LOOKING at the upscale mansions and tree-lined streets of Los Yoses, a short walk east from downtown San José, it is quite a stretch to picture this was once all farmland. Equally difficult to imagine is the fact that amongst the embassies and swanky bars that now sprinkle the neighborhood, there is something else taking root in this corner of the Central Valley.
As is often the case, appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface of the capital region’s urban chaos are layers of history and culture that run deep – so much so that even a single building can have a story to tell. Such is the case with Casa Yoses, which, although unassuming from the street, is anything but. It has been a mansion and an embassy and, only a few months ago, was reborn as a hostel run by three young Ticos.
The self-described tres ticos animados (three animated Ticos), childhood friends Alejandro Fournier, 25, José Andrés ‘Jochi’ Castro, 24, and Orlando Rivera, 25, decided to open Hostel Costa Rica Casa Yoses a year ago.
“One night we were discussing our own traveling experiences, thinking of the cool things we saw and places we stayed in Europe,” says Castro, currently studying medicine at the University of Costa Rica. “It just didn’t seem like there was anything like that here in Costa Rica.”
“So we thought, ‘Why not?’” Fournier adds. “It’s a really great way to meet people and avoid working in an office wearing a suit and tie.”
WHEN asked why they picked Los Yoses, Rivera replies without hesitation: “It is a wealthy area historically, and you can see that because of this it is a beautiful barrio. Besides, the house is amazing and it’s close to San José and the restaurants and nightlife of the university (area).”
But Los Yoses hasn’t always been such an active place. Juan Echeverría, the owner of the property, has a memory that reaches back much farther than his 93 years. As one sits in his study, lined with portraits of European and indigenous ancestors, it is easy to infer that he is a man with a fascination for the past.
According to Echeverría, the Los Yoses district was originally named after a tree. In the late 1800s, a man named Juan Salazar traveled south from Nicaragua with 100 slaves and 10 children. This was at the same time that Costa Rica’s President was traveling by horseback to political gatherings, and it took more than a week to get to the Pacific port city of Puntarenas from San José. Salazar arrived in the Central Valley and decided to purchase a large parcel of land, which just happened to have yos (sapium) trees growing on it – hence the name.
Until around 1910, it served as a place to pass the summer months, safely away from the hustle and bustle of San José. At that time, Salazar’s finca was divided and sold into smaller parcels, which amounted to huge swaths of land compared to current lot sizes. It was around that time that Echeverría’s father-in-law, Aneceto Esquivel, got his hands on a section, which remains in the family today.
By 1963, the family owned several mansions in the neighborhood, and when Esquivel passed away they decided to rent some of their property. Their tenant in Casa Yoses from 1963 to 2004 would be none other than the Republic of Venezuela, which just recently moved its embassy to a larger home only a few hundred meters away.
SINCE then, backpackers and other travelers have been making themselves at home in the former master bedroom, dining room and maid’s quarters of the building. As the function changes, so, too, do the spirit and the space.
“I love this place,” says Ida Godeksen from Denmark. “It is so welcoming, not only because it is in a house but also because the guys really make you feel at home.”
Fournier, Rivera and Castro are always busy making changes to suit the needs of their guests; just recently, they added hammocks in the yard and beanbag chairs in the TV room. Rivera dreams of the barbecue pit they are soon going to build.
What does Echeverría think of all this? It seems he doesn’t mind so much. Although he says that much in Costa Rica has changed over his life span, some things remain the same.
“These boys are honest, hardworking and, more than anything else, they have vision,” he says.
Seeing the potential for a hostel in the remains of an empty embassy must surely confirm this.
Casa Yoses offers dormitory and private rooms, starting from $9 per night, including breakfast (and history). The hostel is 250 meters west of Spoon in Los Yoses. For information, visit www.casayoses.com or call 234-5486.