Monday, July 25, 2011

Hope for the Urban Culture in San Jose: ChepeCletas

Change is always a difficult thing to be a part of, especially when it means a complete alteration of how a city approaches transportation. This change, however, is one that the local San Jose organization ChepeCletas intends to make – it’s also one that we here at Costa Rica Outward Bound are excited about. ChepeCletas, a hodgepodge of local slang terms Chepe (a San Jose native) and Cleta (bike), looks to simultaneously revitalize the urban culture of San Jose while creating initiatives that support low-emission transportation. What started as a small unknown grassroots organization, whose wheels are being turned by a handful of optimistic university students, has evolved into a much-needed movement that is gaining a lot of traction. Not only have they partnered with local restaurants that now offer significant discounts for arriving on bike, but their real bread and butter is a night tour dubbed “Nocturbano”.

The Nocturbano is a pretty simple idea, yet in many ways, foreign to locals. ChepeCletas leaders Ayal, Roberto and Mauricio stroll through parts of the downtown area highlighting interesting historical landmarks as a part of what they jokingly refer to as “wiki-tours” where audience knowledge in encouraged to be shared. Aside from giving two thumbs up to their overall philosophy, Costa Rica Outward Bounders Britten and Ryan were treated to a fun and informative look into the history of downtown San Jose. The objective of the evening is to inform the public of the rich cultural history of San Jose and thus spark an interest in rejuvenating the city by proving how it can be enjoyed safely at night (police chaperons on bicycles definitely help by adding security). Each tour ends at a different nearby café or restaurant as a way to promote conversation as well as local business. This time, Casa 927, a neo-classic house that doubles as an art gallery and café served as a great place to wrap things up.

After experiencing all the activities of the night, a quick look around at the attendees makes one realize that ChepeCletas is clearly turning some heads. This gentleman is Manuel Obregon Fans, the Minister of Culture and Youth here in Costa Rica.

And this woman is none other than Laura Chinchilla, the president of Costa Rica. Yeah, la presidente.

ChepeCletas is doing enormous work to illuminate ways that cities can be improved in positive and sustainable ways, which is always something to be admired. Now we just might have to figure out a way to incorporate them into our course itineraries.

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