San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Palmares Festival Fans Flock to the Party

Palmares, a coffee town northwest of San José, opened its arms on Wednesday to throngs of festival-going Ticos.

As many as 700,000 people are expected to clog the streets during the next two weeks in celebration of the annual event.

Beer vendors in abundance, an array of food options, large crowds and an impressive line-up of performers have given this festival a reputation as a must-do experience in the region.

And, an attempt at setting a record in a kissing contest this year might thrust it further onto the world stage.

At noon Sunday, Jan. 17, festival enthusiasts will be encouraged to participate in a simultaneous kiss in the hope of setting a country (and maybe regional) record.

The “first kiss” campaign, sponsored by Clorets chewing gum, is not making health officials happy as the country is currently bracing for a second wave of the H1N1 flu virus.

The possible resurgence of the virus at one time threatened to cancel the festival, but health officials said last week they don’t expect it to interrupt this year’s event.

“The Health Ministry is remaining on alert in the case of a second wave of the flu pandemic,” said Marvin Quesada, the ministry’s regional director. “With that said, no evidence exists that the second wave has yet begun.”

He added, “Naturally, if we detect any risk posed by the flu during the celebration, we will have to act to suspend it. But, again, right now, that doesn’t seem likely.”

President Oscar Arias, who on Thursday was featured in festival opening ceremonies, stayed around for the tope (horse parade) in his honor.

Performances by Los Pericos, Tito el Bambino, Lucero, Auténticos Decadentes and Victor Manuelle will be draws during the festival, which will end Jan. 25.

Two hundred and fifty Transit Police are complementing the National Police Force in efforts to arrest drunk drivers. Last year, 15 tickets were issued during the Palmares events. Officials from the Child Welfare Office also said police are cracking down on underage drinking.

With weeks to go before the Feb. 7, 2010 election, every presidential candidate is expected to make an appearance at the Palmares festival.

At least they do every election year, said William Vásquez, president of the Civic Association of Palmares, adding that “with less than 25 days to go before the election, I don’t expect this year to be any different.”

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–Chrissie Long

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