San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Trucks Go on Parade at Civic Festivals

Seeing 18-wheelers barreling down the highway can be unnerving. Seeing 200 of the supersize trucks in a row is a sight to behold, and the blare of 200 truck horns will let you know they are coming. Giant truck parades with giant trucks are a new way for civic festivals to draw crowds here.

On a recent sunny Sunday morning, a line of trucks, sans trailers, began streaming into the starting area along some vacant lots in Alajuela, northwest of San José, for the 13-kilometer trip to the town of Carrizal, where an annual turno, or carnival, was getting under way. Although the announcement told spectators to come at 9 a.m., it was at least an hour later before all 200 trucks were ready. The delay gave drivers time to sign in, get a yellow pennant to fasten to their trucks and josh with other traileros.

The drivers knew each other from other truck parades and truck parties and events organized through the “El Club del Trailero” program, which airs on Radio Puntarenas (91.9 FM) every day from 4 to 6 p.m.

They came to the parade with their families to enjoy an outing involving what they know best – driving trucks – and to offer support to the Carrizal carnival. When it looked like everybody was ready, it was time to climb up into the cabs and shove off.

With horns blasting and engines snorting, the parade began, first through the streets of Alajuela and then on to the highway to Carrizal. With that many trucks on the road, all other traffic stops, so there was room for showing off, zigzagging, horn-blowing and waving to the crowds that came to watch the kings of the road on parade.

Costa Rica has some 10,000 traileros, according to Warner Cordero, announcer for “El Club del Trailero” and truck-event organizer. That number includes a few women. Some traileros own their cabezales, or cabs; others drive for transport companies.

It’s a job with long hours on the road in all kinds of weather, but, for most, it’s also fun – not unlike a club. They haul imports and exports, food and paper products and almost everything else we use. Most drive within the country, but some make runs to Panama or the rest of Central America.

To drive one of these monster trucks, a B4 license is required, but some drivers also carry other types of licenses, having started their careers in smaller trucks. Some have taken courses offered by the Transport Ministry.

Serious accidents involving trucks in the past have made the ministry and companies hiring trucks and drivers stricter.

Traileros have a way of life that sort of sets them apart. Long hours on the road and inter-truck communication by radio have given them a culture that includes language.

The number 48 means transit patrols are on the lookout. “Two meters flat” means going to sleep, and “coffee with foam” is not coffee, but beer.

Drivers tune in to “El Club del Trailero,” where music, announcements and chatter are trucker-oriented, and they call in to report road and weather conditions or send greetings to other drivers.

The day of the Carrizal carnival, The Tico Times rode along in a two-story-high, orange ’98 Freightliner with Danny Torres, his wife, his mother and a friend. Torres does not own his cab. He drives for Transportes Valverde but takes his truck home for 4 a.m. starts. He is also responsible for revisions and maintenance. He drives exclusively for Kimberly-Clark, delivering paper products to store warehouses around the country. Ten other trucks from Transportes Valverde were in line, and drivers chatted with each other during stops along the way and planned to spend the afternoon together.

The cab is like a small apartment, with a refrigerator, a closet for clothes and extras, and a bed plus hammock behind the driver’s compartment. The dashboard is like a computer. Hooking up lights or engaging locks is done with twists of knobs. Cushioned bucket seats move and swing.

Torres, 33, has been driving trucks for 10 years and loves the job. He played mostly with toy trucks as a child, said his mother, María Elena Solís. His wife, Irma Hidalgo, said she regrets the long hours but knows he likes the job, and it brings in the bacon.

Like most truckers, Torres puts in a 12-hour day that starts with mechanical checks of the truck and trailer, but he is usually home with his family at night. Sometimes, though, there are delays at the destination, or he may arrive too late to unload the trailer, or heavy rain or fog may slow driving. That’s when the bed comes into use. Sometimes drivers become trapped between landslides and pool their food and other resources while sitting out the delays, which can last overnight.

Not all delays are pleasant. Cordero said truckers who cross borders must undergo cargo, bill-of-lading and permit inspections as well as drug checks, which can cause lines of trucks several kilometers long and delays for hours, with no adequate facilities for drivers waiting their turn.

It takes skill to squeeze and turn, back up and park while sitting second-story high, which is how truck parades end. Then there is food, music, family and trucker talk. On Monday, they return to supplying stores with all the things we need

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