The typical ‘Fiestas’ in Villareal, Guanacaste by Rob Goodell
Guanacaste is kind of like the Texas of Costa Rica. Though it is the largest of all the provinces in the country, it only holds about 9% of the population. With its wide plains and open country, the cattle industry has played a major roll in what we consider modern day Guanacaste. And where there are cattle, you will find cowboys (and cowgirls)
This past week Villa Real had the Fiestas which is where everybody “cowboys-up “.
Every town in Costa Rica hosts a Fiesta at least once a year where you are guaranteed to see the finest horses, bulls and food the region has to offer. This year the Villa Real Fiesta did not disappoint. On Saturday I took the family to the rodeo. After taking a ride on the carousel with Jimmy and doing my best impersonation of the pope when I hit solid ground, we headed off to see the bulls.
Now if you have never been to a rodeo in Central America, you will notice a few subtle differences. In fact, if you have never been to a rodeo in your life, you will probably feel like this is different than a rodeo would be in North America. The first thing you will observe is that there a lot of people in the ring and when the bull comes out with a brave rider on its back, the people stay in. Eventually the bull bucks off the rider or just gets tired and stands there while courageous young men display their quickness and agility by running around the bull. Others kind of just stand there, wait for the bull to come to them and run for cover the last second.
The first few bulls we saw run into the ring ran back out the first chance they had. The third bull was different. When it first busted out of the gate, I thought the rider had tied something around the beast’s neck. By the third stride, I realized that something was another rider. He was lying on the bull’s neck, facing the other rider. Needless to say, the bull quickly threw this young man and did a tap dance on the guy’s head. He was then unceremoniously tossed into the meat wagon and the rodeo was back on! It was getting close to my bedtime at this point but I am sure it continued well into the night.
By far my favorite part of the Fiestas is the Tope (pronounced Toe-Pay) This is where everybody adorns themselves in their finest western wear, shines their boots and saddles, grooms their best horse and meets at a pre-determined starting point then ride from point A to point B. The Villa Real tope was to begin at the rotunda, on the beach in Tamarindo and end up at the bullring in Villa Real. Sunday morning we headed down to the rotunda to watch the horses and riders. When we got down there, it was apparent that we would not be satisfied just watching. After looking around, I spotted a local character by the name of Rafael, (his nickname is Tarzan which he earned by his long hair and the fact that he always rides around town on a horse, bareback with no shirt, shoeless with a beer in his hand) He was able to find a local rancher who was willing to part with one of his trusty steeds for a small fee. Most local horses, while small in stature, are notoriously strong and can handle long rides in the sunny hot weather that Guanacaste is famous for but to my surprise, the man brings me a big, beautiful white horse!
Needless to say, we had a total blast! Half way through, the tope stopped and where we were served refreshments and they put on a dancing/prancing horse show then it was on to the rest of our journey. This has to be some of the best people watching imaginable with all the dolled up cowgirls on horseback, cowboys having their fare share of drink. At this point I noticed that Tarzan had lost his cowboy get-up for his usual uniform and was apparently trying to teach his horse how to climb a tree.
Though I was the only Gringo in the bunch, everybody treated us very kindly and we felt right at home. That’s one of the things I love about this country, it is definitely a live and let live culture.
As we rounded the bend into Villa Real we were greeted with the smell of barbeque. We effortlessly hopped off our regal stallion and tucked in to a buffet of carne asada, fried chicken, arepas, arroz con pollo and topped it off with a couple cotton candies. He can’t stop talking about now and wants a horse. I tell him no problem, as soon as he can work a shovel….