We were in Costa Rica headed to the Arenal Volcano and we stopped in the village of Sarchi. The town’s claim to fame is it has the world’s largest oxcart. Although after seeing it I really can’t imagine an actual ox or oxen pulling it. The Cart is huge maybe 10 to 15 feet tall. It is very colorfully painted and is visually stunning, but seemed impractical for actual use.
With further research, and some conversation with locals I began to understand just how important the ox cart is to the people of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a mostly mountainous country that for centuries was dependent mostly on agriculture for its survival. The beautifully colored ox carts are called Carretas in Spanish and are recognized as by UNESCO as World Heritage Cultural symbol. The carts can be seen in most national celebrations and is even the symbol for one of the nation’s political parties. While ox carts are used throughout the world, the ones in Costa Rica are know for their intricate designs and vibrant colors. No two carts are the same and unbeknownst to me, the village of Sarchi is where the tradition all began.
The ox carts brought by the Spanish had spoked wheels but they kept breaking in the mountainous terrain. The solid wheel was based on the old Aztec stone wheels and were more suitable to the local environment. The colored ox carts were first manufactured by the village’s Joaquin Chaverri Ox Cart factory in 1902. The carts were in high demand for the region’s many coffee fields. The designs are based on local plants and vary from each region. Also different families have their own design as well. It is not uncommon for villages to have contests for the best designed cart.
Even today, when modern machinery has outpaced the cart, many families still maintain their cart as a point of pride.
Across the street from the oxcart is a very nicely painted church. It is the only one I saw in all Costa Rica that was painted green.