Con un hermoso atardecer en playa Flamingo y un clima mas fresco de lo normal empezamos una serie de fotos para los 15 años de Mari. Aprovechamos una linda mañana y un bonito escenario para terminar por la piscina al día siguiente.
With a lovely sunset and unseasonably cool (yet welcome) weather at Flamingo Beach we started Mari’s 15th birthday photos. We took advantage of a lovely morning and interesting setting to get some more shots in the next morning poolside.
One of my favorite year end activities is watching the local version of the bulls. Ticos have developed their own version of bull fighting where the bull is the aggressor and the fans or “improvised bullfighters” try to get as close as possible without injury. The best runs feature a few poor souls running for their lives and possibly being tossed or trampled but hopefully with no serious injury (to person or bull). Sprinkled in between the amateurs, there will be a real cowboy who rides, or attempts to ride a bull with a silly name.
The most famous of these events happens in Zapote under bright lights, with TV cameras, half a dozen color commentators, spokes models, controlled access, insurance policies and no drinking. Fun to watch from home, but right now I have none of them and all I want are the lights.
My back is already stiff and the event is an hour late. I’m ten feet off the ground in rickety grand-stands fashioned from roughly milled boards arranged in such a way that leg cramps are guaranteed. And I’m in the expensive seats. The cheap seats aren’t seats at all, but standing room under the stands, on the fence rails or in the bull ring itself, whatever you feel like. The bulls were on time but the if Ticos in the Central Valley tend to be late, then out here in Filadelfia, Guanacaste it’s twice as bad. They don’t start till the stands are full about an hour behind schedule.
The down time lets me find my camera settings. The light is terrible. I suspected I would have this problem and had hoped to got to an afternoon event. It turns out they stopped having afternoon events a while back and now it’s night time or nothing. I finally settle on a compromise that will get me a shutter speed fast enough to freeze action (1/400 second) at the cost of introducing noise and a loss of detail in my pictures. I’m using ISO 12,800 and an fixed length lens at f/2.0. It occurs to me that these pictures would have been virtually impossible a few years ago or even with my other camera, but the technological advances save the day. I opt to shoot in black and white since it hides the noise produced by such a high ISO a little better. The noise tends to look more like old film grain instead of splotches of purple red and green.
By sheer luck tonight is a championship bull-riding event. One of the event organizers boasts a personal money-back guarantee to anyone not satisfied with the show. That’s the kind of statement you can make out here, away from San Jose, away from the lawyers, away from the health ministry and away from the cops. Even the sponsors seem emboldened as the announcer routinely spouts a line touting how you’ll always have a lady by your side if you buy their brand of car (trust me it’s a big one, look at the pictures you’ll figure it out). Throughout the evening the announcer requests that folks keep away from the bull while it’s being ridden, not drink in the ring, and that remind people that minors aren’t allowed inside the rails. He summons the private security to help clear those folks out, but it’s lip service. I was there for 5 hours and never saw a single cop or security staff of any type. By the end of the night there are dozens of empty beer cans and bottles in the ring.
After some pomp, the riders names are drawn against the bulls. Luck would have it that the best rider has drawn the best bull, fans and organizers are pleased. When the riding finally starts it’s a fast moving affair. A new bull is sent out just a soon as they round up the previous one. The action is impressive and I have a blast photographing it, though my camera does have some trouble keeping focus in such low light. I’m not an expert but I can appreciate a strong ride or a fierce bull even while trying to keep things in frame.
Amidst all the action and the dust, there are poignant moments as well. The organizers pass the hat to help a well-known local rider who is permanently injured. The hat goes back around for the house-wife bull rider who makes mean tamales, but needs a hand as well.
The bulls are allowed to run free for a couple of minutes after they are ridden to chase those brave enough to stay in the ring. One of the ranchers even sends out a “gift” bull just for the improvised bullfighters. I’m betting nothing will sober you up faster than 1200lb bull snorting and chasing you down. Most keep their distance and are openly mocked by the announcer. One fellow stands out and make a number close passes but ends up with little more than praise for his efforts, since even he doesn’t get close enough to touch one of the horns and earn himself concert tickets.
By the end no one has requested a refund, no one is hurt (somewhat shockingly to me) and the crowd retreats to the fairground for a few more brews, food and dancing. I don’t want a refund either, just a painkiller for my back and a computer to review the pictures.
This article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star (with a different title), please drop in and have a look around.
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This day has been in the works for months, the one my brother-in-law has been threatening me with. I’m back on the enormous rice farm in Guanacaste. I’ve had a day to settle in and fired off about 150 pictures wandering around the fields at sunset. I’ve tried previsualizing. It doesn’t help much nor does my 3rd cup of coffee. Even the howler monkeys know something’s up as they’ve been extra noisy this morning.
Alvaro a.k.a.“La Bala” (The Bullet) has probably been out late the night before, and is proving difficult to track down at 7:30 on a Saturday. We finally find him putting his crew to work before taking the day off to be the lead man for today’s “chicharroneada.” He hops in the pickup full of energy and already telling tall tales of the lady he met the night before (I’ve been warned he speaks at 180 lies per minute). We drive 10 minutes to the pig farm.
Walking through the facility makes the uneasiness worse. Baby pigs nursing, toddler pigs just hanging out being cute, and market ready pigs curiously sniffing at my camera don’t really make me hungry. Neither does the stink of pig that manure hangs thick in the air, settles deep in my nostrils, permeates my clothes and eventually spends days under my fingernails.
I’m spared having to choose which one to take. He’s being loaded onto the pick-up when I emerge from my self-guided tour. I try desperately to convince myself that’s he’s just food. I cartoonishly try to imagine him as a rack of ribs or some chops neatly glazed over coals.
The ride back to the house is quieter than the ride out. Just occasional chatter and a quick check to make sure he hasn’t slipped loose.
I’m asked if I’m going to be the one to do it. The look on my face is the only answer they need. A quick couple of smacks to the head with a hammer and they pin him down right there in the back of the pickup while I watch nearby. A large knife to the jugular and a bowl to collect the blood. The sound is terrible. From the first blow, the squealing is ear piercing and terrifying. He squirms, grunts and chokes. La Bala looks up frustrated, and asks “who feels sorry for him?” Local lore says they take longer to die when you pity them, and he’s taking too long. I get singled out as the guilty party, and La Bala orders me to put a hand on him and tell him to go. I do. And he does. La Bala whispers a prayer that God take him to a better place. It’s not a prayer for show done for some rookie’s sake. He means it and I suspect he says it every time.
I’m still somewhat shaken as we start removing the bristles, using hot water to soften them and then scrape them away with knives. I rub salt over the skin to clean it further. Much to my surprise I finally settle down when La Bala makes a first slice and I see meat. I end up helping during the rest of the butchering process. I remove the skin and cut chunks of loin. I help remove the head (it’s heavier than you imagine) and hold the guts. I’m handed assorted organs. I toss the jaw, eyes and snout in the river for the croc, who splashes into the water just before I arrive. It’s all very matter-of-fact until 1:30 when it’s time to start eating.
I nibble at some of the pork rinds, but dig deeper into the rice and the beet salad. My hands still stink and it mixes poorly with the pork. I distract myself by chatting with the neighbors and sipping my beer while I stay close to the pot where my instruction continues. The white bubbles on the skin means they’re just about ready, and then there’s the secret ingredient that sends the boiling pot of lard overflowing causing a terrible flaming mess for a few seconds.
I’m tired, but happy I stuck it out. I earned enough respect from the locals to get teased by the neighbors and defended by La Bala. Both are signs of acceptance in rural Costa Rica. It’s nealy 4:00 when we finally finish cooking and La Bala catches his ride into town, with a large bottle of rum as payment.
I once had dinner at a fancy French restaurant that boasted the largest cognac collection in country, on the sixty-some-odd floor of a hotel in Las Vegas. It was lovely meal with good friends, veal four ways, and 25 year-old-scotch. It was one of my most memorable meals. I think I’ll be adding chicharrón four ways, on a farm, with cheap beer and new friends to the list of most memorable meals.
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
For most people the mention of Guanacaste conjures up visions of ocean, surfing, palms and most anything beach related. That’s because most of us head there on vacation. Locals have a life to live and it usually doesn’t involve sand in their toes.
I took the bus from San Jose to Liberia on a trip to meet my in-laws. Family dynamics aside, taking the bus really changes your perspective on this trip. It’s hot, noisy, and cramped (if you are taller than 1.70 m–5’7”). I think my bus was called the shin-buster 2000. Really. There’s more leg room on local-run buses than on these long-haul ones. But for about $7 each way it’s a whole lot cheaper than a tank of gas, plus these guys have no fear of traffic cops as speed limits and no passing zones apparently do not apply to buses.
The trip runs about 4 to 4.5 hours which is similar to what it takes to drive the 220km in a car. The discomfort is mitigated by a pit-stop near Puntarenas. Bathrooms and snacks are available at the company owned restaurant/convenience store. The nice part of this is that you won’t be left behind since the restaurant has an intercom system that will let you know your bus is leaving, plus after all that bouncing around at the back of the bus you will be ready for a break.
When you reach the terminal in downtown Liberia you will be greeted by both legitimate as well as “pirata” taxis. Pick your poison. Don’t be surprised if the cabbies here don’t use the meter. In three days I don’t think a single one did. Also the first kilometer is not the legal 585 colones it’s 1000, that’s the minimum for any cab run. You are on notice.
Although Liberia really is small enough to walk most places, you’ll be looking for a cab since it’s HOT. It’s so hot that I actually asked an old-timer why the heck anyone would choose to live in such a place. I didn’t get much of an answer on that front but I did become privy to the local rivalries in Guanacaste. Liberians and folks from Santa Cruz don’t care much for each other since their town is clearly the best and the others are just arrogant. I also found out that Liberia is in the “Altura” (highlands) and that west of the Tempisque river is the “Bajura” (lowlands). There is apparently also some dispute over the spurs used during bull rides. I’m still working on figuring that one out.
Having been shown off to aunts, cousins and grandparents and educated on local geography, I set out to photograph a local bull ride. Apparently the heat means that even the most remote bull rides are held at night with basic artificial lighting. These are usually accompanied by “fiestas” which resemble small town fairs with amusement rides, music and local characters. Good fun for everyone except photographers (no light!). Also it rains this time of year. Project pending.
Though I didn’t get shots of locals riding bulls I did get a very insider tour of a large-scale rice farm. Which famous local producer owns this farm and who provided me with a ride on a working rice harvester will remain a secret to protect the guilty as well as my chances of going back. The farm is so big it has its own town of about 45 families complete with two soccer fields and its own school. It’s a very close-knit community where left over bbq can be traded next door for fresh “arroz con leche” and there is more free fruit from the local trees than can possibly be eaten (including cashew fruit which is yummy with a pinch of salt).
Riding in a rice-harvester is a totally unique and eye-opening experience. Our driver (who is also the mechanic) turned out to be a remarkably good impromptu tour guide. He explained all the problems with the harvest and why there were so many birds in the fields, some eat the bugs, some the grain, some each other and some are just pests. If you have never seen a bird calmly pace 30cm in front of a 5 meter machine waiting for bugs, while a crane eats a chick, it’s a very National Geographic type moment.
I had been hoping to stay long enough to catch a sunset in the huge fields at the rice farm but other matters and the promise of air-conditioning pulled me away. I’ll be back for that sunset one day. I had to make due shooting in mid-day sun which isn’t my favorite, but in this case I think it helped reflect the kind of conditions that these guys are working in. Fortunately for some soul the oldest rice harvester wasn’t working that day. That’s the one with no cab, no radio, no air-conditioning. You know the one the rookies get.
Far from the beaches, Gaunacaste moves quietly and at a local pace, with its own little secrets to explore. If you get a chance and can pry your toes out of the sand give local Guanacaste a chance for a change. It’s gritty and sweaty but authentic and very real for a lot of folks who aren’t on vacation.