Post Tagged with "Costa Rica"
La Carreta, “The oxcart” in English, was designated National Labor Symbol on March 22nd, 1988. During the nineteenth century, with extensive coffee plantations around the country, it was necessary to have a vehicle that could actually pass through muddy places, beaches, hills, curves, rocky mountains and deep small rivers. That’s when this rustic, wooden, strong cart was created.
As the coffee industry of Costa Rica increased, so did the need to use the oxcart to produce and export the coffee beans. Thus, the first shipment of coffee to London was transported from the coffee plantations to Costa Rica’s main ports by oxcart in 1843. Oxcarts carried coffee to the province of Puntarenas on a small road between 1844 and 1846. A curious fact is that oxcarts were originally pulled by people, not oxen. However, as the need for transporting goods grew, the loads became too heavy and the people were replaced by oxen.
The oxcart also served as an ideal transportation for family trips and other types of social activities such as weddings and funerals, and even for medical assistance. It is interesting to know that before the railway was built, which connected San José with Puntarenas, many families used the oxcarts to spend summer days in the coast. The round trip consisted of 4 ½ days to get there, 2 days in the beach and other 4 ½ days to return!
The golden age of oxcarts is said to go from 1850 to 1935. The custom of originally decorating and painting these carts began in the early twentieth century, when cowherds decided to add life to oxcarts by hand painting them with bright colors and geometrical figures. In 1903, people decided to start enhancing the carts by decorating the circle wheels, and in 1915, the entire wheels were painted and decorated to create a distinct look among families. After World War II, the oxcart became obsolete due to new inventions; being replaced by trains, tractors and trucks. It has been used since then as an ornamental object.
The oxcart is not only used in Costa Rica, but also in Central America. However, the Costa Rican oxcart is unique because it is the only one decorated in such an original way with colorful patterns and shapes, and even flowers, stars and animals. Although the oxcarts can present evident similarities, there are never two oxcarts painted exactly the same since all of them contain changes in color tones and figures. This art has been passed from generation to generation up to the present time.
The town of Sarchí, located in the province of Alajuela, is the great traditional center for manufacturing and decorating carretas. That’s why it is common to see beautifully painted oxcarts in gardens and in the more than 200 stores, where a wonderful variety of oxcarts can be found, offering all kinds of sizes and colors. The largest and oldest oxcart factory is also found in this place: the Joaquín Chaverri Oxcart Factory was built in 1902 and is considered to be the birthplace of oxcart handicrafts in Costa Rica. In front of the church of Sarchí you can also see the world’s largest painted oxcart, which was built in 2006 in order to get the name of the town into The Guinness Book of World Records. It is an amazingly beautiful oxcart!
The oxcarts are nowadays used in parades and festivals around the country. The most famous one takes place on the second Sunday of every March in San Antonio de Escazú, a town in San José. The Oxcart Drivers Day, Día de los Boyeros in Spanish, has been celebrated for 30 years. This year, over 200 yuntas (sets) of oxen and beautifully decorated and colorful oxcarts participated in the event. The boyeros or oxcart men use a traditional prod or chuzo to keep the oxen moving and under control as they climb uphill to San Antonio. Besides the parade, where the priest blesses the oxcarts, the festival also offers visitors a good variety of typical food and traditional music.
After learning so much about the oxcart, it is easy to understand its importance in the Costa Rican culture. As María Alvarado says in her article about the typical oxcart, it is one of the most genuine folkloric manifestations of the country as it represents the simplicity and aspirations of rural Costa Rican people, who have become artisans thanks to it. La carreta symbolizes humility, patience, sacrifice and endurance in an effort to pursue goals in a pacific manner. The national progress is linked to the oxcart, which imposes respect in virtue of its glorious past. The typical oxcart was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO on November 24th, 2005.
So, if you are ever in Costa Rica, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Sarchí or Escazú, get on an oxcart to take a picture or buy a miniature oxcart somewhere. It will always remind you of how the Costa Rica you know today was forged.
This lovely scene was captured by our contributor from Costa Rica, Nuria. She says,
“That photo was taken in the town of San Rafael in Heredia, Costa Rica. From that place you can see all the Central Valley, which includes the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, San José and Cartago. The view is beautiful, especially with such a wonderful sunset like that one. I was at a party with some friends, and we took the time to enjoy the sunset and take pics. A pretty normal activity for us Costa Ricans!”
Every August 2nd, Costa Ricans celebrate one of the most important Catholic holidays in our country: The Day of the Virgin of the Angels, our patroness saint, affectionately called La Negrita (The Little Black One).
The history behind it is very interesting: In 1635, a poor Catholic indigenous girl called Juana Pereira used to live in a town named Los Pardos, in Los Ángeles, Cartago, former capital of Costa Rica. On August 2nd of that year, she went to the forest to pick up some firewood and there she found on a big stone a small, black, stone statue of a Madonna and child, similar to a doll. (more…)
Like a teenager in love for the first time, Rafal Cezary Piechocinski simply adores Costa Rica. He knows everything about it, promotes it in Poland and would do anything to protect this Central American country. Want to learn more about him? Keep reading to get to know his captivating story!
1. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what do you do?
I am Polish. I come from the Baltic coast, from a region known for the biggest dunes in Europe. I was born in the most beautiful town in Poland, Slupsk. I am a geographer and I specialized in third-world countries or small and little known countries of Africa and Latin America. I am an Economic Geography graduate from the University of Gdansk, and I also studied in the Center of Latin American Studies in the University of Warsaw.
2.How and when did you first hear about Costa Rica? Why did it call your attention so much?
It was in 1988 during the television broadcast of Miss World competition. I was 13 years old then. My family liked the girl from Costa Rica very much, and I was surprised that it was the first time I ever heard the name “Costa Rica”. I tried to keep the name in my mind all day, but it was very hard for me. Finally, I looked at the atlas book and to my surprise I learned that Costa Rica was really close to the countries which I knew very well (Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua). Each of them was, at that time, very often in the media top news regarding terrorist attacks, national wars, kidnappings and coup d’états. However, I hadn’t even heard about Costa Rica despite of the fact that it was in Central America too. It induced me to read about it and when I started reading, I fell in love with it, for life.
I love Costa Rica because it stands out in almost every field and I love everything that is not common. I also like people who shine in the crowd, who have their rules and their world. Such is Costa Rica. This is a country from which the lights emit. Costa Rica is like a spark in the snow on a sunny day, or like a ray of light that peeps through the thick grey duvet of clouds. In Europe there is also a country with such high reputation and it is almost a legend. It is Switzerland. Costa Rica and Switzerland are often associated with one another.
3. How did you start getting information and material about this small country in Central America?
At the beginning, during the years 1988-1992 I read everything that was available in the libraries of my town. Then when I had read everything there, I started reaching libraries in the capital of Poland. I wrote letters to people from Warsaw whose addresses I found by chance in the telephone books. I asked them to go to the library in Warsaw and make a copy of a book that I dreamed to have, and people did that. I also got in touch with journalists of informational programs from Polish TV stations and workers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As soon as they had any news from Costa Rica, they sent it to me.
In the meantime, I got to know a famous Polish traveler, adventurer and legend –Tony Halik, who instilled self-confidence in me and trust into what I was doing. He motivated me to keep digging into the history of Costa Rica. He sent me his films about Costa Rica and kept writing long letters back to me; he advised me a lot. I had the same experience with a few authors of books about Latin America. Finally, in 1992 I reached the Embassy of Costa Rica in Warsaw. I got big help from the ambassador at that time, Carlos Luis Vargas. For a few months, he sent me information about his country, maps, newspapers and pamphlets.
4. In 1992 you sent an ad to the most famous newspaper in Costa Rica, “La Nación”, describing your desire to make friends from this country. To your surprise, 600 “ticos” sent you letters all the way to Poland. In 2004 and 2006, articles about you were published in the same newspaper, and so more Costa Ricans contacted you. How many friends from Costa Rica do you currently have? How do you find the time to write to all of them? What can you say about having had such response from Costa Ricans?
Yes, it was a huge turning point. I dreamed about getting in touch with Costa Ricans so I could have first-hand information about life there. I wanted to write letters to some institutions in Costa Rica, to anyone working there. I wanted the person opening the letter (secretary, clerk) to give it to his/her child so we could write to each other. Therefore, I sent letters to the National Museum, National University and to La Nación. To be honest, I thought about asking the newspaper to include 2-3 lines of my ad, but I didn’t expect it would be possible because I didn’t have money and couldn’t write Spanish at that time. A letter in English was translated by my friend from school.
But the letter became a hit and caught hearts after having been translated into Spanish and entirely published in the newspaper. At the beginning, in 1992 I got 600 answers and I wrote back to each person. It was a huge source of information for me. I got a real society profile, from the very rich people to the poor ones, people with different professions from each corner of the country, different sex, age, beliefs, sexual orientations and ethnic groups. It was incredible! I had the opportunity to know Costa Rica as it is in reality, not from the pages of books.
It was a fantastic moment in my life because my dream had come true. I felt as if I had landed on an unknown planet. I felt that I managed to do something almost unachievable for someone who was 15. I was so hungry for knowledge about Costa Rica that I was interested in everything, even the colour of curbs and the shape of capital dumps. Since those friends from Costa Rica had different occupations, I had access to social, scientific or administrative information. The big land of knowledge opened its gate in front of me and the science was always my element. In those times there was still no internet connection.
How did I manage to write them back? Normally, I just sit and write. I had one aim –to get to know Costa Rica very well, to find out something more about it. After school, I came home and wrote them back. Whenever I got a letter, I analysed it and wrote down everything that was important there. After many years, that first information from those letters is still vital for me. At the beginning, I didn’t consider writing a way to form friendships. I just wrote willing to know Costa Rica and people understood that. Many of them just sent me information and newspapers. Others wrote personal confessions.
I started being plunged into that whirl. I started to distinguish them, like them and long for some of them. Through the years I grew up with them. The love for Costa Rica was backed up by fascination to people. I learnt tolerance and patience; I learned that everyone is different. Generally, I had people who were lonely or very sensitive, but also those who were colourful and stood out in the crowd, the colourful birds. Until today, all these people have been great examples for me because I learned a lot from them. I entered a world full of unusual people who were often alone or dominated by a crowd, and suddenly my world became more colourful.
After other articles about myself were published in Costa Rica, more people wrote to me. So I can say that I know more or less 1.000 people. Of course I don’t maintain permanent contact with all of them. There are people with whom I get in touch once a year or even less. Of course I am not close with each of them emotionally. Some just help me in my passion because they want their country to be more known. They don’t expect anything from me. By writing, people often share their feelings and emotions so I had a chance to know them as they are, when no one looks at them. While writing you take off your mask, you have more freedom to write about emotions. They trusted me because I was a person who loved their country. I would also be interested if someone were so keen on Poland. I am proud that my life has been this way and that I have such a big number of Costa Rican friends. Thanks to that, today I relate with people easily.
The fact that I grew up with people like me and with similar points of view made me not to lose my optimism so I can be happy of my life. I don’t feel like an alien because I have many people alike in my life. The problem is when I meet people who always complain and are always in a bad mood or pessimistic. I don’t like the so-called amateur psychologists who want, at any price, to investigate why some people smile so much.
5. When did you first visit Costa Rica and why? What surprised you the most? What are your best memories from that trip?
My first visit took place in 1999. I went there after some “Ticos” (Costa Ricans) visited me in Poland. All my trips have been of the same scheme. I stayed in my Tico friends’ houses. Since I often stayed with my friends’ parents who spoke only Spanish, I needed to get accustomed to that language. Besides, I always had the ambition to be taken as a Tico in the Costa Rican streets. I did everything I could so no one could notice I was not from Latin America. I never walked with my camera or map. I never walked in shorts. I liked it when people in shops talked to me in Spanish thinking I was Costa Rican.
My first visit was like a dream. I imagined that I would get off the plane and suddenly I would see jungles and animals everywhere, that I would be surrounded by the heat of the tropics and would see my Ticos showing off my Spanish. But the reality was different. There was a lot of airplane turbulence and because of a gravity load we had to make an emergency landing in Nicaragua. The luggage flew over my head and I needed to have my head between my knees for 20 minutes. When we finally landed in Costa Rica, the most important thing for me was that I was finally on the ground; I was so relieved that I was ready to kiss it. My entire clothes were dirty by the meals which made artistic ink blots. Due to the circumstances, I showed myself as a total savage. Those were my first minutes in Costa Rica. Luckily, that day there was a lot of information about this incident in the media, so I didn’t have to explain that much because most passengers behaved similarly.
What surprised me the most in Costa Rica was that many Ticos took cold showers and so I needed to have 10 minutes of mental preparation for such ice therapy. I don’t have favourite memories because every minute there was a real prize for me. I am not bored of anything and I could fly there 365 days a year. For me, Costa Rica is a mental paradise. I feel the same about one town in Poland (Grudziadz). I go there every year at least for 2 days, and despite of the fact that I know it in every detail, every time I am there I feel the happiest man on Earth.
Something wonderful is that I have the possibility and privilege to know Costa Rica as a Tico, through the eyes of its people. I never slept in hotels or went along tourist trails. I see Costa Rica as it really is. I know its pluses and minuses so I don’t take it as a fairytale world. I know its deficiencies and despite of that I still consider it as a diamond. I took suburban buses together with people coming back from work, I ate in the places known only by Ticos, I walked in the streets and knocked on my friends’ houses feeling as I were in my home country. Whenever I go to the capital and I pay something in the post office or do business in offices, it allows me to see the normal life of the average Tico. That is a very valuable activity for me. I am not taken as a tourist there but as a Costa Rican. For me, it is a great honour. In most families where I stayed, I was not a guest but one of their members. I could eat whenever and whatever I wanted, I could do what I wanted; I could be in silence with anyone. My presence seems natural because my friends and I have been writing to each other for years and so we treat each other as if we were from the same neighbourhood, as if we had grown up together.
6. How many times have you traveled to Costa Rica? What did you do every time you were here? What do you wish you had done but didn’t?
After having traveled to Costa Rica in 1999 for the first time, I continued going there every year. For the first years I got to know the country; I went to every corner of its territory. I visited everything that was possible to visit: national parks, museums, volcanoes and so on. My favourite places are those ones that even Ticos know little about. I am crazy about towns, volcanoes or parks that are still to be better discovered.
I spent the following years searching for specific information. Around 75% of the time of my stay was in cold walls of libraries or archives since I spent hours looking for old notes, pictures and information about historical and geographical items. I didn’t have another possibility to gather such information since I live in Europe. I walked to the churches looking for old notes, entered houses of strange people, and asked them if they had witnessed some events in the past which took place near their houses. I got in touch with historians and people who have passion for their country. I talked with old people in small villages and people who investigate the culture of Costa Rica. This is how I gathered information for my book about Costa Rica. Sometimes my friends from Poland were surprised that when I came back from Costa Rica after a few weeks, I was white as paper instead of having dark skin. It was because I didn’t lie on the beaches and didn’t walk too much in the streets.
What didn’t I do in Costa Rica that I wanted to? Probably there is no such thing. I have already seen everything that I wanted to. But I want to repeat it constantly because for me, Costa Rica is still a big adventure. I will never get bored of it. The only thing I wish to have is the possibility of traveling in time and observing Costa Rica in the past years; for instance in 1888, 1929 or 1951. This way I could verify many things and immortalize them for today’s generations. I want to supply documentary evidence of this country to save a lot of information. I don’t consider Costa Rica only as a beautiful country with astonishing nature and perfect weather for tourists. I am keen on that country because of its history, geography and people, and I am very proud of Costa Rica as if I had been born there.
Generally, I never regret anything in my life; I always try to do what I like and even if sometimes I fail, I always go for it. I try to be happy and enjoy life the best way I can. I don’t wait for something that is light-years in the future. I don’t have a carefree life, but I try to paint it with those things that add wings to my arms.
7. You’re planning to open a museum about Costa Rica in Poland. Tell us about this ambitious project.
It is a project that will have to wait a long time for its accomplishment. I have many showpieces, but I would like to dedicate myself to showing everything I have and what I have discovered. It will be a time when I will be retired as a scientist. Now I want to promote the country through my articles and books. I wish to make a closer collaboration between Costa Rica and Polish towns; for example, I dream about having a partnership of the city of Slupsk and any of Costa Rican provinces like Puntarenas.
8. You have an uncommon hobby: you collect buses! How and why did you become interested in them? You’re also planning to open a museum about buses in Poland. What is the purpose for it?
Yes, the Museum of Old Buses is an idea that I want to accomplish now in Poland. I started being interested in buses at the age of 4-5, when I attended the police kindergarten in Slupsk, which bordered the municipal bus company.
My grandfather was a mechanic and he instilled in me the love for old cars. At the age of 30, I bought the first bus and in the following years I gathered all the buses that I wanted from the period 1980-1994. Before 1989 (the fall of communism), Poland was an automotive heritage park and buses that were produced at that time were very specific. After accession to the European Union, they started being exchanged for low chassis plastic buses. Today only very few of them are left, and those which are still in use generally have many non-original pieces because they have been modernized.
The Museum is to be opened in Slupsk because it is a city known for the bus industry. It is the only town in Poland, except Warsaw, that had all three kinds of public municipality transport: buses, trolleybuses and tramways. It is also known as the first town in Europe which introduced ethanol fuel buses. Under communism, Slupsk was the only place where all old buses from entire Poland were scrapped. Now in my town there is a Scania bus company that produces most buses of that brand in Europe.
Now I am still waiting for the last two buses for which I applied many years ago. I have been waiting for one of them for 18 years! I have known all these buses since my childhood. I have not bought them by mere chance, they are the buses that I liked as a boy, and that is why they all very well describe the history of their operation.
I want and would be more than proud if my town had such additional touristic attraction. It is not easy because it needs a big sum of money since buses require conservation and renovation. For now, I try to save them from being scrapped and gather them for the museum collection. It is now important for me to think about how to restore them. I am in need of contacts, time and positive energy from people who care about this. The whole project almost failed a few times and I even thought it would all collapse. However, almost all the time, at the very last moment some people appeared who helped in dealing with obstacles or who supported me. If I get any money from my book, I will use it for this project with old buses.
Since the beginning, I have had local authorities on my side. I have also gotten help from people who are not so keen on buses, but who respect history and want someone to immortalize something. They advise and help. I am not sure if I will succeed in this project, but I will keep trying and won’t lose these buses for sure. I observe people who collect soldier cars and I try to use their experiences and learn how to collaborate.
9. Through the years, you have been interviewed in Polish radio programs, newspapers and others to talk about Costa Rica. Why do you enjoy promoting this country? What do you want people to know about it?
Costa Rica is my life, so talking about it makes me really proud. It is as if I were boasting about my child. I am really touched when someone reads about Costa Rica and wants to learn about it. I can’t describe what I feel when I promote the information about this country, especially when people don’t know it at all. I love it when people get crazy about Costa Rica and start paying attention to it.
I don’t want Polish people to connect Costa Rica only with bananas, good weather or with the popular news that it is a country with happy people. I want them to treat that country seriously, to know its fantastic distinguishing marks such as the fact that Costa Rica is in the forefront as regards economy in Latin America, or that it is a country without army. I want people to learn that it has the oldest democracy in America and the lowest illiteracy rate; that it doesn’t have coups d’état and that in its history there was the lesser smell of gunpowder than in the history of any other country. I don’t want people to think of Costa Rica as a paradise where everyone is smiling and is happy, where the sky is always cloudless and with a perfect blue color, and people have no idea what to do with happiness. I want Costa Rica to be taken as a country with a normal life, where there are people who also have their own problems but also that simultaneously it is a country where people see life differently. The power of Costa Rica is its people; they created such country with such history.
10. You have been writing a book about Costa Rica for many years now. Can you tell us about it? What information does it have and where will it be published? Who are you writing this book for and why?
I started writing this book since the first time I travelled to Costa Rica and gathered information about it; it took me more or less 5 years to finish it. It has 967 pages of text only and it is divided into two vital parts. The adventure part “Costaricanology from A through L till Z”, and the scientific-encyclopedic part. The entire book is titled “The Republic of Costa Rica according to a Costa Rican Polish”. The first part of the book describes what I saw in Costa Rica without any embellishes and is like a documentary. The second part covers everything that is connected with Costa Rica, including literary descriptions. It is similar to a literary hybrid.
The book is very detailed and as a scientist, I tried to describe every little aspect, so it has dates and descriptions of very little known issues. I spent whole years in libraries, archives, zoos, institutions and among Costa Ricans to be able to properly write about everything. I was given professional advice from experts of different fields. To finish my book, I needed to be a geographer, historian and biologist and that was not too easy. I also had to force myself to write in the first person and it was hard because despite of the fact that I am a communicative person, I am not too open to talk about myself. I can share most of my emotions by writing them down on paper.
I spent the majority of time writing the chapter “History of the Republic of Costa Rica”. I am proud because the book encompasses some historical events whose information is difficult to find in books. This is my favorite chapter. I also like the section about “Capitals of the Costa Rican Provinces” very much, where I tried to describe almost each house, tenement house, monument, bust or plaque. I also paid a lot of attention to the chapter about dishes and fruits. In addition, the book has such detailed subchapters as power industry, ornamental plants, holidays, Miss Costa Rica, thunders, nicknames of Costa Rican towns, sports and space. As a geographer, I really enjoyed writing the subjects of earthquakes and volcanoes. That special subchapter is dedicated to Costa Rican police forces.
Who was this book written for? For people who like travelling, for those who are interested in any field and want to know; for example, which animals or plants exist in Costa Rica, or to find out anything about the Costa Rican railway. In the book, one can find information about the national symbols of Costa Rica, individual social groups (women, children and refugees), education, Ticos’ attitude towards telephones, among others. There are other subjects such as prisons, drugs and safety. I wrote about pluses but also minuses of the country so tourists’ expectations are not to see crocodiles or tigers everywhere, or even people covering their loins with leaves. I tried to immortalize events and people.
The message of the book is that Costa Rica is everywhere, that we should be able to see the details of each day and that to be honest, there is no need to be a big adventurer or traveller because Costa Rica can be closer to us than we think: in our everyday life, in our passions and attitude to other people. For me, Costa Rica is an optimistic way of life with rules. Ticos teach me that. I am optimistic and idealistic, which is a little obstacle in life when you have to collaborate with other people. Sometimes it gives the feeling of alienation because you get the label of fool or a person who has his head in the clouds, but I don’t care about that. People like me are everywhere. Some of them are just afraid of showing their way of life. Some of them live normally because their situation requires that, but when they meet people like me they help because they are the same, but are accustomed to be hidden behind social masks.
This is the way I can achieve so many things because I find people similar to me. They help because they know I do things for nonprofit projects, so it is not only my achievement. I can do many things only because people believe in me and they see a sense in me. That is why I never consider myself as a traveller, a good writer or a popular person. I couldn’t have done anything without people who helped me in my life and gave me some truths in life. So until I can, I will try to thank them.
I have trust, so if suddenly I started having other points of view towards life or I became addicted to material goods, I would disappoint many people. Their belief in me makes me stronger and it is my additional energy in life. For me, the most important thing is the respect from people and that they have their rules, not only through words but first of all through actions. On this respect, I am naive for sure because I try to believe in people; nevertheless, I can easily detect when someone is not sincere.
11. You live in Poland, yet your life revolves around Costa Rica. What challenges have you faced being far away from Costa Rica? Don’t you want to live in this country, if you adore it so much?
I never pondered on living in Costa Rica because it is always close to me. My aim is to promote Costa Rica in Poland. I want this country to have a high reputation in Poland, to be known, and that people have a proper association of “Costa Rica”. This is the most I can do for Costa Rica being in Europe, but when I retire, I might consider living in Costa Rica. Now I still don’t think about that because I am still young despite of the fact that many people consider age 35+ as old. I don’t regret anything that I have done in my life, so I don’t have a sensation of lost time. I know many things are still to be experienced, and I know they will make me happy mostly because I don’t expect too much from life. My life will be very connected with Costa Rica for sure.
12. What do you love most about Costa Rica? What do you dislike? Can you tell us your favourite places, food, traditions, celebrations and others?
My favourite place is the province of Puntarenas, which not many Costa Ricans like. I am keen on its shape and history. In Poland we have a similar geographical landform and it is called Hel. Costa Rican Hel is much bigger as a town and it covers almost the entire peninsula. If I ever wanted to live in Costa Rica it would be exactly in Puntarenas, which is located in the western part of the country . I like it because it still needs bigger publicity and investments. I wish to help that place in its development.
My favourite historical buildings in San José are Ortiz Building and Quinta Comisaría my favourite monument is the one for José Luján M. in the traffic circle in Luján my favourite churches are Los Ángeles Church in San José and San Francisco Church in Heredia, my favourite school building is old Porfirio Brenes School in San José, my favourite municipal park is La Amistad in Puntarenas, my favourite dish is seafood. I love octopus, cuttlefish and crab. I love the popular dessert “tres leches” and all that is made with papaya; I could drink hectolitres of papaya juice and cocktails. But my favourite fruit as regards its shape is “guanábana”. I love Costa Rican “tamales”, “empanadas” and all floury dishes. Despite of the fact that I almost never eat soups; I love “chayote” soup. My favourite reserve is Hitoy-Cerere and my favourite national park is Palo Verde. Finally, my favourite animal is yaguarundi or silky anteater and my favourite island is Isla Bolaños.
I love traffic jams in San José and the street noise; I could live on Avenida Segunda with automobile horns and neon. I like the town San Joaquín de Flores in Heredia very much because I have great memories from there. My favourite Costa Rican president is Julio Acosta and my favourite event is a mysterious explosion in 1921 in the capital. I have been looking for information about that for more than a year. My favourite volcanoes are Miravalles and Cacao.
But I am mostly keen on people, of whom I have fantastic remembrances. I had the privilege to enter the world of Ticos, who showed me every corner of it. They are very humble and kind-hearted. When I am in Costa Rica I feel at home; I feel as if I were one of them. I am not judged for I am wearing, how I look like or who I am. Ticos are people who can be happy about life without any complexes. I am impressed that they love their country so much; it is unbelievable. They are really proud of their history. I have been helped by people I had just met because they want their country to be known in Europe; they want their town or neighborhood to be described and photographed. They want that very much and for Europeans who are accustomed to have everything, it is unreal.
Costa Ricans taught me to love my own country and town to such extent that I am very proud of my city Slupsk, where I have discovered things that most people can’t see. I was taught to see details of life. I can be happy of an ordinary day, that I am in good health and that the people close to me are in good health too. I don’t have big aspirations to be a distinguished person or to have unusual success connected with the material world. I am just happy that I can do what I love, and such are Ticos too. Family and spending time together are very important for them; Costa Rica is a very family open nation.
As everywhere, people there are different, but the average Tico would give you his last shirt if you needed that. In Poland there is a tradition of adding an extra plate on the Christmas table for a homeless person, but the question is how many people would really do that for a stranger and invite him to their house. In Costa Rica such activity wouldn’t be anything extraordinary. Such attitudes are everyday life.
I have been trying to choose pictures for my book, but I am not a very good photographer and since I need more photos, I started asking my Tico friends for help. The response has been beyond my most optimistic expectations. People have sent me a huge number of pictures, many of these people even went to other towns especially for me. They took leaves from work to take photos of plaques and busts in bushed parks that I dreamt to have, and went to museums to get shots of showpieces. They even got pictures of fruits even though there is no season for some of them. I was even helped by people whom I got to know just a few weeks ago because I loved their pictures in internet. I am astonished of their help; everyone helps. They devote their time and the most fantastic thing is their excitement that they can help. It is unbelievable that no one has refused my request for help. They do it because they want Costa Rica to be known or that they want my dreams to come true.
My aim now is to include, in my book, the pictures of all the people who helped me. I want all of them to have their share in my book as it is going to be a good remembrance. I am ashamed of such help. Some of them are professionals who could sell such pictures for a lot of money but they understand me and trust me. I have been helped even by people from other countries as Uruguay who also love Costa Rica. I am happy of each picture even if it is average because someone took it or got it especially for me.
13. You have such devotion for Costa Rica that you have decided to dedicate your entire life to it, but you are not Costa Rican. Does this idolatry mean you don’t love your own country? What do your compatriots think about it?
But I love my country. I am proud of it, and I learned to have this pride from Costa Rica and my Tico friends. Before that, I used to complain about my country as other people from Poland. The only thing that I don’t like in my country is pessimism. Polish constantly complain about everything; I prefer optimistic Ticos. I don’t like those people called careerists; I can’t find myself among people who are ruled by rivalry or buffoonery. However, in Poland there are also people like Costa Ricans but they are rather in small villages. People there still have such kind heartiness.
I don’t like people who despise others only because of belonging to a higher social class. For me, such people are not mature because they still can’t predict or realize that everyone can suddenly be at the bottom of the social ladder. That is why I am taught not to think too high about myself. That down to earth attitude is quite good for my optimism. My friends generally accept the things that I do or are accustomed to that. Most of them have known me since childhood so they know I am like that. I wouldn’t be authentic if tried to be another person to live like others. Of course there are people who consider me as a freak and although they pretend to accept me, they nod when others criticize me. For me, these people don’t have their own opinions and they are shapeless. I like people who think straight.
14. How can you explain this passion towards Costa Rica? Do you consider yourself Costa Rican or Polish?
I was born in Poland so I am a Polish man, but my heart belongs to Costa Rica and I feel as if I were a Tico. When I am in Poland I am proud of Costa Rica, but when I am in Costa Rica I am proud of it. Nevertheless, I always underline who I am because I love talking about my country; I am very happy that Ticos are interested in Poland. During the Soccer World Cup in 2006, when Poland and Costa Rica were in the same group, I crossed my fingers for Costa Rica and I have to admit that I cried when Costa Rica lost. I didn’t pick up the phone all day and didn’t want to go to work because I knew people will comment on that. It was a big stress for me and I felt ashamed that Costa Rica hadn’t won. For me they were the best.
I could fight and lose my life for Costa Rica. I wouldn’t allow anybody to say something bad about it in my presence. Each attack for Costa Rica is an attack for me. I feel similarly towards my town; I am a big local patriot and I am very emotionally linked to it. When someone praises Costa Rica or Slupsk I feel very happy and proud. For me, it is very important to like the place where one comes from. It is our history. I like people who see beauty around. If someone says that his town is a bad place, I wouldn’t think very highly of him because he would also be criticizing the history and identity of that place.
15. Tell us about your future professional and personal goals.
My dreams always come true because I always set goals that I can achieve. I don’t have a vision that my life will drastically change in 10 years. In addition, I don’t have an aspiration for a big science career; I just want to do what I am doing now.
As regards personals dreams, I want the people who are important for me to be in good health. I will issue the second edition of the book about buses and I want the book about Costa Rica to be read by people for whom I wrote it. I don’t have an aspiration that it will be a bestseller, I don’t need that. The most important thing is that the book will be placed in libraries and will be appreciated by scientists. I hope people who read it will ponder life and will know Costa Rica better. If I get any money from my book, I will use it for the Museum of Old Buses. What is important is for the book to be available for people who are curious about the world. I hope people will read the message and find a piece for themselves there. Besides that, I am going to get two more buses for my project, one from Slupsk and the other one from Grudziadz.
My aim for the following years is to keep promoting Costa Rica in Poland. It would be great if there could be collaboration between Slupsk and any town in Costa Rica. I also wish to promote my town and Grudziadz in another region of Poland, so people know their attractions and in this way they can learn to appreciate where they live. No, I won’t write historical books about Slupsk because there are many other better historians than me. There are many people who love Slupsk; for example, a guy who got credit so his dreams would come true. Thanks to that he issued two fantastic albums about Slupsk. He took a risk. I admire him and he is a big example for me. I want to show that kind of attitude to people, and I want to encourage people who have hobbies not to hide at home but to try to live as they like because it is their natural world.
I am not going to make any revolutions or new things. I always know what makes me excited and I go this way. I don’t think about climbing the social ladder because I am self-confident. The only thing I really wish to do is to observe people who are examples for me because they give me energy and thanks to them I avoid bigger problems.
16. Can you describe your city, Slupsk?
It is the smallest city in Poland as regards the surface with a population of about 100.000 people. Also, it is the fourth after Gdynia, Gdansk and Szczecin in the Polish Baltic coast. Because of the street structure and the buildings, it is called “Paris of the North”. In this city you can find the oldest pizza bar in Poland and the oldest wooden lift in Europe still in use. Moreover, the first chain of restaurants in Poland, during Communism, was introduced here with the name of Slupsk, and the founder of postcards was born in this Polish city. Slupsk is also called “Town of buses” or “Town of policemen”, due to the Police Academy. It has the most beautiful town hall in the north of Poland.
My town is getting more beautiful year by year and I am happy when people who come here are surprised of that. It should be remembered that after Communism, Polish towns were very neglected and we still renovate them. Slupsk has been in the same good hands for 12 years. I used to be very suspicious of people from local authorities; I don’t have high words about offices but my town has the best president it could have. Thanks to him it is developing very rapidly. He is not afraid of new ideas and doesn’t close himself in his office. I value him very much and trust him. I know one day he will have a monument in my town, but his achievements will be mostly appreciated after years. I am happy the people from Slupsk support him.
Unfortunately, the same man will soon have an appeal procedure. As always, it is supported by other people’s ambitions. I consider it a very bad idea because he was previously chosen in a democratic way. There has been a campaign for gathering signatures in the streets for a few months now. However, it hasn’t gotten the desired effects because not everybody supports that. If the referendum comes into effect, I hope the current president will be chosen again because without him the development of Slupsk will lose its speed.
Thank you very much for such an interesting interview, Rafal!
This day honors one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, and today it is celebrated in over 100 countries around the world. Take a look at what some of our contributors have to say about it!
Valentine’s Day in the USA (By Jason, our contributor from the US)
As I child I remember getting a packet of Valentine’s cards and hand writing the names of every child in my class on the back of factory-made cards and putting each one inside an envelope addressed to each kid in my class. I carried these to school in a brown paper bag then I put one on each classmate’s desk. At the end of the day, I collected the exact same number of cards from my classmates and carried them home in the same brown paper bag. I enjoyed reading each one.