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Travel Costa Rica
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Off the beaten path in Costa Rica: Liberia’s Fiestas Civicas
During our vacation in Costa Rica, to my utter joy Vera and I stumbled upon the Horse Parade in Liberia, Costa Rica. I always loved horses and to be able to watch them in a parade was awesome! At least 200 horses (and riders) were in attendance. These horses and their pretty rancheras gave me goose bumps!
We literally stumbled upon this event, as we were only going to the Liberia airport to pick up our friend, who was arriving from Toronto. Since we were few hours early, we decided to use the free time and extend our driving to the city of Liberia only 10 km away from the airport. When we arrived in the city, we immediately noticed something was going on there, by the huge number of people on the streets and some closed streets for traffic. Luckily I quickly found a parking spot, got my camera out and off we went curious to see what’s going on.
We started with a visit to Liberia’s central park where we could see it was the daily horse parade just passing around the park. This was a perfect opportunity for me to take pictures and start getting into fiestas mode.
The Horses in the Parade
There are several parades during the day and the highlights of the parades are horses. Among the most popular activities are the daily horse parades (called Tope in Costa Rica) at Noon and the 5 AM Cimarrona parade called “La Diana”. This early morning Diana is famous because of its main attraction; drunken people dancing on the street after partying all night.
We walked along the parade route and could see many food and trinket vendors, people playing marimbas and stands where singers romanticize the ranchero songs of mariachis. This parade occurs several times during a 10-day period. This is a time of fireworks, horse and cattle parades, bull fighting, carnivals, dancing, beer drinking and junk food.
The queen and her two princesses ride horses wearing long traditional dresses. There are at least 200 horses during these parades. The horses range in color from the purest white (albino, I’m assuming) to gray (most common color) to black. I must admit the white ones took my breath away. They come decked out in ornamentation consisting of leather, horse hair and some silver. The traditional saddles of the region are present on quite a few of the horses. We heard a night time parade also occurs towards the end of the fiestas, but we weren’t there to see some of the sights during that event.
Mules and High-Stepping Horses
Mules are also popular in the parades, but they can’t do the high-stepping trot that many of the horses are trained to do. They trot in place, or they can trot gracefully with slow forward movement. Below are two dapple grey trotting horses and two walking, but well-adorned mules:
Along the parade route, there were many stands where we could by coyol, a traditional alcoholic drink made from the trunk of a tall and spiny palm common in Guanacaste province. The booths always had the sign, “Aqui me quedo,” or Here I stay, perhaps an allusion to the strength of the homemade brew. The fermented sap looks like diluted Elmer’s glue and has the same odor in my opinion. It is also said to cause severe hangovers. I did not try it… this time!
As soon as the horse parade was over many participants and people watching it were gone for a typical ‘Tico’ lunch. That provided a nice opportunity for us to stroll the streets of Liberia, look for a nearby restaurant and enjoy good meal and a cool drink. Among other things, I’ve seen a real ‘horse bar’ on the street, where people on horses would be sitting on them and drinking ‘cerveza’! Cool scene!
I never saw so many pretty rancheras (yea, that’s a new one on me too, it means essentially vaquera which means cowgirl), at one place at one time, all in cowgirl boots, jeans, cowgirl hats, some with festive bows, with long hair and carrying cell phones. Talk about juxtaposition of yesterday and tomorrow, especially seemingly this far off the beaten path? Lots of cowboys, too, of all sizes, the little ones all reminding me of how I used to dress in the 60’s when Roy Rogers and the rest were on TV. These caballeros and caballeras also seemed to have a lot of fun with their horse trailers, too.
The real fiestas begin at midnight with a “Bombetas” show, which is fireworks without the colors and with a lot more noise, and a Cimarrona playing typical Guanastecan music.
Bull fighting ‘Tico’ style
The center stage of the fiestas, however, is the traditional bullfighting Tico style. There you will enjoy 3 hours full of pure fun and adrenaline while seeping on a cold beer and as the approximate 7 to 8 bulls make the rounds on the ring. Tico bull fighting is simple: one small ring, 300 + sober, semi drunk and very drunk improvised bull fighters and one very angry bull chasing after them. On occasions the brave, or the too drunk to care, will ride some of the bulls while chasing people around the ring.
The kids were, as kids will everywhere in the world, having a blast. Some younger ones were jumping on a trampoline, and stuffing their faces with cotton candy and churros (Spanish donuts), the latter made with a piece of equipment I think brought over by Columbus, and the teenagers grouped in bunches or walking hand in hand, oblivious to their surroundings. The adults were dancing and just enjoying the summer time picnic atmosphere. With all of this work, we were feeling a little parched ourselves, but, dag it, they were out of Imperial (Costa Rica beer), so I settled for a Pilsen instead.
It’s difficult to determine which is most prevalent, the tried and true Toucan souvenir or the summer time bull chases. The bulls were late in arriving at the arena. I couldn’t help but think, and hope, that the shall we say sufficiently hydrated cowboy who almost fell off of his horse more than once as he and his horse played like colts in the pasture, did not also line up in front of the bulls to test his machismo. I don’t know why I was thinking and hoping; I’m sure he was first in line. Don’t drink and ride… Pura Vida!!
A Yearly Guancaste Celebration
Liberia’s Fiestas Civicas take place every year during the last week of February to the first week of March. This Fiesta is organized by the Comite de Fiestas Civicas de Liberia and celebrate Liberia as well as the province of Guancaste’s culture and tradition. Watching the Fiestas Civicas is a 100% fun and 100% Costa Rican cultural experience, which will allow you to go deep into Costa Rica culture and enjoy and see life as Tico’s do. Other cultural experience try to re-create fiestas like this, but believe me nothing beats the real thing.
If you plan to stay in Liberia during the Fiestas Civicas is highly recommended that you book your Liberia hotel well in advance as this is a very popular event and many hotels will be full during weekdays and most of them will be full during weekends.
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