After living in Costa Rica for four years, I've had plenty of opportunities to head to the festival in Zapote that occurs each year over Christmas and New Year, and even more chances to catch a bullfight in any part of the country. But, I had never seen either, until last weekend.
In Costa Rica, we have a word for redneck - POLO. And, despite my country girl roots, I had deduced from the news and various Tico friends, that the Zapote festivals were too polo for me to attend. On Saturday however, my inner country child came out and we decided to head to Zapote with some other expat girlfriends to see just how Tico redneck the festivals really were.
After a 10 minute cab ride from downtown, we found ourselves wondering down a street lined with small bars full of cozy Christmas lights. We were hungry and on a mission to get a nice Chifrijo so we ducked into one of these welcoming establishments and ordered a round of cervezas. As the waitress informed us there was no Chifrijo, we frowned and then settled on patacones thinking we would find chifrijo somewhere else.
As we reentered the street full of people we started to notice the ambiance. It was very pleasant. The municipality just reported that they spent 75% more on the festival than the year before, but I think it paid off. I came expecting trash everywhere, drunk people falling on each other, dirt in the air and rides that would be falling apart. Instead, we immediately noticed how orderly it all was despite the dizzying lights from the very safe looking rides, music floating from different tents and varied aromas of carnival food.
We made our way between different food stands, never finding chifrijo but plenty of options for meat-on-a-stick, fried chicken, cantonese rice, chop suey, churros and candied apples. We ate and drank while taking in different cumbia/salsa shows amidst karaoke performances. Two of us decided to brave the swings, which called to us from its height, even after a few beers and food. We went screaming as we rose above all the other rides and soon were being thrust in 360 degrees with beautiful night views of the city. The ride lasted about 30 seconds more than we would have liked, but at least we kept our stomachs grounded!
To finish off the night we decided to check out the main event, the bull fights. The Costa Rica style of fighting is quite different than you might imagine. Instead of several phases using different weapons to take down the bull as done in Spain, Ticos like to hop in the ring, about 100 at a time with 1 bull and try to get as injured as possible.
This is easier for animal rights groups to watch and support, and matches with the attitude of Costa Ricans. However, after watching for about 10 minutes I decided personally it was still too much. The bull is in a state of distress while having to be defensive, and whether that's because it is being stabbed or simply provoked, I see it as unnecessary. It was an interesting experience but I'll be sticking to the rest of the very fun fair activities in the future.
To find out about other ways to explore San José see our city tour options.
Map of Malaria cases in 2009, taken from Malaria Atlas Project.
Tourists often debate taking Malaria medication before and during their stay in Costa Rica, that for many carry unwanted side effects. Typical travel warnings will tell you to take it as a precaution if visiting deeper jungle areas, specifically in the Limón Province. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about cases here in the central valley.
Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released a hopeful report on the state of Malaria throughout the world. It claims Costa Rica could officially erradicate Malaria in 4 - 5 years, and the WHO is working on preparing such a certificate to honor the country.
The study found that Costa Rica has diminished cases of Malaria by 75% from 2000 - 2011, and treatment has improved as no one has died from the illness since 2009.
2 factors have helped Costa Rica eliminate the contraction of Malaria. 90% of cases happened in Matina, Limón due to poor aquaduct systems that held standing water. Improvement of this infrastructure eliminated all cases in the area.
Additionally, there is a reduction of cases in neighboring countries, lessening the number of travelers crossing the border while carrying the disease.
While Malaria may be on its way out the door here in Costa Rica travelers should still take caution against Dengue Fever which produces similar symptoms but is a viral infection, not caused by a parasite. Using mosquito nets and bug spray, specifically at the beaches will help reduce one's chance of infection. The rainy season obviously sees the most cases of Dengue.
Read safety tips for San José, learn more about recent news in the area, and reserve one of our 5 city tours.
By Stacey Auch.