Where Graffiti Paints A City With Life


I stand here, in front of a spray paint covered wall along a street in San Jose, Costa Rica. I was on a study abroad trip with Purdue University the summer before my freshman year of college. One of those “leadership” trips with an amazing group of students and mentors. We spent two weeks traveling around the country of Costa Rica, using San Jose as a home base.


Although the mountains, valleys and lakes were picturesque and more giving of their beauty than I ever expected, the city holds a place as my favorite in my memory. Bright with primary colors, the city had character.  The people stood in their homes behind bars as if a revolution was about to erupt and they were prepared to hide away. Each house blended into one another, creating gridded rows of massive compounds.

Even in the city you could feel the surf culture surrounding you. A Billabong store full of over priced clothes was nearby and too conveniently on our way to the super market and favorite restaurant. We stopped there often just to look around and try on familiar clothing that we most likely could find at home, maybe this was to remind us of home.

The van rides out of the city to this day were my favorite part of San Jose, a quick way to see the city as a whole and to watch it slowly fade into the suburbs leading to the rural areas of a third- world country that only rarely appeared third world.

In San Jose when you see the aspects of a third-world way of life they shine through timidly, like light peaking under a closed doorway.  The slums could be found both inside and outside the city but the ones that stood out the most were those that clung to the side of mountains. These we flew by on a highway. Decorated with sticks acting as pillars, supporting tin roofs, kids playing through and between these homes. Garbage blended in with grass, piling high, only going deeper into the soil.

Witnessing the everyday of these people lives only made me want to contribute in some way. Much of the country was already covered in tourism and many locals were trained to use the tourists to their advantage, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking through the deep, dark markets filled with hand made goods. As the week went on and I saw more of the country, my negotiating skills grew weak and I began buying hammocks at the primary price listed.


Our departure from the city always varied, filled with surprise. On one trip we drove past what I thought was the start festival, horses galloping down the concrete. Instead they were farmers coming into town, buying their everyday needs.


The trip to La Paz Waterfall winded through the both mountains and the diversity of homes. Small villages lined thin roads with children sitting on their front stoop while a clothes line hung behind them and a fatigued dog laid at their feet.  Before the clusters of houses came to an end there was a small school with children bouncing around, dressed in matching uniforms.


Directly outside, the fathers of the mountainside village worked in a field, so high that the clouds framed the valley behind them.


Even in the mountainside villages there was graffiti but it was not like the graffiti I was familiar with in Newark, New Jersey. No, a lot of it told a story with bright colors and joyful silhouettes. It interacted with the nature and was simply art.


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