Despite living in Costa Rica for over a year, I hadn’t seen a Costa Rican bullfight. Luckily, a chance to experience one came about when my neighborhood barrio of Los Angeles in Atenas held its annual fair.
Atenas is a popular country retreat.
Music, games, fireworks displays…and, of course, bullfights. It turns out the national version is called Toros a la Tica. My translation: Bullfighting Costa Rican Style. (Tico or Tica refers to anything Costa Rican.)
It was 7.00 p.m., already dark in the tropics. I strolled down the winding road from my house into Los Angeles proper. The rickety wooden bullring lies behind Our Lady of the Angels church. I turned there to reach the makeshift fairground.
First, dinner—two slices of pizza topped with cheese and ham for 1,300 colones ($2.60). What about liquid refreshments? No shortage of choices. Beer costs $1.40, but I opted for my own Cuba Libres, mixing a big bottle of Coke and a hefty helping of Centenario rum. The man behind the counter also added a few lime wedges and provided me with a large ice-packed plastic cup. Perfecto! Total: less than $3.
At 7.30 p.m., an announcer urged us to hurry to the ring for the Toros a la Tica. I paid 3,000 colones (about $6) to enter. After climbing up to the bleachers…surprise! My neighbors arrived to join me. I soon found out that a bullfight here is far different from one in Mexico or Spain.
For starters, bulls are never killed. They are merely teased. Costa Rican bulls have to contend with men proving their manhood by chasing the animals around the corrida.
The professional bullfighters entering to applause looked more like rodeo clowns to me—one wore a Batman costume. But neighborhood volunteers delivered the most entertaining performances anyway: Inebriated Los Angeles males ran around, scrambled up, and slid under the bleachers to escape the charging bulls.
Bull after bull dashed out of the pen. Some bulls had no horns, some had horns that grew downward, but none were very large by North American standards. A bull was sometimes prodded with a stick or got a tail-pulling from a would-be cowboy to get its dander up. But from what I saw, a bull doesn’t need much encouragement to chase after a yelling, hooting Tico.
A cowboy on horseback lassoed and herded each bull, unhurt, back into the pen when the bull tired out. Fortunately, all the improvisados or volunteer bullfighters escaped injury, too.
Atenas, still something of a cow town, is located about an hour’s drive from the capital of San Jose and 30 minutes from the international airport. Grapefruit orchards and small farms with herds of grazing cattle edge my country road.
As I said, although Atenas is a popular country retreat for Costa Ricans and foreigners, it remains a traditional farming community. It’s the perfect place to see a traditional bullfight—and a local bullfight proved to be the perfect way for me to enjoy a bargain night out and greet my neighbors, too.
Editor’s note: The dates, location and itinerary for the Live and Invest in Costa Rica Conference 2011 are now available. Check it out here.