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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Celebrating a Saint, Costa Rica Style

In Costa Rica most every little pueblo has its own Catholic saint, no surprise given the number of towns with "San" or "Santa" in its name. You have our own Santa Eulalia, for example, along with dozens of San Rafael's, San Carlos', Santa Elena's, San Ramon's, Santa Cruz's and, of course, San Jose's, including the nation's capital city. Each year most all of these communities set aside a few days to honor their saint with a fiesta for the whole town and anyone else who wants to join in.

The church in San Isidro
Thus it was that most of the Santa Eulalia gang (minus Marc, who stayed home, and Eroca, who is currently back in Canada) made our way to San Isidro de Atenas last Sunday for the final day of their "saint's day" celebration in honor of Saint Isidore, the patron saint of farmers. San Isidro is a beautiful little barrio located at almost 3700' high in the mountains above downtown Atenas. Atenas is also the name of our canton, or county, so just as our barrio is Santa Eulalia de Atenas, so San Isidro needs that identifier to separate it from all the other San Isidro's in Costa Rica.

When we arrived by taxi, the church service was just finishing up and much of the town was out in force, on motorcycles, bicycles, cars and pickup trucks. Marcial and Seidy, it turned out, were acquainted with Doña Rosa, who had cooked huge pots of food for the event and we were ushered into her kitchen to tempt our palates for later.
Doña Rosa in the kitchen

As we wandered around we discovered one of the big attractions for the day was to be 4x4 mud races on a muddy track in a large open space, previously a soccer field, in the cradle of steep hills. Spectators were already perched around the sides of the basin ready for the day's action, but since we had a hike to do, we decided to return later when we were sure the races would still be on.

So with our intrepid leader Marcial in charge, we headed down the road, now bumper-to-bumper with fiesta-goers looking for parking. Marcial had spied a trail heading up the side of a hill across the way but we didn't know how to get there from here. Never fear! Having noticed what looked like a path beyond a barbed-wire fence, Marcial stopped and asked a fellow who was helping park cars across the road how we might get in. An instant amigo, the guy sent over another man to cut the fence and open a gate for us! How's that for friendly? He gave Marcial his name so if anyone stopped us as we hiked along, we could say Juan gave us permission.
Just cut the fence -- No hay problema!
Seidy and I are across, Marcial helps the others
We traipsed down the narrow path alongside the fence and soon came to the inevitable river to cross. But this one was shallow and easy so I just walked through the 3-inch water in my trusty boots. Marcial helped the others to cross safely. The trail took us up through coffee fields, shade-grown under a canopy of banana trees and other tall nameless greenery. 
Marcial and Chris far ahead, Sue coming along
Seidy picks culantro
Along the way Seidy noticed some native culantro growing on the sides of the path and began picking the tender leaves, explaining to me how good it was in frijoles or gallo pinto, the ubiquitous beans-and-rice dish so popular here. Culantro is similar in smell at least to cilantro, which Layne and I love, but I've not found the flavor to be quite the same. Still, when Seidy pulled up a small plant for me, roots and all, I put it in my backpack and have now planted it out back alongside my other herbs. 
Looks like blueberries, tastes like plum!
Marcial peeled a "potato mango," one of the many varieties here, and cut off pieces for us - delicioso! - and Seidy introduced us to tasty little berries that looked like blueberries but tasted more like a peach or plum.

On our return trip, Seidy and I stopped to look more closely at some rusted old metal and concrete structures. She described how they had been used in the past to press the juices from sugar cane, using the giant waterwheel to power the press. Then in large metal pans seated in the huge concrete bowls now filled with plants, workers had heated the syrup (miel or honey, as Seidy called it) to render granulated sugar. It was a fascinating taste of Costa Rican history.
The big rusted waterwheel
A press for the cane
What used to be concrete bowls for heating sugar cane juice
 Returning to the festivities, we found the 4x4 mud rally already underway. Chris and Sue, Marcial and Seidy and Layne all stayed to watch while I walked back to the churchyard to check on Bonnie and Stephen who had opted not to hike. They were enjoying some of the comida tipica or typical food for sale and shared a couple of tasty Chicharrones, fried pork, with me before they taxied back home.
The ever-popular 4x4 mud races
When I rejoined the others at the rally, the races were in full mud-spattered swing, with some of the cars stalling out in the deep murky pools of water and having to be towed off the tracks. But the crowd was enjoying the day with barbeques and picnics throughout the grassy hillsides.

Eventually Layne and I left the rally heading for the dance being held in the salon near the church. There we joined in the salsa dancing and even managed a waltz, which garnered us a nice compliment from a Tica, before Marcial and the gang joined the party. 

By then it was time for the entertainment to begin with dancers from San Ramón performing historical Italian dances and a group of colorfully-clad Ticas doing a spectacular full-skirted rendition of Costa Rican traditional dances. Once again we all reveled in the great opportunity to join with our Tico neighbors in a celebration of their history and culture.  
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1 comment:

  1. Great article! It is wonderful to partake in some of the activities among the rural Ticos! Bravo and keep writing!

    Jan Hart