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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Through a Costa Rica Shot Glass, Darkly

Seidy, Marcial, Eroca and Bonnie
Sprawled out on the grass halfway through another splendid Sunday outing with the Santa Eulalia gang, our friend Eroca, newly returned to Costa Rica from Canada where it was minus four degrees, asked me: "How can you possibly describe a day like this in a blog?"

"You really can't," I replied. "Pictures help," I added, while shooting this photo, "but mere words can't really capture the magic of a day like today."

We were relaxing on the lawn after an extravagant Tico lunch of tamales, some kind of rich soup, picadillo, rice, beef loin and tortillas, now awaiting our mini-van to pick us up and haul us to our next stop in this wild tequila-fueled day. Behind us were hundreds of Ticos on the plaza in front of the Catholic Church in downtown Zarcero, a charming mountain town about forty minutes up the slope from Atenas and a few thousand feet higher elevation. They were gathered there for the Patronales Fiesta, another religious celebration in this oh-so-Catholic country, in which Ticos from local barrios parade through town carrying their community's own saint statuette into the big church, there to pay tribute to the higher level saint, in this case San(to) Rafael, patron saint of Zarcero, and by the way, of Atenas as well. Although religious in nature, for some Ticos it's a good excuse to party, with live music, food and craft vendors, caballeros on horseback, kids dressed up as angels, buxom young women in fancy clothes and high heels, carnival rides and a cattle auction. 
Little fellow awaiting his Fate

This excursion was a variation on the regular Sunday hike and after-party that we've been enjoying in recent weeks. Our fearless leader Marcial had come up with the idea to hire a mini-bus for the day and take a drive up the mountain visiting several of the surrounding cities, fitting in our mandatory trek along the way. Our first stop was Zarcero, where we arrived earlier in the day just as the parade was starting up, marchers and saints blocking our way. So we all hopped out of the van and joined the sidewalk crowd as they watched parade participants stroll by.

Besides the beautiful surrounding mountain landscapes, Zarcero's main attraction is the incredible topiary gardens of Francisco Alvarado Park. Carved continuously since the 1960's by artist Evangilisto Blanco from conifer cypress that thrive in the crisp high altitude with its foggy mornings and frequent rains, the trees have been transformed into all sorts of fantasy creatures, from dinosaurs, elephants and birds to monkey faces, turtles and two enormous Alice-in-Wonderland archways leading toward the huge church. It is quite a stunning display of landscape artistry.

Sir Layne against the Dragon
Monkey faces all in a row
Yours Truly in Wonderland
A Green Bird in the gardens
Looking back at Zarcero
We gathered for a picnic breakfast provided by Marcial and Seidy of coffee, French roll and local natilla or sour cream, at a table in the park then wandered off to take photographs, peek into the big church or shop at vendor booths. 

A hillside of farmland
But Marcial's plan for our hike was to take us further up the mountain so we soon headed up the road passing some spectacular scenery along the way: pastoral views of the bulky black-and-white dairy cattle for which the area is famous, patchwork hillsides with agricultural produce in every possible shade of green and small red-roofed Tico houses with horses, goats and chickens running around.

At my request for a bathroom, we stopped at a bar which at first glance appeared to be closed but Marcial worked his magic and we were soon inside where the barista was just setting up for business. Now since it was my need for the baño that had landed us there, I got the blame (or the credit?) for all the craziness that followed but I swear I was hardly the instigator. When I exited the bathroom, I found the whole gang bellying up to the bar for shots of whiskey or  tequila!
The 10:27 a.m. toast!

Laughing at the spontaneous display of decadence, Sue said, "I can't believe it's only 10:30 in the morning and I'm having tequila!" Her husband Chris quickly corrected her: "Oh, my dear, it's only 10:27!"

Unable to resist the mass insanity, I joined in and was soon enjoying a salt-rimmed shot of tequila followed by a pucker-inducing suck on a limón. And since one was so good, most of us had another! Soon Eroca, rather cheery on her second tequila, had dragged our tolerant (and sober) driver onto the dance floor for a little salsa and Layne and I were quick to follow.

The friendly black stallion
As you can imagine, we were all by now laughing hysterically at ourselves but the day's exercise still lay ahead so thanking our hosts for their kindness, we headed out for a leisurely hike down the mountainside through a lightly misting rain. Along the way we petted this beautiful stallion who seemed to want to join us happy humans in our freedom and indeed could have almost stepped over the low wire fence. Looking at the roadside fields in cultivation, we consulted with Seidy on the crops there: broccoli, cabbage, radishes, carrots, all abundant and lush. The operative word, we decided, was fecund -- a bountiful land producing lots of healthy foods.

After a mile or so of walking, someone said they were thirsty and within minutes we had conveniently come upon another bar where we were again welcomed by a friendly bar staff. Without delay we proceeded to add to our tequila quotient with a couple more shots, followed by a beer chaser. Does the word "festive" come to mind? Oh yeah, we were feeling mighty festive.

Boarding the bus after our visit to the cantina, we next stopped at a dairy farm where Marcial talked our way into an up-close-and-personal tour of the place, including the milking room, where poor Marcial got an unplanned spray of cow urine from one of the cows who chose that moment to relieve herself.

Chris (l) and Marcial in harm's way
Off we went once again, this time heading back to Zarcero for lunch but our first stop in town was at an unusual helado (ice cream) shop -- basically just the front step of a home -- for an unlikely but delicious appetizer before our upcoming meal. 

Yours Truly enjoying helado
The Zarcero area is known for its excellent dairy products, especially natilla, the ubiquitous sour cream served with gallo pinto, the national dish of seasoned rice and beans. The lady proprietor of the ice cream shop makes her own natilla and uses it in some of her ice cream specialties, including the fabulous strawberry version I had. Then, as if Fate had planned out our debauched day, she brought out a tray of shots of an utterly decadent homemade liqueur for all of us to try. After indulging in one more jigger of booze, Eroca and Layne demonstrated their inebriated state with this classic pose, which got an enormous laugh from everyone.

Eroca and Layne after one too many!
Following lunch at the Salon Parroquial , we headed back towards Santa Eulalia but not before one more stopover at still another bar, this time with some food to accompany our tequila or beer. Although the ceviche and nachos were less than spectacular, the joy of being in the company of our friends was wonderful. We all recognized what an amazing day it had been and none of us wanted it to end.

Unwilling to part company just yet, everyone except Eroca (who wanted to return to her sweetie Marc) got off the van at Sue and Chris' house for one last hour together. It was a very special day, one we will never forget. Fun and fellowship, laughter and happiness with good friends along with a little -- or a lot! -- of tequila thrown in for good measure sure make for a magical Pura Vida memory.
(And remember, dear readers, you can click on any photo to enlarge it and sort of join the fun!)

1 comment:

  1. Looks like fun. Crime stories of Costa Rica seem to get all the press these days, so this is a nice relief.