The Day I Rode My Bicycle to See the President

I previously invested the time to document at least part of the background of the famous, perhaps infamous, pavement project. I therefore felt compelled to attend a meeting this morning 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.

Where I go to the Farmers Market — or to attend meetings where the President is the headliner

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. 

The meeting room/farmers market at centro commercial

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

The speakers at today’s event — minus the CONAVI rep

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 all involved attempt 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.

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.

For 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, besides being a coast, has little in common with the the Pacific coast (close your eyes on the Caribbean side and you might well think you’re in Jamaica). The greater San Jose 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, different. 

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.

The President left the stage to make his comments.

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 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 and, 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.