Friday, November 22, 2013

Costa Rica's Treasure ... The National Theatre

It's the last day in Costa Rica for most of the 22 adventurous people that signed up for this trip.  As we entered San Carlos on our way to Zarcero, we were detoured around the demonstrations that were being held.  Surrounded by Policia on small motorcycles, we saw huge crowds with signs before being whisked away.  Our guide assured us there was no danger ... the locals only have their voices.  They can't afford guns or knives!!  I'm sure THAT made us all feel better.  As in most countries, they were just expressing their dissatisfaction with the government.
We are in the higher elevations where thankfully it is cooler ... although not what you would think.  Costa Rica is hot and humid anywhere you go.  At this elevation however, there is fog and clouds to cool the region enough for dairy cattle to provide milk for the entire country.  This is a modern farm by Costa Rican standards.  
Much of the countryside has been cleared of trees, allowing for grass to grow and room enough for cows to roam.
Arriving in Zarcero, we came to the topiary gardens they are famous for.  This garden was started and is still maintained by a now 90-year old gentleman almost single handedly.  It's the size of a large city block and fun to walk around, discovering the birds and dinosaurs.
The outside walls are covered in howler monkeys ...
and the inside trees bent into tunnels.
At the top of the square is a beautiful church.
These two ladies were solving the world's problems.  I try to be sneaky about catching the locals in action, but I got caught here several times.  I guess I disturbed them, because with a bad look, they finally left.
Behind the ladies was this magnificent catholic church, the church of Archangel Raphael!!
At the bottom of the courtyard was a basketball court and this beautiful scrap tile mural made by the local kids.  Their names and schools are all listed at the bottom.
Kids passing the time away .....
Around the side of the church I ran into this beauty ... both the baby AND her mom!  I asked about a picture, and although she hesitated, she finally let me take a few.  If you take images of the locals, it is always best to ask first, and definitely show them the pictures you took.  When she saw how cute her daughter was, she was very happy and offered to pose for more.
This cutie pie was another story.  I asked her mom if I could take her picture and she said yes.  When I bent down and focused the camera on her, she cried LOUDLY and hid her head behind mom.  No problem I said ... I'm sorry I scared her!!!   As they walked off, I kept my camera on her, and true to nature, she turned to look at me to be sure I wasn't following ... and I snapped this one!!  I know, sneaky!!!  But she was worth the wait!!
95% of the homes in Costa Rica have electricity ... all of it is above ground!!!
Heading out of town, the road was blocked by these guys trying to load their bobcat into the back of the truck.  They weren't having much luck at all and traffic was getting antsy.  
Working in a terribly unsafe manner, we thought we were going to be in for a bloodbath ... but finally they got some chains and were able to pull it on board.  If they had simply lifted the dumptruck bed slightly, they could have driven it on.  Alls well that ends well though ... and after waiting for the traffic mob to clear, we were on our way again.
Arriving in Grecia, we were treated to the Oxcart Factory.  It has been in business at this location for well over 100 years.  THIS time we FINALLY get to exit through the gift shop!!
This gorgeous cart is what they make for the oxen to carry supplies from place to place.  Spectacularly hand painted ... they are truly a work of art.
This facility is responsible for all the wheel innovations up to the present day models that will last a lifetime.  Here is an original wheel made of wood, even the axle.  Needless to say, they didn't wear well.
Now they are made from mahogany with steel axels and a steel band around the edge, but still wholly constructed by hand.
This is the original band saw that was placed into production in 1928 and is still used to this day, as you can see by the pile of leftovers.  The large red wheel that you can barely see in the back, is run by water power.  They pull a large handle, the water falls down and starts to move the wheel, which in turn moves overhead belts, which engage the band saw blade.  It was amazing to watch it work.
When not making carts or wheels, the artisans make small items to sell in the store.  FINALLY ... a gift shop!!  
From plaques to miniature carts to bowls, all items are hand painted by three or four artists in an outdoor shop.
Even the hubs for the wheels are painted by hand.
A large mural on the wall, of course hand painted, depicts life in Costa Rica with the oxcarts.
This is a painting of the original oxcart shop ... which is now surrounded by paved streets and houses ... but it looks basically the same.
Every country should have SOMETHING in the Guinness Book of World Records ... and Costa Rica's entry is this ... the world's largest oxcart!!  
Next up was a quick stop at this church, made of metal in 1888.  It was made ... gosh, I can't remember what country ... but it is metal panes that were shipped to Costa Rica and carried in oxcarts to this location where it was constructed.  With lots of brick red paint, it hasn't rusted ... yet!!!!

Finally after a long day's drive, we are back in San Jose to see Costa Rica's treasure, the National Theatre.  Costa Ricans are very proud of this building, and rightly so.  In the 1890's with only 19,000 people in the country, Adelina Patti refused to sing in San Jose because they did not have a decent theatre.  The government, not wanting people to think they were unsophisticated, placed a coffee tax on exports to raise money for the building.  In 1897, it was opened to the public for the first time, with everyone who was anyone, attending in their finest dress.
The architect from Italy, designed a magnificent structure ... all of which, including the interiors, were made in Europe, transported here and assembled.  The statues on the roof, when it was determined they were showing much deterioration, were moved to the lobby and replicas reinstalled.
It is seriously one of the most amazing theatres I have ever been in, including many in San Francisco.
Every ceiling is painted with beautiful scenes ... not Costa Rican in nature, but European.
Part of the ceiling in the grand foyer.
Interestingly enough, the huge paintings of Costa Rican life have many mistakes depicted.  Not being from the area, the European artists painted what they "thought" it was like.  Here, the stem on the bananas is on the wrong end ... the women are wearing european clothing and the men panama hats.
Regardless, Costa Ricans are VERY proud of this building ... mistakes or not.  Everyone can attend this theatre with most shows costing in the area of $10 per ticket.
Gold filigree and more gold sconces ... with marble walls and parquet floors.  Every piece fits perfectly together.
The grand foyer upstairs for guests of the government, along with two side rooms for the President's personal entourage.
All the stairs and railing are hand carved marble ... I was afraid to touch anything, let alone WALK on the floor!!!
The day has ended with magnificence and it's time to return to our Wyndham hotel.  Along the way we passed this beautiful building that I suspected was the Presidents quarters.  Boy was I wrong ... this was the main prison in San Jose for many years and has since been turned into a Childrens Museum.  No
mention was made of where the prison is now.  In fact, that entire topic was never discussed.
20 of the original 22 visitors have to be up at 4 am for their transfer to the airport.  Miss Patty and I get to sleep in til 5:00.  We have a bus to catch that will take us on the REST of our adventure.  And trust me, it WAS an adventure that we were totally unprepared for!!!

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