Moving to CR: Dispatch 3

 

31/08/12:

This week marks San Ramon Days, which culminated in the parade of saints yesterday. There have been all manner of activities and events: food vendors with a different theme each day; singers, dancers, horse parades, parade of the oxcarts (elaborately painted oxcarts, with boyeros, oxcart drivers, urging on their oxen – and from what we’ve heard from observers, the boyeros have usually begun imbibing early enough that their driving can get downright interesting), and more.

We saw a poster a few days ago, and everything was in español, of course, and without a dictionary, I could only guess as to what the events were. We noted the “dancing horses” parade happening on Wednesday evening, the procession of the saints on Thursday morning, and the boyeros on Sunday.

On Wednesday evening, a few kilometers north, it was cloudy and threatening rain when we left. Paul had his umbrella and his windbreaker; I only had my windbreaker, preferring to carry less rather than more. We parked a few blocks from the park and main San Ramon church where events were centered, sat on one of the concrete benches in the park for a while, then wandered around, finding temporary booths with tin roofs that had been erected the previous week lining the perimeter, especially along the street between the park and the church. A few catered to kids (cotton candy, peanut snacks and the like), but most offered basic Costa Rican food. There were hundreds of people milling around or sitting in makeshift dining areas, at long, rough tables and sitting in plastic chairs. We got our food from a couple of nearby vendors and found a place to eat, moving on to let others sit when we were done.

Earlier while we were outside sitting in the park, we watched the weather change, from broken clouds to overcast skies, then flashes of lightning, but no thunder. After we had something to eat, despite the noise of all of the people talking, music blaring from some of the vendors’ booths, and people shouting to each other across the street, we could hear the unmistakable rumble­ of thunder and a pretty good rainstorm hitting the metal roof. I wanted to see a little better, so we moved to the wooden walkway, which was raised about 3” above the concrete pavers covering the area.

About 10 minutes before the dancing horses were scheduled to begin, a band began to play, and an announcer spoke about the evening’s activities and upcoming events (we think that’s what he was talking about, at any rate). And the heavens opened up and it started to pour! The roll of distant thunder could be heard, and there was more lightning. (The band was playing in a covered area across the street, next to the church.) I wondered if the equestrian event would be cancelled, but San Ramon Days always happen during this week in August and the rainy season is well underway by this point. I guess everyone is used to the rain.

Perhaps five or ten minutes after things were scheduled to begin, the first horse and rider appeared, drenched by the rain, but the horse gamely going through his paces. Then the next horse and rider, and the next and the next, each doing different fancy steps. But then the rain started coming down even harder, the streets and sidewalks were streaming, and the riders changed their routines, still with horses stepping high, but more safely, less likely to slip and fall. It could have been deadly for both the well-trained horses and their riders. At one point as a horse was going by, there was a bolt of lightning and a very loud crack of thunder at the same moment. The horse winced, but remained calm. It was amazing. The performers were fantastic, but I felt for all of them: performing in the torrential rain on inundated streets, and both horse and rider sopping wet. At least the rain was warm…

And that wooden walkway where we were standing? The concrete pavers were also streaming with all the rain that simply couldn’t run off as fast as it came down, so nearly everyone standing on the concrete wound up with wet feet. The hundreds of us on the wooden walkway? Feet dry, thank you very much, although once we headed back to the car, Paul stayed dry under his umbrella and I carefully made my way through the rain, protected from the deluge only by my windbreaker. (and all that just to avoid carrying the weight of my fairly small collapsible umbrella. It was not worth it.)

A friend here told us that we could skip the parade of saints and just look at them all lined up inside the church tomorrow or on Saturday, but, oh, we would have missed everything! We arranged to meet some friends near the end of the parade, when the saints are paraded into the church.

I imagined a bunch of grim-faced people shouldering some large statues, doing this as penance, and was not so sure what we were in for. Paul dropped me off a few blocks away, and I walked toward the meeting place. There were wagons and flowers and platforms, and saints of all description and size; marching bands practicing. Grim? No, a joyous occasion for each community group and school or church to celebrate its patron saint! People were gathering everything together, assembling and beginning to march to join the procession.

Thousands of people, participants and well-wishers, the rector of the church going to the sound truck (parked for just this occasion), explaining over the loudspeaker what was happening (and he spoke slowly enough that I even understood some of what he was saying), and then introducing each group as it made its way toward the church. The San Ramon police had their saint; the firefighters, theirs. Some school bands had the traditional glockenspiel and drum combos, but there were guitars, accordions, horns. Some people were in uniform, while others were just wearing matching hats,and still others just marching and singing in their everyday clothes. Paul and I both had a great time and it would have been such a shame to have missed it! (See the saints lining the church walls, indeed.) I’m trying to figure out how our community can get its own patron saint so we can march next year.

Afterward, we wandered around, going through a chainsaw-carving area (yikes! though the carvers switched to chisels when they were done roughing out the basic shape), then on to painters. I found one painting I really wanted to buy, but couldn’t talk Paul into the ¢110,000 ($220) cost. Artists were painting, and it was fun to watch. It really seemed as if there was something for everyone to enjoy.

 

2/9/12:

The final day of San Ramon Days celebrated boyeros, oxcart drivers of those often fantastically-painted oxcarts. (CR was a mostly rural society until perhaps 40 years ago, maybe less.) Unlike the horse parade on Wednesday or the Procession of the Saints on Thursday, both of which started very close to the time originally scheduled, the oxcart parade was seriously delayed. We arrived maybe 10 minutes prior to the original start time of 10 am, scoring a place behind the barricades with a great view of the street. Skies were filled with broken clouds, but at least for the moment, seemed benign. There weren’t many bystanders at that point.

We waited and waited: 10:30 passed,then 10:45, and the streets started filling up with audience members. Around 11, Paul craned his neck and said that he could see some of the boyeros and their oxcarts way down the street. By this time, it was very cloudy and the wind had picked up a bit. The areas behind the barricades were packed. Finally, finally, around 11:15, the boyeros and their pairs of oxen started their slow march down the street, and after the first boyero, pair of oxen and cart passed by,it started to pour, and by “pour,” the rains were torrential. We were under cover,but at one point,the wind drove the rain into the barricade, and a number of us stepped back a bit, trying to avoid stepping on those behind us. I felt just terrible for the boyeros and their oxen. They all stolidly proceeded, some of the carts partially covered with tarps to protect them from the worst of the rain.

The first “float” consisted of about eight women dressed in white, gamely waving, who were being honored as women (mothers) of great distinction, all of whom had ben selected and nominated by their communities. All were helped off the truck as soon as they passed by, perhaps to get them out of the sudden downpour. The next to appear was a girl of about 4 or 5 who was dressed in a pink rain slicker and using reins to pull the yoke of two enormous oxen and the cart they were pulling. [I will update the website within the next day or two – it's woefully out of date! – and will post her picture along with several others.] She was so cute and such a trouper! No complaints, just doing what she’d rehearsed. It was great. Most of the boyeros were wonderful, and the carts were not decorated,but were extravagantly painted. There was an award to be given for the best cart, and I cannot imagine how anyone could choose: so many of them were just stunning! (Maybe the skills of the boyeros driving the carts also came into play, but my Spanish skills are still so inadequate, it wasn’t possible to find out.)

We needed to leave around noon to grab a bite to eat and then head back home, so didn’t quite get to see all of it. About 12:30, the rain stopped and the skies cleared, so everyone dried out and no doubt had a great time on that final day.

It has been so much fun for us to get to be part of it all. And we heard from friends that the best food is actually served in the church, so next year we’ll have even more to look forward to!