On some of my last days in San Jose before heading to Nicaragua I decided to do everything I had meant to do but hadn't gotten around to (largely due to also getting out of the city on my days off). The city decided to help me out by having a 'City Art Tour' where they opened the doors of all the museums and art galleries for free for one night and provided free transport. This was part of a month long festival during which many performances and exhibitions in San Jose were either cheap or free to the public.
I unfortunately only made it to one of the museums because my amazing Spanish misled me and I got on the wrong bus, eventually looping back to where I got on, by which time I had to head home because everything was about to close. Despite this I still got the see the Museo Nacional which was probably the most important one the get a general idea of Costa Rica.
Walking through the entrance I immediately found myself shepherded into a butterfly habitat. Costa Rica has very rich biodiversity which is celebrated. This includes a large number of butterfly species (mariposas in Spanish).
After following a path winding upward through the large enclosure I arrived in a courtyard. The building housing the museum used to be a barracks but this was abandoned when Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 following a civil war. The towers of the museum were knocked down to half their height so they couldn't be readapted for military purposes later. Costa Rica is one of fifteen countries with no military.
Around the courtyard were various rooms with different displays in them ranging from pre-Colombian artifacts and life to temporary exhibitions celebrating the rich ecology.
|A strange nose-instrument as far as I can tell|
|An example of a burial site in the mangroves|
|The inside of the museum|
|A set from pre-Columbian Costa Rica|
|Some of the pre-Columbian art. All of the carvings mean something.|
|Pre-Columbian art again.|
On my last day in the city I headed to the legislative assembly. I had seen it before and tried to pop in for a tour when I first arrived but was told that I needed to wear pants (I was wearing shorts!) if I wanted entrance.
This time I was armed with jeans and they let me in! After clearing security I waited for someone to show me around. He arrived off we went.
First he showed me a room where press conferences are held which was surrounded by portraits of previous presidents. He told me the stories of some of the most notable of these and also explained how Costa Rica came to abolish its military. (With some of the portraits I may have the descriptions muddled as to which goes with which president - but you get the gist!)
This guy is known by some as the architect of Costa Rican society and by others as its worst dictator.
This man's wife designed the Costa Rican flag and as she loved France the flag resembles the French one in colour. The man himself established the Costa Rican republic.
This guy was apparently somewhat of a dictator but not entirely bad. He established the first free schools and also abolished the death penalty - because his wife asked him to for her birthday!
Ricardo was the president three times (despite there having the be a two term gap before an old president can run for office again) and was loved by all.
Rafael was very important as he created a social security system in Costa Rica but refused to give government to Ulate after he had won the election.
Figueres was also very important in Costa Rican history as after the one and a half month civil war the general of the army tried to give him power, however he handed it to Ulate, who was the winner of the 1948 election, after abolishing the military to prevent any future civil wars. Costa Rica was the first country to do this.
I realise that little history may be a little fuzzy but it is as good of an account as I could get with the language barrier! I also figure you can google if this fascinates you!
Costa Rica has also been declared to Europe as perpetually neutral and is currently led by its first female president.
The legislative chamber has windows through which the public can watch. Many hold signs in an attempt to influence legislators and some get a little carried away resulting in damage to the glass.
The story behind the Costa Rican coat or arms is this: the small balls represent coffee and tobacco which are or were major crops; the seven stars represent the provinces, though prior to 1962 there were only five to represent the countries of Central America; there are three volcanoes and three mountain ranges depicted and the two oceans are the Caribbean and the Pacific which rest on either side of the country.
I got to sit in the president's chair!
This is known as the 'shame seat' and is where politicians have to go through an equivalent of question time - they explain their actions and justifications. Often this is where they'll have to go when something has gone wrong.
This building was known as the 'blue castle' and has been recently restored. It used the be luxury housing for the president or diplomats before falling into disuse. It was originally built by a very rich coffee grower who was running for president. He never made it into office so never got to use the 'castle'! That must have been frustrating!
The Assembly has some beautiful courtyards.
After leaving I headed to the artisan's market to do some souvenir shopping then back to Aldea Hostel to pack everything up for Nicaragua.