Another side of Costa Rica

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by Bianca McCartt

Costa Rica is well-known as an Eco-tourism destination, drawing travelers to see it’s abundance of amazing animals, primary rainforest, volcanoes, waterfalls, and of course, beaches. There is another unique side of Costa Rica that most travelers remain unaware of though – the rodeos. Ticos, as the Costa Ricans call themselves, are all just a bit loco and there is no better place to see how than at the “Corrida del Toros” or just Toros for short. These events are held all over the country on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and feature bull-riding, along with a variety of other entertainment depending on the venue size, which ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand attendees. The bull-riding is not dissimilar to what you would find at an American rodeo, with wiry young men turned loose on the back of a bucking and whirling bull. One of the main differences is that the riders don’t automatically bail out after 8 seconds but try to stay on as long as the bull keeps up the challenge.

The cowboys (vaqueros) are also a bit different, riding the very expressive little Costarricense Paso horses rather than our traditional American Quarter Horses. The bull-riders (or montadores) are certainly “un poco loco”, but not quite as much as the bull-fighters (or luchadores). In Costa Rica, the bulls are held in high-esteem and are subject to nothing more harmful than a lasso or occasionally a cattle-prod. The luchadores, on the other hand, are subject to the bull’s horns and hooves, and it seems this is part of the draw. In large events, upwards of 50 young men enter the ring all together to try their luck with the toros, taunting them and running away in narrow escapes and occasionally being tossed or trampled. They can be extremely creative in trying to draw the Toros attention. In addition to the red capes, you will see costumes, a variety of dances and occasionally some interesting props like see-saws, soccer games, or a performance of a skit. In addition, there are a variety of different entertainers who perform, ranging from traditional cultural dancing in elaborate Spanish-style costumes, to fire-eaters, Andalusian horses, and some really zany acts like the dancer with 4 human sized puppets rigged to mimic his every move.

The highlight of the Toros season is Zapote, held in early January as the championship event for the bull-riders. Bigger events like this one are aired on Teletica Saturdays and have the addition of Teletica’s color commentators and special characters getting in on the action both in the audience and in the ring with the Toros. These events are available to watch live on teletica.com and replays of some past event highlights can also be viewed under “Toros”.

Tourists are rarely at such events, but there may be no better way to get a true experience of Tico culture. Particularly when the event is accompanied by a festival, there is the opportunity to experience local food, music and dancing. The main dance in Costa Rica is the Cumbia, with Bachata, Merengue and Salsa also being popular. At any festival you will likely see some very proficient dancers strutting their stuff. The most typical Tico dish is the chicharrones (fried pork rind), frequently accompanied by Gallo pinto (black beans and rice). Chifrijos are a variation, beans (frijoles), pico de gallo and tortillas to the Chicharrones. Plantains and yucca are also popular.