Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sounds of the Central Valley - Honks, whistles and cat calls

About 4 months ago I traded in the sounds of monkey howls for car horns, bird calls for cat calls and horses hooves for revving car engines. Yes, back in the beginning of October I made the decision to move away from the peace and tranquility of the beach in order to find better work opportunities in the central valley. In the four weeks I spent in the little beach town of Sámara, I had gotten used to the howls of monkeys and calls of roosters waking me up in the morning among other animal sounds. Sámara was small, quiet, spread out and full of natural beauty, but it didn't offer me the opportunities that I needed to succeed as an English teacher in Costa Rica.
So I made the move to the central valley, the most developed part of Costa Rica. Many people get confused when I throw around the term "the central valley," so allow me to explain. Smack dab in the middle of Costa Rica lies a circular group of mountains and volcanos. Within that circle, there is a large plateau or "valley" where most of Costa Rica has decided to develop. The capital, San José, functions as the central hub of the valley with many other smaller cities, towns and suburbs branching out from it. 3/4's of Costa Rica's population lives in the central valley, which is exactly why I came. I knew that San José would draw in the most driven, hard working, successful ticos in the country, and I had a hunch that many of them would want to learn English. I was right. I found a job in less than a week and my schedule filled up soon after.
But let's get back to the reason I'm writing this post. After four months of living in the central valley, I can tell you that it's a great place to live but it's rather noisy. I hear a plethora of noises on a daily basis here in Heredia, but the three that are the most prominent are honks, cat calls and whistles.

Never in my life have I heard so much honking before Costa Rica. At first I thought it was obnoxious (and sometimes I still do) but after talking to many ticos about it I realized it's just part of their culture. Honks here can mean many things, much more than your typical angry honk of impatience (although there's a lot of that too). Ticos honk for absolutely EVERYTHING. They honk to say hello, goodbye, go ahead, hurry up, I'm here, heyyyy there pretty lady, etc. Furthermore, they honk to celebrate sports victories (which here pretty much means just soccer) and other special occasions. Even though I could do with a little less honking, I'm coming to appreciate it more as part of tico culture day by day.

Cat Calls
This is not my first time with dealing with cat calls. My first experience with cat calls was in Chile, then again Mexico and finally on a small scale in Spain. I've gotten more used to them with each experience, but I still find them to be disgusting, degrading and down-right disrespectful. Maybe I have more trouble handling them since I grew up in a culture where they don't exist (at least not in Minnesota), but I don't know how any woman should feel when they're commented on like a piece of meat. Although I admittedly hear cat calls on a regular basis here in Costa Rica, I will say that most ticos are respectful and don't participate, including all of my tico guy friends. When I've talked to my local friends about them, they get angry too. They say that the only people that do "cat calls" are the unclassy, uneducated population of Costa Ricans or as they say here "polo." They also told me that the best way to deal with them is to just keep walking like you didn't hear anything, and that's what I always do.

This is one of my favorite sounds of Costa Rica, as long as it's not being used as a cat call. Whistles are a fascinating innate part of tico culture, and I'm learning more about them every day. I'm not just talking about your standard whistling a song at the bus stop or whistling at a sporting event. Ticos have created a second language with their whistles and I find it incredibly intriguing. Many people have a signature "whistle." Some of them are short and simple (thing Hunger Games) and some are more elaborate. Sometimes a whistle represents a specific person (like if you hear that whistle you know it's them at the door) but sometimes a whistle represents a specific friendship, family or group of people. Many ticos don't have doorbells, so when they arrive at your house they will whistle their little tune to signal their arrival. Since living here I've learned my roommate's family whistle and started to recognize a few others around the neighborhood. There are many little rules and protocol surround the whistles that I'm still learning, but the more I learn the more I'm interested.

It's true, the sounds of the central valley are far less enjoyable than the sounds I was used to in Sámara, but these sounds although abrasive, harsh and rough around the edges, are finding their way into my heart, just like the rest of tico culture.

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