Photographer's Note

The handmade traditional oxcart, or carreta, is the country's most famous type of craft. Ordinarily admired for its decorative qualities, the oxcart plays a very important part in the cultural history of Costa Rica. In the middle of the 19th century, when coffee was first being cultivated in the surrounding countryside, oxcarts provided the only method in which to transport the hand picked beans over the mountains and to the coast. Arduous and timely were these trips, a good, reliable, well-built oxcart could mean the difference between a successful transit and financial ruin. In many cases, oxcarts were a family's only means of transportation, and at times even served as a status symbol. Thus, the tradition of painting and decorating the carts commenced in the early part of this century. Originally each region of Costa Rica had its own particular design, enabling one to identify from which part of the country the driver lived simply by observing the pattern on the wheels.

As highways, trucks and trains have displaced the carreta as the main means of transporting goods, its significance has changed and it is now a symbol of Costa Rican country life. Featured prominently in parades as well as in both religious and secular celebrations, the brightly painted and painstakingly detailed designs now cover every inch of the cart.

We spent considerable time at an oxcart factory at Sarchi near San Jose. We saw them being constructed and painted. The latter is very beautiful to see.

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Additional Photos by Roger Edgington (edge) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 757 W: 34 N: 2205] (7409)
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