Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Living the Pura Vida

San Jose

You thought London was polluted? Think again. As you might imagine, two thirds of the vehicle owners in San Jose seem to be in possession of a vehicle built long before emissions were a concern for anyone except a yogurt weaving yurt-dweller. And to have then drilled a half-inch diameter hole in the exhaust pipe. San Jose at 6am is noisier and more crowded than the A12 in rush hour, if, that is, everyone on that wonderful road felt the need to announce their presence with a near continuous deployment of the horn. For the first time in my life I wished I had a Japanese-style face mask to protect myself from the smog-belching lorries and stuttering, farting motorcycles.

Think the screeching metal soundtrack of a team working on the Central Line at 2am and you still have no conception of the intensity of the sound four metres from your inevitably open window. In San Jose, you get up with the rest of the city. A surprise here though was that it was actually less intimidating to cross the road in SJ than in South Beach, Miami. In Miami, everyone drives slowly but pays very little attention to the pedestrian (zebra) crossings – so you never really know what they are going to do next – will she let me out, won’t she…? The bigger roads were simply terrifying, especially when you factor in the whole driving on the right thing – I constantly found myself expecting traffic to be in the other lane – leading to a couple of hair-raising near misses. Not cool. In San Jose, everyone drives as fast as possible, announces their presence with a blare of electronic bullhorn and treats red lights as optional. Which somehow made more sense to a Londoner. In London (unlike Australia) we’ve never heard of jay-walking. We spot a gap and exploit it as hard as we would a third world grain harvest.

Fresher than fresh food for a handful of pocket change. Above all this would be the line to sell me San Jose. Costa Ricans call themselves ‘Ticos’ and the national dish is the ‘casado’. This is a plate of rice, ‘Gallo pinto’ (black beans), fried yucca (like the most fantastically crispy and wholesome chips – that’s French Fries, non-Brits), the days local, fresh vegetables and fillet of either beef, pork, chicken, fish or some shrimp with a tasty, salsa-drenched salad.
Like every Spanish speaking country I’ve been to, which is two, they truly prize fresh food. Everywhere you go in Costa Rica you find little unpretentious family run cafes called ‘sodas’. Despite their humble appearances, every soda I’ve eaten in has served up food of a freshness simply unattainable in London unless you’re a Chelsea-dwelling, farmers-market-patronising WAG or bean-threading, raw-foodist trustafarian (I don’t thread beads). And for a price that so far has never exceeded three of your English pounds.

Why is there nothing to do in San Jose? And if this is a relaxed, cosmopolitan Central American capital, what’s Panama City or the capital of Nicaragua like? I have no idea, but the fact remains that in San Jose there is a market district, three museums, the National Theatre and a night-clubbing district. You can literally exhaust the touristic options in three days.

Voodoo out.

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