San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Dispatch from Monteverde

The day I rode my bicycle to see the president

Recommended: To pave or not to pave? Monteverde’s ongoing roadway saga

I previously invested the time to document at least part of the background of the famous, perhaps infamous, initiative to pave the road between Guacimal and the famed tourist destinations of Santa Elena, Cerro Plano and Monteverde.

I therefore felt compelled to attend a meeting on June 9 where the project, and the many people who contributed to it, would be lauded. The keynote speaker was, of course, the President of Costa Rica: Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera.

It is not often that you have the opportunity to ride your bicycle down the hill and attend a meeting involving the president. It is likely even rarer that the event would take place in a large room in a shopping mall normally devoted to civic activities, including the weekly farmer’s market.

It was a safe bet that the crowd would be large. By the time President Solís arrived – about 45 minutes past the anointed hour – it was at capacity. The room had been set up to handle the load, with rows of folding chairs extending its length. The organizers also made efforts to cheer up the room, which is essentially a poorly-lit concrete box, with signage and displays.

Prominent members of the community took turns recapping some of the history behind the pavement project and those who had worked on it. The crowd also heard from a representative from the National Roadway Council (CONAVI) as well as the Minister of Transportation.

I took away a few key things, including the fact that, as suspected, actual work on the road won’t begin for at least three months while everyone involved attempts to come up with a solution to the seismic challenges (pun intended) of what is known as Kilometer 13. The physical work done during this span will involve bringing up all of the needed equipment and material. It was also honestly stated that the road work is best done after the rainy season.

See also: President Solís pledges to repair road to Monteverde by next year

The Minister of Transportation also threw out a teaser regarding a different road that might soon be improved: the road to Tilarán. His comments created quite a buzz. He also introduced the notion of a need for greater connectivity of the roadways in the greater area.

As tiny as it is in terms of land mass, the various regions of Costa Rica are wildly different from one another. The Caribbean coast, aside from being a coast, has little in common with the Pacific coast; close your eyes on the Caribbean side and you might well think you’re in Jamaica. The greater San José area, with its population density and commerce, is nothing at all the Monte Verde district, and the many more remote parts of the country are all distinct from each other.

One root cause of these disparities is the fact that a mountain range runs down the middle of the country. Another is, of course, the time and effort it takes to travel due to the poor condition of the roads.

President Solís seized upon this theme quickly as he left the stage and went to stand on the main floor. He stressed that greater connectivity within our country is what is going to empower its people to do more, create more and have more success. Further, with the hope that my poor Spanish proves equal to the challenge of translation, he stated, “This road, therefore, is the physical manifestation of what the government had promised to do in terms of connecting the people.”

The President was a better speaker than I’d expected – almost as good as the young lady who presented him with an award for all of his efforts.

When the meeting ended and I walked slowly through the crowd back to my bicycle, I thought through all of the conflicting information and viewpoints I’d heard about the pavement project over last couple of years. I also mulled over the various things about living here that can, at times, bring me to levels of frustration I didn’t know existed (and I’m the parent of two boys).

Then I realized that I, along with several hundred other people, had just walked into a mall and sat within feet of the country’s president. There were plenty of police waiting outside, but my backpack and I had waltzed right in and sat down amongst everyone else. There were no metal detectors or pat-downs, nor was I required to show my ID. People were respectful to one another and those speaking. It was like a time machine to a time that I barely even remember.

As I pedaled home, the president’s words bounced around inside my large head. Yes, there are a lot of challenges. No, not everyone agrees that pavement is a good thing. There are, however, some amazing upsides to a country where a government largely trusts its own people, and where vitriol and intolerance are very much the exception, not the rule.

Yes, a little more connectivity could probably do good things here – and everywhere else where people need to live together.

Read more Dispatch from Monteverde columns here.

This piece was originally published on Marshall Cobb’s website; visit it here. Marshall and his family moved to the Monte Verde district in 2015. He takes breaks from working on his novel by posting on his blog and can be reached at: marshall@marshall-cobb.com.

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