No one seems to think very highly of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, even though everyone seems to agree that the rest of the country is full of wonders. My own first impression is that San Jose is gritty and lacking in charm, and I haven’t found anything that seems distinctively Costa Rican. But, like everywhere else I have visited, San Jose has its attractions.
The people here are friendly, “amistoso.” I have found it very easy to stop and talk to strangers about this or that. And there is lots of music, most of which sounds like a variation of Mexican music. But some of it sounds like rap and reggae. Because it’s rap and reggae.
I was lucky to be here on the day of the big Ox Cart Parade, which was held a block from my hotel. It featured dancers, clowns and a lot of music. Dozens of teams of oxen pulled colorful hand-painted carts. Once used to haul farm produce and coffee to market, the ox cart is an important national symbol in Costa Rica, representing labor, art and optimism.
I also loved the city’s new Jade Museum — which presents the story of pre-Colombian Costa Rica, with incredible pottery, stone work and jewelry. All of the exhibits have interactive features and are presented in very atmospheric displays with a lot of good information. Although Costa Rica is not considered one of the most important places in Central America for archaeologists, its ancient art is among the most diverse, probably because the region was along a trading route. Historians speculate ancient Costa Rican tribes did not leave behind major cities (like Tikal or Machu Piccu) because the population here was small. I especially loved the room about Shamanism, a practice of medicinal healing and spirituality.
Tomorrow — the jungle!