For most of us, a mental picture of a cowboy describes a rugged man sitting atop his horse, shaded from the sun by a large sombrero, with lassoes hanging from the saddle. Here in Costa Rica this is an apt description of the cowboys called a ‘Sabanero’ who are an important part of the country’s history and culture. Literally translated the name means ‘Savannah Dweller’. Most of the Sabaneros dwell in Costa Rica’s province of Guanacaste which accurately describes the grassland found here. They are the most popular part of festivals that include bull riding, which is a highlight for visitors and also the Sabaneros.
The history of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province is colorful and filled with tales of spirited rebellions, conquests and occupations. Guanacaste is named for the Guanacaste Tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), which is indigenous to tropical areas of the Americas, from central Mexico to Brazil and Venezuela. It is a flowering member of the legume (or pea) family and is also called the Elephant Ear Tree, or Caro Caro. It was also officially designated the national tree of Costa Rica in August, 1959. The branches extend wider in its circumference than they are tall; covered with lush green leaves, the tree has many useful properties including shade, pliable timber, medicinal properties and as a substitute for soap. It grows well in this dry region which records less than 130 days of rainfall annually. Though difficult to imagine, this region was once heavily forested with precious timbers that were cut down to satisfy the great demands from overseas. The result of the deforestation has left rolling savannah grasslands and contributed to the regions sparse rainfall.