Carpe Chepe – Sleeping in a Closet: San Jose, Costa Rica

Latin American countries don’t do addresses well. The most effective we’ve found are the ones that tell you how many blocks from a key landmark your location is. For example the hotel business card that says “2 blocks south and one block east from the church” is enormously more helpful than “345 Avenida Juarez”. 9 times out of 10 “Avenida Juarez” has no street signs, no building on it has a number posted, and our GPS has never heard of it.

It might as well be on the moon.

We’re told that even the mail is often delivered to addresses based on how many streets away from a main landmark the building is found. Marcos lives 500 meters up the hill from the Taco Bell and then 200 meters to the right.

It was mid June when we finally found his house, Marcos and his housemates moved their cars so we could put our bikes in their garage, and made us delicious sandwiches.

Jugs snuggles up with Marcos’ Africa Twin

All we’d eaten previously that day was a Canadian specialty – poutine. We were riding through a small town and were shocked to find a “Canadian Grill”.

How to catch a Canadian? Post a giant picture of our national dish.

Enjoying a taste of Canada in Costa Rica

Marcos explained that they normally had a special room for couchsurfers, but right now his friend Christian was in it. We’d have to sleep in the closet.

Phil and I will sleep anywhere. Hammocks on a front porch, camping behind a firestation, on the farm that belongs to the guy who we met on the street, or crushed into a single bed, we thought we’d done it all. Sleeping in a closet was new to us.

When Marcos showed us the closet, it all became clear. This walk-in closet was bigger than many single bedrooms, had a door leading to a bathroom, and one to the main hallway.

We found Marcos by filtering all the couchsurfing hosts in San Jose down to the ones who mentioned motorcycles in their profile. Marcos owns a Honda Africa Twin which he is planning to ride down to Brazil. He’s even taking a motorcycle mechanic evening course to prepare himself. We had a lot of tips for him! For the time being he owns the Craic Irish Pub, runs pub crawls and events in a local hostel.

Marcos’ Irish pub, before it opened for the day.

Marcos is incredibly passionate about his city. He told us that only visitors call it “San Jose”, locals and those in the know call it “Chepe”. Walking around the city with Marcos was like having our own personal tour guide. He showed us the beautiful architecture, parks, monuments and museums that make Chepe such a special city, we actually got to see a lot of them twice, as we went on one of his pub crawls with him too.

Phil and Marcos enjoy the city.

The first day we were there we went to the central market where he introduced us to casados (economical full meals that always include salad, rice and beans, with some kind of meat and often a juice as well) and to a homemade ice cream stall that has been there since 1901 and serves a treat with red jello and their one flavour of ice cream (vanilla with other spices in it, including nutmeg, cinnamon and anise). We didn’t try their other specialty, which had shaved ice, syrup and powdered milk with the ice cream.

A helpful sign showing the ice cream ingredients and how it’s made.

After the market Marcos had to go to his course, so we decided to take the train back to the house. We had found an Ultimate Frisbee team who were playing at 8pm that evening so we needed to go back and get our kit before we could go join them. The urban train line had only recently been repaired and started running, so Marcos wasn’t sure of the times, but we’d seen one go by at about 5:30pm so we knew they were running that evening.

Marcos left us to our own devices, so we decided to walk along the single set of tracks until we found the next station. No one we asked along the way seemed to know where the next station was, but we did find one about a 10 minute walk down the line. We sat ourselves on a bench and started to wait. And wait. After about 20 minutes a lady came and sat with us. She told us she often took the train home and that it would be there soon.

So we waited.

A “crowd” gathers waiting for the train

The lady told us about her life and where she lived, we told her about our trip, a story we are becoming quite proficient at telling in Spanish. A man came along trying to sell us bags of random stuff, such as potato chips and pens. We didn’t buy anything but he stopped to chat and hear out stories too. It got dark. Occasionally we would hear the whistle of a train, tantalizingly tempting us to wait just a little longer.

At one point a train (well just the locomotive) came by going the wrong way. Surely it was going to the next stop to turn around and pick up the carriages and would be back soon? At 7pm our friend declared she was only going to wait five more minutes before getting a bus. We were in crisis. We’d waited too long to get a bus. The game started at 8pm.

We were out of time.

We’d fallen into that trap so easily – the one where you wait just a few more minutes, because you’ve already invested so long waiting, that it seems foolish to “waste” all that waiting time by giving up. We were discussing our options when the train showed up. I don’t think it was actually powered by steam, but it was pretty close. It came chugging up to us and stopped to pick us up, no apologies for making us wait or anything.

Finally the train arrives!!!

Once aboard the conductor came along, and charged us less than a dollar each. He was also excited to speak to us and find out where we were going. We were the only people in the first carriage. The conductor informed us that the train makes three trips each evening, at 4:30pm, 5:30pm and 7pm. The train wasn’t late, there just aren’t many trains.

Phil with our new friends

About ten minutes later the train stopped. It seemed to be taking a while to get going again. Then we realised that something was wrong:

There used to be a locomotive out that door…

The engine had disappeared. We could see straight out the front of the train. Oh dear. We really should have taken the bus.

Our new friend gave us some peanuts and candy to make us feel better.

Then the train started going back the way we had come.

Luckily at that moment, before we started to pull out our hair, the conductor came back and explained that everything was normal, this was the way the train turned the corner and allowed other trains to pass, as there was only one set of tracks.

About 20 minutes later we got off the train near Marcos’s house.

It was 7:30pm.

We ran back to the house, and were changed and on the bikes in record time. I typed “Heredia” into the GPS and we were off. We would have only been a few minutes late if Heredia was actually where they were playing frisbee.

Remember the particularities of “addresses” in Latin America? We learnt the hard way that there is a town called “Heredia”, and about 3 km away there is another town called “Santo Domingo de Heredia”. They both have churches.

We were looking for the big church with the football field in front of it. After a lot of frustration, and asking confused locals, we eventually arrived at the field an hour late. Luckily, as all Ultimate players, they were an awesome group of people and they were still playing.

We finally made it to the game!

We managed to run off our frustration for an hour. The post-game beer was a welcome break after our epic journey to get there.

At the pub after the game, we got talking to Rolando, a friend of Marcos’

The ride back to Marcos’ was very quick as there was no traffic, and we slept soundly after our trials.

A couple much more chilled days of yoga, pub crawls and blogging followed.

Just a normal yoga class beside the pool…

Wait, no one told me this was an “Acro Yoga” class!

Only fair if my partner gets a go too. Luckily I didn’t drop him!

Three Belgian girls joined us on the pub crawl, which was also a great city tour:


The women in this statue represent the five Central American countries. The man is the evil USA. Or something like that.

Outside the Old Post Office.

The National Museum. Before it was a museum it was attacked during the time just before the Costa Rican’s got rid of their army.

An exhibit outside the national museum. They’ve found a lot of these perfectly formed rock spheres in Costa Rica. Not really sure who made them or why.

This building is made all of metal panels.

Chepe Street Art

Apparently this “urban lung” was white when it was first set up. Distinctly grey now. Oh pollution.

Everyone loves cork trees. So soft and bouncy!

Phil scares all the pub crawl girls.

What happens when you lean against a chalkboard wearing a dark t-shirt. Camouflage!


After a wonderful visit to Chepe, it was time to say goodbye to Marcos and the gang, and go visit Phil’s friend Mahaley, to help dog-sitting at a farm in Southern Costa Rica.