|Ox Carts Costa Rica||| Print ||
Handmade, the 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 where 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.
The very best Costa Rican oxcarts are made in either of two artisan factories in and around Sarchi. The largest and most frequently visited oxcart factory, better known as the "Joaquín Chaverri Oxcart Factory", opened in 1902 and is recognized as the birthplace of oxcart construction in Costa Rica. With the regions most complete supply of oxcart designs, in all colors, shapes and sizes, this factory/handcraft shop is the most frequently visited by those touring Sarchi. Situated on the town's principal road, the store also contains a very thorough inventory of other handcrafts and items, in an open, spacious setting. In the rear section of the store one can find a enormous variety of pre-assembled oxcarts, all of which can be easily disassembled and packaged for shipment; credit cards are accepted.
A far less commercial factory, open since 1923, is located just minutes from the center of town. Constructing oxcarts upon special request, this workshop might serve your greatest opportunity to view the construction of oxcarts utilizing the same methods applied during the early part of the century. Open to the public, the factory's nearby river generates the energy needed to power the numerous tools required to carve, cut and piece together these magnificent carts. A series of long, wide, and interconnected bands are manually adjusted, enabling the worker to quickly and effortlessly engage or disengage the selected machinery. Difficult to find on your own, it is recommend that one visit this factory with an organized tour.