San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artisan Tradition Is Turrialba’s Best-Kept Secret

Turrialba, the biggest canton of the Cartago province, some 60 kilometers east of San José, is known for being home to the PacuareRiver, whose white-water rafting is hailed worldwide. It also holds the impressive and rarely visited Turrialba Volcano, as well as the Guayabo ruins, evidence of the country’s largest pre-Columbian indigenous settlement.

But what many don’t know about Turrialba is that it holds the secrets of tradition and art.

Many different artisans inhabit this canton, crafting everything from totemlike sculptures made out of pejibaye (peach palm) wood to jewelry made of seeds.

José Brenes, 49, makes furniture with bamboo. Having learned the craft from his uncles, he can be found designing new works in his home and workshop – made, of course, from bamboo – in San Antonio de Santa Cruz, Turrialba.

Brenes sells full living room sets (two chairs, a couch and a center table) for about $170, desks for $90 and small hanging plant pots for $9, as well as customized furniture and decorations. To reach him, call 2538-6223 (Spanish only), or visit him in San Antonio – his workshop is impossible to miss.

The Sojo leather workshop has been part of the landscape of Turrialba’s town center for more than 60 years. Though it has occupied various locations around town, anybody from Turrialba can point you to its present-day location on Calle del Cementerio, 125 meters south of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) office.

Founded by Guillermo Sojo in the 1950s, the workshop is now run by his son, Guillermo Sojo the younger, 49, who has been working with leather for 35 years. He prides himself on the workshop’s reputation, as people from all over the country come here to have sheaths custom-made for their machetes.

This workshop is a three-man operation. Sojo works alongside his brother, Jorge, 44, and his second cousin, José Luis Molina, 65. These craftsmen can make anything from a simple knife cover to an intricately decorated, handmade saddle. To reach the workshop, call 8938-8090 in the mornings or 2556-9385 in the afternoons (Spanish only).


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