It used to be when you asked for directions in Costa Rica you got something akin to rural American farmer directions: “Just go up the old road past the Van Cleef’s place and when you get to the intersection where the oak tree was struck by lightening, turn north.”
Maybe it’s their agrarian background, but Costa Rica has stuck with this sort of address system right into the twenty first century as though it were useful, or even sane. For instance, street addresses in San José, a fairly cosmopolitan city, require a compass and a good, if not historical, knowledge of the city.
“From the Coca-Cola building 200 meters north and 25 meters west,” reads one address. Now all this is fine, but you have to know that the “Coca-Cola building” in question (like the oak tree that was once hit by lightening) is long gone. In this case moved across town, and the husk that remains now houses an informal street market. You will never find the place you were looking for at the “new Coca-Cola building,” although you can spend quite a bit of time trying.
Where we live—out in the country—this system doesn’t seem quite so deranged. Our legal address is actually (and I kid you not): “From the entrance to Punta Uva, 300 meters east, left-hand side, wood house with red roof.” It sounds better in Spanish. We live on the road from Puerto Viejo that dead ends in Manzanillo, so there isn’t much variation in where you can get lost. I have actually begun to add more precise locators for delivery trucks and visitors, though. I’ve used “directly in front of the I.C.E. electrical post #96, ” which seems to confuse about 50% of the people I’ve given it to.
So, imagine my surprise when we drove through Puerto Viejo the other day and each and every street had brand spanking new street signs at the intersections. The main street through Puerto, for instance, is Avenue 71 (see the photo above). Why 71, one asks, and not 1st Ave? I have no idea. Extrapolating here, our road is actually a continuation of Puerto’s main street, so is our new address going to be Avenida 71?
The new plan for street addresses only lacks one (major) detail, house numbers. So the closest we will get to an address–familiar to other countries– is how many meters we are from an intersection. Maybe ours will be something like 3.42 kilometers east of the intersection of Avenida 71 and calle 211, left hand side, wood house with red roof. Or, 256 ½ potholes east will be more like it.