Following the Trail of Names Through Costa Rica

If you travel through Costa Rica, a list of the names of locations you pass along the way will invariably tell a story of indigenous culture, Spanish colonization, and the influence of the Catholic Church.

Fly into San Jose

I am in a surf town called Dominical, but my plane to Costa Rica landed in the capital city, San Jose.

San Jose was named by a few Catholic monks living a fertile valley south of the Arenal volcano. The monks had built the chapel to unite the surrounding area’s Catholic outposts. They dedicated it to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of the New World. Not very creative, but what did I expect from Catholic monks?

Pass through San Isidro

Leaving San Jose, you crawl out of the valley and into the mountains along the Pacific coast, eventually arriving in the bustling city of San Isidro.

San Isidro is named the lazy farmer Isidore who spent all his time praying instead of working and earned the collective scorn of the American Catholic Church who believe in hard work. Among the locals in our area, San Isidro is actually referred to as Pérez Zeledón or simply “Perez“.

Cross the Tinamaste Ridge

Leaving San Isidro towards the Pacific coast, you have to traverse one last wall of jagged peaks. These peaks were created roughly 100,000 years ago when a tectonic plate snapped in half while being pushed out of the ocean. This area is known as the Tinamaste Ridge.

Tinamaste was named during the first-ever journey by Spanish settlers from from San Isidro to the coast during the 1700’s. As the story goes, the weary travelers took refuge in a cozy little nook between two peaks. They watered the horses and made a little fire to cook. When the fire was hot enough to boil water, they pushed together 3 rocks to form a triangle on which a heavy pot could be placed. This strategy is common practice and known as a tinamaste in Spanish. They ate, slept, and awoke the next morning to the sun illuminating 3 huge peaks towering above. Someone exclaimed “This cozy little spot is like being in someone’s tinamaste!”. This little anecdote was relayed to the Crown of Spain, whose cartographers added it to the map.

Descend into Dominical

Descending from Tinamaste, you first enter the town of Dominical. For many generations, the area was dominated by large fincas growing bananas known as bananals. Within the vernacular you can modify the term based on the variety of banana. For example, a finca growing plantains, guineas, or dominicas (these are 3 bananas varieties) could be referred to as a cuadradalguineal, or dominical. At the site of present-day Dominical was a large dominical owned by the legendary Chucuyo (which I outlined in detail here).

(Formerly known as Baru)

Dominical and the surrounding area was previously known as Baru. Baru is a word in the native tongue of the nearby Boruca tribe meaning “the gathering of waters”. This refers to the to the confluence of the Rio Baru, which froths violently as it dumps into the Pacific. The Boruca are still active in the area and frequently perform ritual dances like this one we witnessed in October. Currently, Baru refers to a quiet pueblo on the way to Dominical.

Our home: Uvita

So, down the road, we’ve got Uvita!  As the story goes, there was—and still is—a certain native palm here that grows kind of like a shrub in thick colonies near the coast, where it dominates because of its resistance to salt water. Among its stiff, spiny branches, you can often find huge clumps of oily palm grapes. When explorers first descended from the mountains and encountered the thick stands of short yet spiny palm trees, they named it Uvita, which loosely means, “baby palm tree grapes”.

Putting it together

Here’s a map showing the journey I just described. I would budget 5 hours instead of 4 🙂

Published by fordprior

Trying to squeeze life like a dishrag. When I do get a drop, this is where it goes.

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