Ichabod….The glory will be departing from the markets of San Jose

borbon veg

When I was first blogging about Costa Rica and about its capital, San Jose, in particular, a blogging friend advised  me to make the most of that grubby, shambolic place while I could. Soon, she said, it would all be pavement cafes and carriage trips round the sights.

She was right. The carriage rides have not yet arrived – the horses would have to wear gas masks such is the level of pollution from buses and cars which have presumably passed the annual M.O.T. test  – but pavement cafes are beginning to be with us as are, of course, cycle paths. Two are planned but only one is as yet in use. In an exercise in fatuity it runs down the middle of a pedestrianised boulevard where the lycra clad unco’ guid can enjoy themselves by making those on foot hop out of the way…two wheels good, two feet bad.

We have gastronomic festivals, self conscious fusion cuisine…food trucks…and bars where black shirted men with buns perform solemn rites over coffee machines. I would not say that these high priests exact a tithe, but  couple of coffees can soon make a hole in the shopping money.

Art deco and art noveau buildings have been tarted up…a stunning new museum of jade has been opened….the streets are clean….the homeless have been shifted from the centre….but still the tourists do not come.

Not surprisingly…for years the guidebooks have been directing tourists to the beaches, the rain forests and the ruinously expensive eco lodges run by exploitative hippies…not to speak of yoga retreats ditto.

Visitors are advised to eschew San Jose…unless they are men in search of paid female company in which case they are directed to hotels which call themselves gentlemen’s clubs and to the casinos and bars of Gringo Gulch where practitioners of the art of wallet extraction lurk in search of their prey.

Otherwise the tourists visit San Jose only to get the first bus out to their destination…so something, it seems, must be done to keep some of their money for the capital.

First bright idea…move the artisans’ market from its perfect spot under the National Museum in the centre of the city  to a concrete box several blocks away in an street which has nothing to attract any tourist whatsoever, unless they are admirers of the concrete brutalist style of architecture which inspired the building housing the offices of the CAJA – the national health service – which looms over the surrounding area.


So far this has not worked as the President is firmly in favour of the market remaining where it is, instead of being replaced by further parking for a bloated ‘charitable foundation’ alongside. He does not have the law on his side…but he has prestige. However the mayor of San Jose can wait…the presidential elections are coming and the next incumbent may favour the bloated ‘foundation’.

So, in the meantime, attention has turned to the other markets…the Central…the Borbon and Coca Cola.

The Central has a bit of everything, from flowers to fish via meat, cheese, spices, medicinal herbs and caffs galore….

mercado centrsl

The Borbon has butchers and fishmongers, but its main role is selling wholesale and retail veg and fruit….

Mercado-Borbon-suelo-fertil_LNCIMA20170611_0022_1 borbon 8

Coca Cola specialises in hardware and electrical supplies…though, of course, having greengrocers and suchlike….. and it is one of the busiest bus stations in San Jose, whence the tourists fresh from the airport leg it to the beaches of the Pacific coast.


While the Central is regarded with favour by all, the other two have a dubious reputation…pickpockets at every turn and babies barbecued to order.

Absolute nonsense, of course. I would not frequent either at night…but I could say the same of many other areas in many other cities.

The only time my purse was stolen was in a Chinese owned supermarket by the Central. It was returned to me by the ‘regulars’ who sell sunglasses, watches and TV remote controls on the benches nearby.

‘Sorry, senora…not one of ours…a bloody African! We saw him lift it and we stopped him. Not having these illegal immigrants giving us a bad name.

Did you report it to the police?

Are you joking! As if they could give a damn…too busy chasing poor buggers selling veg without a licence!

I just wonder if, with the new vision for the markets, these gentlemen will be driven off as have all but the most intrepid of the street traders …if so, a great part of the pleasure of shopping will have gone with them.

street traders

These are working markets….the idea of the Borbon offering organic veg and ‘gourmet’ items is enough to make the blood run cold.

And who will be paying for the ‘improvements’?


What will happen to my hairdresser…

Mercado Borbón, San José, Costa Rica.

Who does me a cut for two thousand colones which equals that for which the Italian artist of Kensal Rise charges me thirty seven quid. She has been here for years, since the hotel which housed her salon closed down, as has the gentleman on the right, at whose stall I buy my ginger and garlic.

And what about our favourite caff?


It will be struggle for them to keep going if their rent goes up.

Mercado de la Coca Cola, San José Costa Rica.

And what of Coca Cola?

The idea is to put a roof over the area between the bus station and the market, with smart caffs lining the area….to attract the tourists before they mess off to the coast.

Have they no idea?

How better to trap the fumes than by throwing a roof over the whole area….

And haven’t they noticed? The whole place is full of caffs…offering comida tipica – local food. Or isn’t that good enough for tourists…

Furthermore, the streets linking the markets are to be lined with trees.

Tree lined streets are one of the pleasures of the public and residential areas of San Jose…but the streets between the markets have such narrow pavements that the sellers of illicit DVDs hardly have room to set out their wares…

It isn’t gentrification…were it to be artists and ‘creatives’ would have been given space to spread themselves, as they have in barrios in the east of the city. Where they tread developers follow and the original inhabitants are driven out to the suburbs.

I do ask myself who subsidises these creative leeches on society…but that is another question for another day.

Why am I so upset by the proposed changes?

Because while the man who sells vinyl discs is lauded and will figure on the tourist trail  the men who run the goods between the lorries and the stalls, the stallholders themselves, risk being priced out of the place…

As a tourist I prefer to see the markets which local people use…as an example there is a tourist market in Masaya in Nicaragua…very sanitised and tranquil.

masaya old market

Also in Masaya is the local market just up the street…where you can find all you wish and more for half the price under its corrugated iron roofs.

In the former, if you want a hammock, you can choose one which they have for sale…in the latter, if you don’t see just what you want a runner will take you to the hammock makers’ street down by the lake.

I know which market I prefer and it is not one where the only traders to be found are the ones who can afford the organic produce certification process.

I prefer one where the man at the veg stall tells you that you can see he doesn’t use chemicals by the bugs in his lettuces.







31 thoughts on “Ichabod….The glory will be departing from the markets of San Jose”

  1. Change for changes sake with an eye to extracting money from visitors is soon going to drive the visitors away. The authentic look and feel of the places the locals use is much nicer.
    xxx Huge Hugs Helen xxx

    1. That is how I feel about it too….yes, cleaning up the centre of the city was a good idea, but tarting up the markets risks excluding the very traders who give the place its ambience.

  2. This whole business of getting tourists out of their ruts is difficult.I know when I used to travel, we booked everything ahead of time. A side trip, however tempting, is out of the question if you are in a group or your ticket is bought and the bus is due in half an hour or whatever. We booked individual tours but few can afford that. There are organizations like Culinary Backstreets that specialize in taking folks to long-established places. They are terrific but even in Barcelona, where I took a couple of their tours, they don’t seem to get a lot of business. My guess is that all that tarting up is good for developers; that in itself may drive some of these useless projects.

    I don’t know. Do you really want tourists? Where tourists go, Burger King will follow. Most people don’t really want authenticity. They want same old, same old, with a Disnified veneer. That means places, even Paris, lose authenticity, become mass-market-driven shells. I am reminded of the Noel Coward song, “Why do the wrong people travel?” I think much of it still holds true.

    1. Because of Leo’s heath problems we would book a last minute package when he felt well enough to travel and would then just use the hotel as a base, poking about at our leisure and steering clear of the tours…but I know that most people don’t so yes, how to get a tourist out of the rut is a big problem.

      City tours are starting up in San Jose focusing on street art, gastronomy, coffee and architecture so I imagine that they will try to get the big operators to include these in their offerings….already we have tour groups under our feet when shopping in the Central and a smartish coffee place has opened up to cater to them. Somehow I doubt that they would relish the caffs of the Borbon, good though they are. A little too much reality, I suspect.

  3. Ah, the hipsters. Fleecing tourists, “creating” historical and environmentally important sites while charging exorbitant fees, and generally stripping places of authenticity. And then, when they’ve secured their booty, whining about how things aren’t like they used to be, before the influx of commercialism, and calling for onerous regulation and zoning.

      1. We also live in a small farmers’ community and do our best to support them. I feel for the hard workers who toil to put food on their plates, get up early to work, and travel from town to town to sell their produce. It’s not an easy life when it’s hand to mouth and you depend on your on work, the weather, the traveling conditions. These hard-working people our the backbone of civilization (my humble opinion). Hope you and Leo are well. xxx

        1. Thank you…so far so good. we are in the midst of a tropical storm so non stop torrential rain resulting in landslides, bridges down…you name it. We have been lucky here so far compared with the north and west of the country where there is widespread flooding.

  4. I look about my home of thirty odd years, Helen, and realize I am grown old. Out here, where the folks moving in wonder if those of us already living here have front yards and “lawns”, I really am the antithesis change and stasis. I felt cheated, violated as I watched acres and acres of farm land turning into condos and boutiques. In the meantime, our huge, vacant shopping malls are becoming distribution centers for Amazon. And I ask myself, in fairness, where are they to live, all those people moving into the condos with groceries and drug stores in walking distance. They aren’t in favor of five bedroom homes on five acres, surrounded by extreme silence, save insects and birds.

    1. I see it here…who, I ask myself, would move to Costa Rica and want to live in a gated community? Yet these horrors are built and occupied, not least by local people who want convenience, a communal swimming pool and tennis court or gym rather than living on their own patch on their own terms.
      And those who sell these expensive cells harp on the ‘risks’ of living outside…in the world….and the mugs sup it up. Do they really think that their kids have a better experience of life playing tennis or swimming in a supervised environment than they would if allowed to explore the countryside around them on a house in the country.

  5. How on earth did they get that ‘brutalist architecture’ into San Jose? That is probably the worst I have ever seen!
    How lovely to have a proper market, especially one where the locals don’t allow the regulars to be robbed!
    Our market is dying but the fruit and veg remain, I use the cheap one where stuff must be eaten quick before it goes off, usually within 24 hours!
    Tourist traps bring high cash amounts but lack what is on offer in ‘real’ places.
    I hope things remain the same for a while.

    1. Truly dreadful, isn’t it!
      I have seen Southampton’s market dying off over the years when visiting mother…all that remains now is a line of stalls offering food…German sausages, Thai something or other, and, of course, something vegan. The veg have disappeared.
      I shall be decidedly annoyed if these plans come to fruition.

  6. If I had my way I would round up all the blasted bun wearing hipsters and put them in a large pea green boat rowed by hippies who aren’t societal drop-outs but rather societal pariahs and send them to an island where the sun don’t shine. The old-school Costa Rica tourists will continue to want the beaches so surely it is a question of marketing not to them but to people who want to travel and explore new places and feel the real place. In order for that to work, this futile cleaning up of everything authentic about the city is really shooting themselves in the foot and makes me very sad. For you and for all the others who live there. And angry. Let’s not forget angry which is rather my default at the moment.

    1. The day they sanitise San Jose I will move to Managua…no chance of sanitising that!
      There is a super rural tourism body – ACTUAR – promoting rural tourism…but marketing San Jose by messing up the main markets does not seem to be the urban equivalent. They should be showing people the different barrios, explaining the history…promoting all the activities in the parks and streets at the weekends when the place hums with life….
      Angry tends to be my default a lot of the time,but then, there is so much to be angry about!

      1. Good plan! I’m heartened to read about ACTUAR and happy to stand angry shoulder to angry shoulder with you. As you rightly say – SO much to be angry about.

  7. Much like the cities and towns of Turkey – that which grew in a slow, natural, organic way has been torn down and replaced by shopping malls in the thousands. Mostly they stand there empty, lifeless and more dilapidated every year. Monuments to stupidity? No! To money and this bloody capitalist system!

  8. Loved this post and also had a few giggles about the return of your purse. We had Nigel’s camera returned to us when left on a bus in Singapore, but I guess there, you should sort of expect it but having lived in Africa for so long we hardly believed it.
    We love the old towns and the old markets when we travel it is so much more interesting. We always walk around carrying as little as possible and wear clothes with zip pockets to put them in. I have one pair of trousers that has so many pockets I can never find things LOL. Anywhere where there are many people there will always be pickpockets.
    I would not walk out at night in the UK around Oxford, but I have to admit I am not worried here in the country, but certainly not in the cities.
    Take care the two of you, all the very best, cheers, Diane

    1. Leo left his purse in a restaurant in Bangkok and a waiter chased after him to return it…he too was astonished!

      Much more interesting to take the time to poke about in the places you visit, rather than getting on and off a coach to gawk at a monument…

  9. How sad. And all in the name of progress. It’s just a shame that unworthy people have too much control on projects they aren’t fit for. And those that are fit are not interested in playing political games and dirty dealings to get the position where they can be in control. There are too many sociopaths in the wrong places.

    1. All too true. We have a decent man as President at the moment, but he will not be standing again…I suspect he is sick of trying to reform the corruption in government while being obstructed at every turn by elected representatives and highly placed – and paid – civil servants who rather like the trough in which they currently place their snouts.

  10. In general I agree with you, that local is always cheaper and better quality than the big national chains. Not always the case though. Some of the local shops where I live are pretty second-rate while the chains have higher standards. I love the coffee at Caffe Nero, but not the coffee at the local places. On the other hand there’s an excellent local greengrocer. The plans for San Jose sound horribly familiar – driving out the long-established locals and tarting the place up with bland tourist traps.

    1. Local shops here are fine for fruit and veg…usually selling family produce, but apart fro that they sell the sort of stuff that i don’t want…crisps, sweets, biscuits….
      The big supermarkets sell more interesting stuff, so i use them.
      But when it comes to tarting up markets which are a vital link in the chain from producer to consumer then i am agin it.

  11. Oh dear, it has/is happened/happening all over the world. That’s progress we are told. Markets? Who needs markets? When you can have the big supermarkets delivering everything to your door. Who cares about the joys of squeezing a pear, sniffing a tomato, running your hands over a piece of cloth, holding a skirt against you for size. How sad it all is

  12. It’s a real shame when things that make a place different are driven away. There are already enough places with no character.

    1. It would be awful to have the Borbon sanitised and made smart….it is a living, thriving entity as it is and if these plans go ahead then a lot of those here will be driven out and replaced by fly by night stalls selling hippie junk.

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