Transport

The Costa Rican Colorful Oxcart

Costa Rican oxcarts (Photo by Manu Martin)

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.

"Coffee and sugarcane gave birth to our oxcart" (Photo by Manu Martin)

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.

Oxcarts in the past (Photo by Manu Martin)

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.

Original oxcart with painted animals and flowers (Photo by Manu Martin)

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!

One of the many stores in Sarchí (Photo by Nuria Villalobos)

Corridor in Sarchí where oxcarts get painted (Photo by Manu Martin)

The World's Largest Painted 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.

The Oxcart Drivers Day in Escazú (Photo by ticoindex.com)

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.

Oxcart with boyero (Photo by Manu Martin)

Beautiful oxen with cart (Photo by Nuria Villalobos)

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.

Tourists on oxcart (Photo by Manu Martin)

The Oxcart: National Symbol of Costa Rica (Photo by Manu Martin)

Read more

Costa Rican Annual Pilgrimage to Honor “La Negrita”

5 interesting facts about Costa Rica

My Single Story: the view from Costa Rica

March 29, 2013 8 comments

The 4-Way Stop Courtesy

This traffic pattern was never something I had considered before. I grew up with it. We learn how to take advantage of the situation practically as soon as you learn to drive. Then, I had some friends visit from Australia who just had to know how this amazing display of courtesy actually worked. I also heard, recently, that this may be a purely Canadian phenomenon, not North American as I assumed. Maybe someone can chime in.

All streets have their own stop signs.

(more…)

March 2, 2012 5 comments

Picture Postcards: Bucharest carriage


Have a gander at this beautiful carriage photo taken by our contributor, Carmen Cristal, in Romania. She says, “This little carriage decorated with flowers is not a normal means of transport in Romania (we can find carriages only in small villages or they are used for tourism purposes) . The picture was taken in September 2010 at an annual event called Bucharest Days. The event took place in the neighbourhood of People‘s House in Bucharest and included a traditional fair, music, dance and carriage rides along the boulevard.”

Read more:
Sweet-sour Topoloveni Plum Jam
Blogs for Expats in Romania
How to Overcome Your Shyness

January 22, 2012 Comments disabled

Picture Postcards: Transport on Sark, Channel Islands, UK

Cars are banned on the Isle of Sark (Channel Islands). Tractors, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are the only means of transport here.

Our contributing editor, Ana, says, “Cars are banned on the Isle of Sark (Channel Islands). Tractors, bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are the only means of transport here.”

Read more:
Funny photo from Jersey, The Channel Islands
Duck Crossing in Jersey
Pot Roast: a winter warmer from the U.K.

January 15, 2012 2 comments

We Really Do Dog Sled in Canada.

Canadians love to joke about how there is always snow, we all live in igloos, and our main source of transportation is the dog sled. While, it is definitely not a main source- there are roads, highways, airports- dog sledding is a part of the culture in the North.

A small sled meant to carry one rider inside and one driver on the back.

The Yukon is north of 60° (latitude). It’s a 2.5 hour flight up from Vancouver. It borders Alaska, USA to the west and British Columbia, Canada to the south. It was home to the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890’s. And, in the winter, boy is it cold there!

One major winter event is the Yukon Quest: a thousand mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks Alaska. This race follows the gold rush route and is called the toughest dog sled race in the world. The race can take between 10 and 20 days to complete, with limited checkpoints between. This is not a winter sport for the faint of heart. Yukoners are hearty, strong, and adventurous.

Tourists can partake in this cultural sport without facing the sure death that would befall the inexperienced musher (sled driver). A resort just outside of Whitehorse offers day trips and short expeditions. It is called Muktuk Adventures and is home to experienced mushers of the Yukon Quest. We did a quick 2 hour trip that followed a very small portion of the Yukon Quest trail. It ran on top of the frozen Takhini River.

The trip starts with a major bundling up in winter gear: wool socks, winter boots, thick snow pants, giant jackets, warm hats with ear protection, hoods, and, of course, water and wind proof gloves. We then learn the easy basics: a sharp “Let’s go” will get the dogs moving, a low “Whoooaaa” will bring them to a stop. Two to a team, we each have one driver and one rider pulled by five dogs.

Let me tell you, if I was as excited for a day’s work as these dogs, life would be perfection. Every dog in the yard wanted a turn to get out for a good run. Imagine 100 dogs barking and running in circles for attention. Even on the trip, their excitement never dwindled. They barked and danced. They ate snow and played with each other. They constantly seemed tangled in their lines beyond repair during breaks, but always seemed to sort themselves out in time to start up again.

I am more clothing than person!

The dog village.

Overall, it was quite a fun experience. I did fall once, but managed to pull myself back up onto the skis of the sled, find the brake, and give a “whoooaaa”. No harm done. Being on the river, most of our trip was flat. The way back up to the cabin, though, was a short uphill. Here, the driver is expected to jump off and run with the sled to help out the dogs. Hopping back on is the tricky part.

The team pulling us across the frozen river.

I am very glad to have been able to join in on such a stereotypically Canadian winter sport. Though I am years of training off of running a race, maybe next time we will try an overnight expedition.

Eager to keep going!

January 11, 2012 6 comments

Argentinean customs: car for sale

Suppose you want to sell you car, how do you go about advertising the sale? You can place an ad in your local newspaper or a noticeboard, you can list it on one of several specialised websites or you can use social media (Tweeter, Facebook) to let your contacts know.

In Argentina, although many people use the methods mentioned above, the traditional thing to do is to place an empty can or plastic bottle (filled with water so that it doesn’t fly away) on the roof of your car while it’s parked.

Our next door neighbour is trying to sell his car

In the past, people used to ring the bell of the house the car was directly parked in front of. Nowadays, car owners place a piece of paper with the car model, mileage, price and contact information. If someone is interested, they’ll try to contact the owner in order to start negotiations.

Do you have a similar custom in your country?

 

Read more

Picture Postcards: cars in Japan
Buying a car in California
Which countries drive on the left?

January 6, 2012 3 comments