals don't use the system.
In smaller cities, towns and villages, you won't find streets and avenues to guide you. But Costaricans are very nice people and always helpful to send you on the right track, even if they don't have a clue
Instead of an address, we use a landmark as a point of referrence. That can be a church, a park, a bar, a Pizza Hut or even a tree that was there 25 years ago. In the countryside, you'll find it much easier than in the city as in the city, landmarks change faster. The huge advantage is that everybody knows where the landmarks are. They also give a complete description of the proeprty you are goign to visit, so pay attention to the details, this will help you tremendously.
So now you rented or bought a house in Costa Rica and you don't want to call your realtor all the time, to make sure you get home. What do you do? How do you find out where you live? You'll find that the power bill or the water bill have strange numbers and directions. That's because they use the NIS or Localization number and not the address. You might find an address like mine: San Rafael de Escazu, 200 north, 25 west of Paco Mall, first house on left, white wall and brown gate.
Let's take that apart. You have no clue what this is all about and you don't even know where San Rafael de Escazu is and you don't have a map. What are your options? Very simple:
1. Get yourself a taxi and give the address to the driver. But if you want to learn, go to step 2
2. Learn Spanish. Ask as many times as you can, you might be sent some time the wrong way.If you want to learn more, go to step 3.
3. Wherever you are, ask for San Rafael Escazu and ask if they know which side of Escazu the Paco mall is located. Once you get to Escazu, find Paco mall. When at Paco Mall, ask where north its and you'll find my office as the first house on the left has a white wall and brown gate. Can't miss. That was easier than most know how to drive in their own cities.
Some extra notes might help on your search:
1. Some streets are one way, some are not. How to figure it out? Cars are all parked the same way or both ways. Don't look for signs, they'll be there where you won't expect them to be. Drive carefully, if they honk at you, you went into a one way the wrong way.
2. Most every Catholic church looks toward the west. That's because the morning light will light up the whole church for the day as the windows are on the east side. So if you're lost, look for the Catholic church.
3. If you drive yourself, use one of those compasses you can stick to your windshield.
4. Ask for a second landmark when given an address, it might help finding it easier.
5. Travel as much as you can in Costa Rica, its an incredible country and there is much to see. It will also teach you more about the customs, language and other interesting things about your new home country. This experience will help you find addresses much easier.
I hope this article is usefull to you. I certainly find the system better than the US system because I can't still figure it all out when I travel to the US, thanx to my GPS. The European system is even harder, where they have neighborhoods with names of poets, writers, painters and whoever did something in life. The problem with that system is that everyone only has knowledge of his own neighborhood and its impossible to find an address easily. If you take some interest to the issue, you'll find that the Tico way of giving an address is actually pura vida.
By Ivo Henfling, your realtor who never gets lost and will make sure you get home after selling you a property in Costa Rica. On another blog, I will tell you how to get an address so your mail won't get lost.