At this time one week ago, Torie and I were landing in San Jose. I don’t know if this has been a long week or a short week; it feels like both if that is possible. If this first week is a predictor of what our life will be like for the next two years, I am excited. Like life anywhere, it’s had its ups and downs.
We’ve been awed by the beautiful mountains surrounding us, amazed by the vibrant colors that are omnipresent during the rainy season, and pleasantly surprised by how easy it is for us to get around here. The first week has also brought us fear of all the unknowns and embarrassment as a result of our “gringoness” (what I predict will be an ongoing, incurable condition for us here).
Highlights of the first week are plenty, but most prominent among them are the two trips we made to San Jose. The capital city is about a 20-30 minute ride by bus for us depending upon how deep into the city we go. Both times this week we rode the bus all the way to the heart of the bustling city – Avendia Central. This is a cool place. In many ways San Jose is much like big cities in the US: taxis drive crazily, everyone honks incessantly, streets are crowded, people beg for change, etc. I haven’t been many places, but I have been to some big cities, but what sets San Jose apart is its cultural center: the Central Mercado (Market).
The Central Mercado is just that, a one square block market smack dab in the middle of the big city. It is a covered building, not an open-air market like you might think of when you visualize a Central American market. I was a bit leery of the place as we approached.
Some of the stores/overgrown booths open to the street and are selling chintzy, overpriced trinkets for tourists. The outer ring of the market is full of these booths, but the real market is within. While not experts on Costa Rican culture and shopping after a week here, we know enough to realize what’s going on inside the Central Market is what is going on elsewhere in the country. What I mean is, the Central Market is still Costa Rican: it’s not just for tourists. This was an awesome surprise. I guess visiting other cities made me somewhat pessimistic. I expected this place to be converted into a tourist trap where people like me came to see the sights and get overcharged for lesser products. As we wound our way through the labyrinth of narrow paths between stall after stall, we found countless merchants selling everything from handmade shoes to papayas to cilantro to octopus. All of these stalls looked just like the ones we saw at a local farmers market – they were priced the same, too. The only place we’ve seen cheaper produce is at the roadside stands (and it isn’t cheaper by much). Inside the market are also dozens of sodas – at which I helped myself to an awesome empanada and a fruit drink made of cas, which I was told is like a guava.
Back outside the Central Mercado, Avenida Central is a happening place.
It’s a great place to be a tourist because you can’t drive down it. In a country where the pedestrian apparently NEVER has the right-away, this is good. We loved just walking down the road peering into the shops and restaurants.
While we will rarely ever need to go to the capital city, I am sure we will often because it is just a cool place with so much to see.
It will be a week or so before the next post as Torie and I are about to head out on our first trip to the beach. Our bus is leaving San Jose at 9 a.m. for Manuel Antonio. It feels like we are taking a vacation from a vacation, and we couldn’t be more excited about it!