Thursday, August 13, 2009

Return to Sender

Costa Rica boasts the highest standard of living in Central America and has a vibrant technology sector, but “postal authorities say that 1 in 5 pieces of mail is undeliverable because they can't figure out where the addressee lives” (LA Times, 2007). This is due to the fact that Costa Rica doesn't have a standardized system of addresses; instead, “official” addresses in this country read like treasure-hunt clues. Take a look at the address for this restaurant in our town:

“50 meters west of the ‘Nacional al Boyero’ monument”.

Most Costa Rican addresses are expressed in relation to the closest community landmark; in the case pictured above, a monument. But to make it even more challenging, sometimes that landmark no longer even exists. Plus, when Costa Ricans give directions, a city block is considered to be 100 meters long regardless of its length. So for the address of the restaurant, it isn’t an exact 50 meters from the monument but rather a half a block.

In Atenas (where we live), the streets aren't named, and virtually none have signs. I haven’t even seen a house with a number. We called for roadside assistance this week to boost the dead battery on our car and it took them 3 hours to find us… and we were at our house!

For those of us that have become reliant on Google Maps, this is a big adjustment when you can’t use it to help you find “125 meters west of the old Coca-Cola plant”.