Alajuela is the no-nonsense town attached to Costa Rica’s San José airport. Most tourists bypass the city on their way to somewhere else. I decided to do something different and stopped in Alajuela to visit the nearby Poás volcano. Costa Rica’s volcanoes have been uneventful these last few years, but at Poás you can stand at the edge of its fuming crater and get a good look into its sulfuric cauldron.
That’s how I met poet Roberto Garcia, owner of Hotel Mi Tierra. You can see that the hotel has been shaped by an artistic hand. Roberto’s artwork hangs in the common areas and all around orchids reach out from hanging baskets. His bonsai trees sit quietly, almost unnoticed, near the kayaks he uses on river tours. Roberto invited me to meet his friends, poets Gustavo Solórzano and Joan Bernal, together with dancer Irene Dobles Guardia, for an afternoon chat about art and culture, poetry and literature. There is a prolific arts community in Costa Rica. In fact, San José has two annual poetry festivals, one in April and the major event, Festival International de Poesia, in October. The festival’s program features poets from five continents. Roberto explains, “The festival publishes one bilingual book per poet, in the poet’s original language and Spanish. The organizers make a great effort to find translators for Arabic, Chinese, Czech and many other languages.” In March the Festival de las Artes takes over with theatre, music, art, literature and live music.
We sat for hours under Roberto’s big old avocado tree near the pool, getting to know each other. At the end of the conversation I left with a strong feeling that Roberto and his friends believe artists can play a fundamental role in expressing our social and political worldviews. For poets, the power of the word continues to be strong. They feel the arts in Costa Rica are not just about entertainment, they can still tap into our humanity.
The next day
In Alajuela’s central park, I ran into the city’s weekly Saturday afternoon Tico music jam. Under the travelling palms, the easy breezy happening attracts a large crowd. Bands fill the afternoon with toe-tapping marimba-swinging moves and lots of smiles.
– Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Elizabeth Cinello