In the style of node what you know. This is the kind of shit that can drive you crazy. Check it out.

In San Jose, Costa Rica, the capital, all the streets have names. The area near downtown is quite neatly laid out in a grid pattern. There is a major dividing avenue, Paseo Colon, that runs east to west, or west to east, depending on what direction you are going. North of that street, east-west streets are labeled 1, 3, 5, etc. South of the Paseo Colon, the streets are 2, 4,6 etc.

There is a dividing line that runs North-South. East of that line, the streets are 2, 4, 6, etc. West of that line the streets are 1, 3, 5, etc.

All the houses/buildings on any given street are numbered. So, for example, one might live at 23 5th street. Or, you might live at 120 4th ave. But can you send a letter, or take a cab, to such an address?


For some reason, all addresses are based on a geographic understanding of the city, using well known landmarks as major points of reference. For example, 55 6th street might be: 200 meters north of the Toyota, 100 west, 200 north, blue house with black fence. ( The Toyota is the main Toyota dealersip on Paseo Colon, west of downtown.) Or, 400 south of the Kentucky Fried Chicken, 100 east, red house. (Each city block is refered to as 100 meters.) WHY OH WHY?!? I don't know.

What makes matters worse for the first time visitor is that some of the landmarks no longer exist. But the cultural memory of the city is such that it refuses to change the landmark to the new thing that the landmark is. The prime example of this is the COCA COLA landmark. There was a time when the Coca Cola company had a bottling plant west and north of downtown ( much more west than north). About 30 years ago, the building ceased to be the Coca Cola bottling plant, and was turned into a bus station. Is it refered to now as the bus station? HELL NO! There is another bus station that is a landmark. The new bus station is still refered to as the Coca Cola. ( Note: no need to call it the Coca Cola bottling plant, just call it the Coca Cola.) Other landmarks have changed as well, but they are still refered to as what they once were. It can drive you crazy.

This pattern of addresses holds true for the entire country. All towns have some landmarks, and all addresses are based on those landmarks. If you were to write a letter to someone, you would address it using this screwy system. For the first time visitor, it can be very confusing, although after a while, I have found it grows on you. It is an amusing, and hell, almost a lovable way of indicating where something is.

Want a mind trip?

Most Central American countries employ some version of this address system.

What is important to add to dogboy's informative write-up is that mail delivery in Costa Rica is completely unlike that of the United States or many other countries. Very little mail is delivered directly to houses and the majority of people have post office boxes. Because of the bizarre system of addresses, it is not uncommon for mail addressed directly to homes to get lost, especially if landmarks are used that are unfamiliar to the post office. Or if there happen to be two or three white houses four blocks west of the fish market the post office will guess which one you are sending your letter to. This is why the vast majority of mail goes to post office boxes and not to homes. There is also no such thing as junk mail and the electric company, water company and telephone company generally handle their billing without the assistance of the post office. It is also rare to send checks by mail and bills tend to be paid in person. Mail is simply not as relevant in Costa Rica as it is in the United States and elsewhere.

A fun example of the address system is in San Pedro de Montes de Oca. On the main street of San Pedro, there used to be a very famous higueron tree, but one day the higueron fell down and was removed. Years later it is still used as a reference. If you weren't around before the higueron tree came down, then the directions you receive to addresses in that area will make no sense (the tree is used almost universally in directions to that area). Sometimes directions to a home or business will involve the use of two or three landmarks that no longer exist. However, pay close attention to the wording of directions. If the word "old" (or "antigua") is used that means it is no longer there. If you are in Costa Rica asking for directions and you hear someone refer to "the old embassy" or "the old hotel" request further clarification. Perhaps even "So, what is there now?"

Part of TheDeadGuy's series of nodes written mostly by Mrs. DeadGuy.

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