San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mini-ferias Packed with Fun for All

No doubt about it: it’s tough sitting still on a summer Sunday when the beach is too far away, the parks too crowded and it’s too hot to play ball. But summer offers a variety of activities that are interesting, cool and close to home.

In summer, you will always find a turno, a mini-feria or a festival of some type, all of which refer to a day chock full of events to raise money or awareness.

The mini-feria held last month in Turrúcares de Alajuela, west of San José, to help the Santiago Crespo Home for the Aged was such an event. Halfway between Alajuela and Atenas, Turrúcares is horse and cattle country, and this mini-festival held at Hacienda Siquiares was framed by pastures with nosy cattle stretching their snouts out to watch the people watch the events, which started early in the morning, while the weather was still cool.

The day started when a hundred men and women mounted mountain bikes to ride a 30-kilometer circuit around the ranch.

Though the terrain was not mountainous, dusty hills on dirt roads provided lots of obstacles, and after two hours of riding the sun was high in the sky. Riders returned to the welcome sight of cold drinks and shade, leaving bikes, gloves and helmets scattered.

Sofía Chaves said it wasn’t a bad ride, even with the dust and gravel, because there was no traffic, bleating horns or impatient drivers to make them all nervous. This was a recreational ride, she explained, not a competition.

Each rider paid ¢3,500 ($6.70) to enroll, but there were prizes and T-shirts, friends and a good ride, and part of the fee went to the home for the aged.

By now the kitchen was going strong, and food was on everyone’s mind. There were plenty of traditional choices: picadillo, tamales, casados. Now, too, the vochos started rolling in, a colorful line crawling up the road and lining up on the grass. Vochos are Volkswagen Beetles, and these belonged to members of the Vocho Club of Costa Rica. With their rounded shapes in all hues, they looked like gumdrops.

The Vocho Club has about 300 members who meet in the southern San José suburb of Desamparados to compare cars, exchange information and parts and to plan excursions such as this one, creating a spectacle parading along the highway looking more like one long caterpillar than a bunch of beetles.

Johanns Montero, who directs the club, attracted an audience with his 1967 silvergray vocho, which he bought “in pieces” and reconstructed. It bears the original license number, 7079, which means it was the 7,079th car registered in Costa Rica. Part of the club’s fun, he says, is participating in these kinds of events. The club’s sponsor, Megasuper of Desamparados, donated food to the Santiago Crespo Home.

Now it was time for the little horses, that is, a children’s cabalgata on stick horses. This traditional event is regaining popularity.

Twenty kids signed up and picked out steeds by their color or length of mane, and made a  stick-horse parade around the ring. Nextcame an exhibition of riding, with the older kids doing some fancy stepping and a few tiny ones stumbling along, dragging their horses behind them. Finally there was a lineup while moms and dads took photos.

The day wasn’t over yet. While the stick horses were parading, the big horses with big riders were gathering for the carrera de cintas, with a few riders galloping up and down in the background to prepare their mounts for the event requiring fast riding and coordination between rider and ridee.

The carrera de cintas, originally called Carrera de San Juan, is a game that goes back to Spain and the colonial period. Today, small rings are attached to a rope or wire with clothespins, the wire being high enough for a galloping rider to pass under while he tries to spear a ring with a stick about eight inches long. In colonial days, live chickens were tied to the wire by their feet for riders to snatch off. Though it seemed an improbable feat, several riders caught rings and went home with prizes, and all had a chance to show off their equestrian skills.

There was more to come. A cattle truck began unloading hefty bulls for an exhibition of rodeo riding. This being a cattle ranch, organizers made sure there were no risks to either the cattle or the cowpersons. A dance was scheduled for the evening; however, this company had had enough, and headed home after picking up some tamales to avoid having to rustle up dinner. It was decidedly a day well spent, some of which went to help residents at the Santiago Crespo home.

Ferias and turnos may be dedicated to fruit, vegetables, flowers or any number of things. In San Juan de Sarchí, west of San José, there’s a tomato festival that culminates in a tomato battle. In the mountain town of Zarcero, in north-central Costa Rica, it centers around chiverre, the pumpkin-size fruit that comes around this time of the year. To find ferias and turnos for a different kind of summer day, look for flyers on lampposts and walls, and check The Tico Times Calendar.

For more on the Vocho Club, see The history of the carrera de cintas was provided by Tico historian Guillermo Villegas, who says we’ve become a bit more civilized since colonial days.


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