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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Horses on Parade! San Jose, Costa Rica

Ready for the Tope
The day after Christmas is the date of a major event here in Costa Rica. That's the day hundreds of horses and their riders converge on the capital city of San Jose for the huge annual tope or horse parade down Paseo Colon, the broad boulevard that runs through the middle of the city. This year the day was a little cloudy and cool for what is, after all, summer here in Central America but I'm sure the horses liked it. With silver-concho'd saddles on their backs and fancy bridles on their heads, their silky manes and tails flowing, the handsome steeds were ready to prance down the main street to receive the adoration of the Tico masses.

Reading the headlines in A.M. Costa Rica that morning, I learned that the tope was being held that day and, according to the report, would start at 10:00 a.m. Being the inveterate horse lover that I am, I decided Layne and I should bus into San Jose and join in the excitement of watching all those horses do their thing. Taking the 9:00 a.m. San Jose bus would get us into the town right at 10:00 a.m., which should be time enough, given how these sort of things tend to run on "Tico time," i.e., as much as an hour late.

Female policia patrol the street
Ha! Little did we know the news report was wrong. After exiting the bus, we discovered the parade was not actually scheduled to begin until 12:30 p.m. So with some time to kill, we wandered down Paseo Colon where people were already beginning to reserve spots along the street. Ticos love to party and this kind of event is a great excuse to bring out the lawn chairs, a cooler full of drinks and settle down for a festive day of socializing with friends and family.

Large elevated platforms filled with chairs were located in front of some businesses along the street. We stopped at one such place to ask if the chairs could be rented. Yes, indeed, we were told. Only $50 per person for the seating -- but that included alcohol! We said no, thanks, and walked on, thinking, "that's a lot of alcohol!"

Enterprising salesmen were hawking plastic chairs or folding stools up and down the street, while others carried big stacks of cowboy hats for sale, the de rigueur wardrobe for the day. We passed on the sombreros but decided a couple of plastic stools might be a good investment: it was going to be a longer day than we had expected. We parked ourselves in a shady spot right by the retaining rope along the boulevard, bought a sandwich and a few beers and proceeded to people-watch for a couple of hours.

As the crowd grew it became clear that this is a popular event, one Ticos plan for carefully. Some pickup trucks were parked on the sidewalks end-to-end, tailgates almost touching and young people spilling out laughing and flirting and taking pictures of one another. Music blared from boom boxes or car stereos, each musical offering loud enough to drown out the next one a half a block away. Entire families settled down on blankets spread out on the avenue, toddlers crawling into the street, young couples dancing impromptu and moms offering food to all.

Abrazos Gratis!
A group of young women dressed in t-shirts with the words "Abrazos Gratis" emblazoned across the back created quite a stir as they generously offered free hugs then sprayed a hand sanitizer on the lucky recipient. Later a group of handsome and studly young men came along with the same routine: a hug or a photo with one of them and you got a quick spray of the hand cleanser. A clever marketing technique for the sanitizer company.

Just as the policia had cleared the roadway and it seemed the parade might be imminent, an single older gentleman dressed in Mexican garb and toting his guitar came boogieing down the middle of the street, offering the crowd some low-energy Latin dance, apparently hoping for donations to his basket.

Eventually the parade began and the street soon filled with horse clubs and other organized groups of riders. Many different breeds were represented. Large and small, paints, greys, sorrels, bays and chestnuts, with high-stepping Paso Finos making up the largest group.

There were singing cowboys who slowly urged their horses along while they serenaded the crowd, followed closely by vans carrying their sound equipment. As they were well received by the audience, we guessed they might be famous singers here in Costa Rica.

But for whatever reason, there were huge gaps between the groups of horses, long empty spaces with nothing going on. With our bottoms getting tired of the hard plastic seats, we wondered just how long this parade might take. By now it was nearing 2:30 in the afternoon and we were hoping to catch the 3:00 p.m. bus back to Atenas. So even through there was more parade to come, we picked up our chairs and slowly made our way through the throng of people toward the big bus station known as Coca Cola, where the Atenas bus departs.

Next year we'll plan to spend the day. We already have our stools!


(PS - As a holiday gift to my readers, Layne's novel MORAL TURPITUDE is available for FREE through January 31st. (NC-17 but not erotica.) To download it, click HERE to go directly to the book page; then click Add to Cart. You will have to register but it's very simple and you will get no spam. At the Cart page, enter Coupon Code QN77G, then click Update. The price will change to $0.00. Enjoy!)

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