Toros and Tope de Caballis (Bulls and Horse Parade)

It’s festival time in Playas del Coco…..and that means horses, dancing and drinking….and that’s no bull.

One day,  we were passing the fruit and vegetable stand which is next to the public school and across from the empty field,  we saw a sign “Toros” (Bulls). The bull riding was coming on the weekend as well as the Tope de Caballis (Horse Parade). Here in Costa Rica, there is bull riding and not the bull fighting like they have in Spain but it seems there can be a lot of blood and gore. The bulls are a big event here with the show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The main event was on Saturday and costs ¢10,000 Colones  ($20 US) per person to sit in the stands. The show includes the bulls, local dancing, clowns and parade queens. There are also food and beer stands and a whole lot of fun. We weren’t able to make it this time but will definitely attend the next time which I hope is soon.

The Province of Guanacaste is steeped in cowboy culture. Unlike much of Costa Rica that is covered by rain forest and mountains, Guanacaste is dry coastal savannah with cattle ranching the predominate industry, apart from tourism. A tope is a horse parade where the local sabaneros, or plainsmen, show off their superb horsemanship amid loud brass bands, firecrackers, throngs of onlookers and blaring salsa music. Particularly popular in the dry season from December to April topes are a traditional excuse to have a big party, drink and show-off on horses. Topes are often combined with Costa Rican bullfighting events and a country fair.

When the Tope is in town everyone gets a little loco. On Friday and Saturday morning we heard a bunch of fireworks but on Sunday, the day of the Tope, at 5:30 in the morning we were awoken by a musical band. It was a hoot (excuse the pun). The band started at our end of town and drove down the street waking everyone and getting them all excited, except those who were a little hung over from the previous night’s activities.   After asking a number of  different people when the parade would start and getting a different answer every time we deduced that the parade would start sometime in the afternoon.  So we wondered down the beach around 11:30 AM and waited for something to happen. There was an obstacle course set up on the beach where teams of kids would race through and get sprayed with water. The start included a large ball where one of the kids would get in and get rolled to the start by their team mates.

Beach fun
We sat on the board walk for awhile and watched the commotion. There were chicos selling all sorts of goodies: sombreros, sunglasses, food, cold coconuts, candy floss, beer….you name it. There was a bull and donkey where people could get their pictures taken and this woman obviously had modeling experience.

Picture with the bull

John, naturally,  had to get a close up of the bull.

That's no bull

The kids seemed to be a little afraid of the donkey.

Beach donkey

A band started up just about 1 o’clock which started to get everyone excited. The music reminded me of the Cuban band “Buena Vista Social Club” and had the same sort of rhythm.

Beach Band

We decided to walk into town and check out a good spot to watch the parade and ended up in Coconuts which is a local bar that caters to gringos but has a railing with a great view of the street. It’s a great spot to people watch and check out the action.  We had a few beers and something to eat while we waited…and waited…..and waited. Some one mentioned that the parade should start around 2 but in true Tico fashion it started at 4.  Our friends Gary and Diane were sitting at the Lizard Lounge but decided they couldn’t wait any more.

Gary and Diane

Suddenly we hear loud music coming from  the restaurant next door and the dancing begins. This couple was really getting into the swing of things and had some great moves.

Dancing in the street

People were getting set up all along the street. Trucks and cars pulled in where ever there was space, set up coolers and got ready for a good time. The truck across the street dropped the sides and had obviously had been here before. There was only enough room for two couples to dance at a time so they had to take turns. The dancing reminded us of our friends Nury and Eli who tried to teach me some of the local moves. And this is before the parade has even started.

Couples dancing

The parade starts at the end of the beach just south of town and travels up the beach and into town with people lined up all along the route.


When the parade turned into town they hadn’t closed off the street so it was a tight fit with cars, people, horses all trying to go somewhere.  The parade queen and king were the first to come past us and they certainly weren’t hard to look at.

Parade Queen

Parade Master

And then the rest of the horses follow,  the town is jumping and even the horses got into the groove. Unfortunately dancing horses don’t come across well in still photos so check out John’s video .

Horses in the street

Horse Riders

Some of the riders kept nipping at liquids to keep them hydrated during the long ride.

Drinking horse rider

Everyone had a great time and everyone got into the action. There was one guy who stopped his car right in the middle of the road, had a dance with a woman in the crowd then got back into his car and drove off. This was a wonderful adventure and we hope to see this again real soon.

Parade Rider


Dining with the rich and famous

The Guanacaste region of Costa Rica is very popular with the jet set crowd. A few of our neighbours include Brad and Angelina, Bill Gates, Bruce Willis just to mention a few. Now that the new terminal has been completed at the Liberia airport celebrities can fly their planes into the old terminal, get into their limos without being bothered by the riff raff. They are then taxied to their multi million dollar homes on private islands or mountain tops  in and around Playa Hermosa. This location is very exclusive and the views  are breath taking. 

Linda and Carl are from Oklahoma and stayed in Unit 7 for a week. One day they went fishing with Danny and caught a sail fish and a couple of snappers. They also ran into a couple of fishermen out on the ocean and bought some langostas and some oysters so a good days fishing all around. They are a really nice couple and it was great getting to know them. That is probably one of the things I enjoy most about travelling is getting to meet new people  and here you get to meet some one new almost every week.

Linda is amazing and every day she would go for a “run” on the beach. Linda’s run consisted of running south to the end of the beach which is just past town, about 2.5 km one way, then running up to the north end and south again, about 8 km in 30+°C weather.  It was exhausting just watching her.

On their last night we decided to go to Hermosa to check out a restaurant called Ginger’s Some of the celebrities are supposed to hang out there when the chef has the night off. The restaurant is touted as  “tapas”  style where you can order a number of small dishes that you can share with everyone. We had a few dishes such as potstickers, snapper filets, stir fry, sounds more asian than spanish but they were very tasty. These are ginger rolls which is poached salmon wrapped in something like chinese dumpling.

Ginger rolls
John ordered the Mongolian ribs that were very tender, gooey and tasty.

Mongolian ribs

Carl ordered a shrimp stir fry with an assortment of really crisp and fresh vegetables.

Stir fried vegies with shrimp

We ate on the terrace overlooking the street.

John and Danny

We took a couple of pictures and pretended to be stars but no one asked us for our autographs but Linda and Carl looked like they had fun. I know they really didn’t want to leave the next day but maybe if we’re lucky they’ll be back again next year.

Linda and Carl

I guess Brad and Angelina didn’t get our invitation as they didn’t show up for dinner. What a pity !!

Lost in Translation

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be spending Christmas in Costa Rica I probably would have said you were crazy, but here we are, so I guess that makes us  crazy. I must admit I am enjoying it though especially since the weather in Toronto is pretty cold and snowy. One of the things I love to do every day is check the weather back home and it is usually a lot worse than here. I know that must make me somewhat sadistic but its a favorite topic of conversation in the pool while having a cocktail and hearing about the storms in the mid west.

Now that  the new terminal at the airport in Liberia is finished when you arrive, you get to hang around in air conditioned luxury, while you check through customs and pick up your bags.  The old terminal was just one large shed with a huge fan. Once you leave the building you are immediately hit by the heat and you start to swelter. After a couple of days  new comers start to relax,  soak up the sun and  laugh about how wonderful it is here and how bad it is at home.  Today for example the weather in Parry Sound is -6°  C and here in Coco a balmy  30° , but I am not doing this to torture everyone back home but to describe how hot it is here at Christmas (okay a little torture).

Santa comes to Playa del Coco as well but in more appropriate clothing. Check out that jazzy Christmas shirt. Everyone got a cracker from Santa to open at dinner. Domenic’s family had never seen crackers until he had Christmas dinner with some crazy Canucks.

Domenic and Santa

I think Santa and Charlotte got together to pick a present for Nicole, a hot wheels car with a track that went through the mouth of a dinosaur. It was a big hit.

Santa, Charlotte and Nicole

Most of the supermarkets here cater to  North Americans and offer a lot of the traditional foods that we eat at home. It was interesting to see the meat sections packed with turkey (Pavo) but because they are  imported they are not cheap and cost anywhere from $2.00+ per pound  and are usually frozen. Gordon had an interesting experience when he thought he ordered an 18 pound turkey from the Auto Mercado, asked them to thaw it and he would pick it up the day before Christmas. It seems the the order missed something in translation when he picked up the turkey only to find it was still frozen. I know that would  increase the stress level for any chef at this time of year but Gordon managed it beautifully. I didn’t get the details but I think he thawed it in a cooler covered with bottled water overnight.

As with most community meals everyone brought a dish: Pat and Joe brought bruschetta and mashed potatoes, John and I brought some of our favourites, chicken liver pate, cranberry chutney and steamed broccoli. As I mentioned, we can get a lot of our favorite foods while others are hard to come by. We were able to get the chicken livers (higados de pollo) easily but we weren’t able to get either fresh or frozen cranberries and had to make due with canned so the flavour was there but the colour and texture weren’t the same as at home.

It seems unusual to see folks cooking roasts in ovens for a number of hours and also having the air conditioning cranked to the max. It’s the only way to do it without melting. Can you imagine cooking an 18 lb turkey at 325° for about 8 hours in 30° weather ? Gordon seems to have found a way to cook the turkey in slightly less time by deconstructing it. He removes a large portion of the dark pieces, the legs,wings etc and roasts them separately from the white meat which results in a shorter cooking time as well as nice juicy dark meat. With the bones he has removed he makes  stock which he uses to baste the turkey and make gravy. How resourceful.

Roast turkey in Coco Beach

It seems in most of our meal pictures there is a box of Clos wine . They come in white, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere and are light, easy drinking wines that are imported from Chile but is “cheap as chips” as Jamie Oliver would say.
Turkey with all the sides

Even in Costa Rica the family can sit around in those paper hats that make everyone look dorky.

Group dinner

Once again the food and company was so good we didn’t get pictures of the wonderful desserts, chocolate cake and peach cobbler, that Domenic brought but I can tell you they were yummy.

As with Christmas all over the world we all ate and  drank too much and I can’t wait till New Years.

Christmas Eve Dinner

It seems somewhat surreal being here in Costa Rica for Christmas. When we first arrived on November 12 we were first hit by the heat which takes some getting used to and then we were bombarded with Christmas. It was very similar to being at home. There were Christmas goods in all the stores, as well as all the ads on TV for perfumes, toys, groceries, you name it, but it is hard to get into the spirit with the temperatures around 80 degrees.

Around town restaurants were putting up Christmas blow ups . This Santa was at the Coco Palms restaurant where we had fish dinner with Danny and some lucky fishermen.

John and Santa at Coco Palms restaurant

All around town they were putting up decorations, some on the boardwalk,  in private homes on the walk back from town or on the roof of the medical centre where santa got covered in dust but no snow.

Christmas tree on the boardwalk

Santa with his naughty and nice list

Dusty Santa

Some one said to me once …I like reading your blog but why do you write some much about your food and  drinks. I write about it because that it usually one of the things that we have in common with our new friends. Here at the condo there are some permanent residents who live here all year long as well as part timers and renters and there is always some activity revolving around food. It could be the fish dinner with Danny and his fishing charters if they are successful, a pot luck meal on the spur of the moment if there is a special at the supermarket or a celebration such as a birthday or Christmas. And that was the reason for a number of fabulous meals this week.

Dominic and his family hosted dinner on Christmas eve which is the main event for Costa Ricans and they worked for days to prepare a sensational meal. Dominic and Maria Jose were in San Jose earlier in the week doing some Christmas shopping and picked up a leg of pork which was marinated for a couple of days and roasted on the day. The roast was absolutely delicious and served with baked stuffed apples.

Roast leg of pork and stuffed apples

Along with the roast we  had garlic mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables (which included chayote which is part of the squash family and very popular in Latin American cooking). And as if this wasn’t enough there was a sweet and sour sauce as well as a savory gravy.

Garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetable

To top this off Dominic made a “Tres Leche” (3 milk) cake which is a white cake that is baked and then cut in the pan and covered with a mixture of whole , condensed  evaporated milks that is spiked with rum and served with sliced bananas and whipped cream. It was so good we forgot to take pictures, guess we’re going to have to come up with another reason to make this again.

While we were there Dominic’s family from San Diego skyped and were showing off all the great food they had made for their Christmas dinner. It sounded liked a wonderful Italian meal with seafood, salamis etc. We are all looking forward to when Dominic’s sister Vera and her husband Vic show up in March for more great meals.

Many thanks to Dominic, Mary Joe, Ruth and Nicole for a wonderful meal and including us in their celebration.

The Christmas eve dinner gang

Gordon and Charlotte were  at tonight’s dinner as well and in the next post you can all drool over the wonderful turkey dinner that they prepared.

Boys will be boys

Condo Number 6 at Las Calas Rojas is owned by Sly and his wife Rachel from Quebec. We met them last April 2012 when they were here with their son Frank. They had just purchased the apartment and were in town to get it ready for renting. They cleaned it from top to bottom (they have an upper apartment which has a vaulted ceiling and the highest point is about 12 – 14 feet high). They repainted, which hadn’t been done since the condos were built, bought new furniture and worked very hard to get it into shape which is even more difficult with the heat. Frank had taken some vacation time to help his parents with the work, and now it has finally payin off for him. He is here for 2 weeks over the Christmas holidays with two of his friends. Frank came with one of his  friends Giovanni and got right into the spirit of Costa  Rica and two other friends came a couple of days later. They are getting out and about and having a great time.

One day they came back from lunch and announced that they were going to have a dive lesson in the pool. None of them had been scuba diving before but there are a number of local shops that will provide a one hour PADI course that will teach them the basics after which they can go out on a dive trip for a couple of hours.   One of the guys was taking blood pressure medication which he indicated on the questionnaire that they are required to complete before they can take the course, that and the amount of cervasas they were drinking since they got here meant he had to have a physical before he got the OK to dive. Unfortunately for him, the doctor recommended that this was not a good idea.

So the instructor shows up at the condo with 4 sets of diving gear to give the guys their lesson. First he shows them the gear, all the individual pieces,  what they are for and how they go together etc.

Scuba Lesson in the pool at the condo

A little one on one attention is always helpful. The instructor is  french which is very helpful since Frank and his amis speak some english and very little spanish.

One on one instruction

Now that they have the equipment basics it’s into the pool for details on how to breathe. They will need to know how to remove their regulator , throw it behind their back, find it and put it back in their mouths. They will also know how to breathe regularly, watch their buddies for signs of danger, clear their masks and what to do in case of emergencies.

Into the water for more scuba instructions

Then it’s time for a swim around the pool. I would think this is the hard part since the pool is pretty small especially with 4 guys following each other around.

Can you talk under water?

The lesson has  got the attention of our neighbour Nicole. She likes to know everything that is going on. Nicole has a set of goggles that have frogs on them and we call her the “la ranita” the little frog. She looks just like a spanish Shirley Temple.

Nicole watches over the divers

Nicole loves to be the centre of attention

A couple of laps around the pool and they are ready to go diving.

Mr Macho

What Lola Wants….

One of the things we enjoy most about travelling is meeting new people and hearing about their lives and adventures. We recently met our neighbour Clio while cooling off in the pool, and he certainly has an interesting story to tell. Clio lives in number 10 right across from us, has been an owner here for a couple of years now and hopes to spend a number of months here relaxing and soaking up the sun when his place is not rented out.  Though when he is not here or at home in  North Carolina he may be found as a dancing companion on a cruise ship sailing through the Mediterranean or any number of exotic locations.  Clio works directly with a talent agent and not the cruise lines, and receives lists of  upcoming cruises. I think he prefers the Cunard line which includes the Queen Elizabeth and sails out of London. When  he selects a  trip  he  pays a fee to his agent,  then attends the cruise as a passenger and gets to enjoy the sailing along with the other guests. In the evening he and his other dancers will invite single ladies over 18 to trip the light fantastic. I understand that he has a number of dances in his repertoire  including the tango, salsa, merengue, foxtrot and waltz. Some nights he is required to wear tuxedos and other nights only a suit and tie….what a rough job.

Cloi and his fellow dancers

Clio was recently on a trip to the Mediterranean but they had to call off a couple of stops in the Middle East, Israel I think and one other location.

Who was that masked woman??

Cloi and another dance partner

This sounds like a great job to me and Clio meets a number of interesting woman and I am sure has a lot of stories to tell.  Imagine sailing around the world, dancing the night away

One day Clio invited us to lunch at a place he knew not from from Tamarindo called Lolas. We left at about 10 in the morning for the hour and a half trip along the typical bumpy Costa Rican roads and took a detour though Tamarindo. The beach is touted as a surfing beach and attracts a number of young surfer dudes. It reminds me of Wasaga beach in Ontario, very touristy with lots of bars, surf boards and souvenir shops.

Tamarindo Surf Shop


Lolas is at Playa Avellanas which is just south of Tamarindo about 10 kms along a very bumpy road. We had to close all the windows and turn on the air conditioning to get away from the dust. The restaurant was named after a very large pig that the owner kept on the property. The pig would lay around and occasionally get up and waddle down for a swim in the ocean. Now that’s the life of a pig in Costa Rica.  Lola has a face only a mother could love.

Lola in all her glory


The beach is also known for its surfing but it seems to be better for boogie boards than surf boards but it is a great place to have lunch.

Beach at Lolas

The lunch was absolutely amazing. The  reviews say that the menus cater to vegetarians but they have great salads, pizza, sandwich. John had a grilled tuna salad, I had tuna sandwich and Clio the primavera salad (sorry no pictures, we were too busy eating!!). We have found that the salads here are absolutely amazing….they taste so fresh and usually include a whole assortments of goodies. The staff are very friendly. Alejandro was our waiter but everyone stops by to make sure you’re having a great time.

John and Alexandro

The tables and chairs are all made out of local wood and make the ambiance.

John and Cloi

It’s such a nice place the iguanas come to eat as well.

Iguana at Lolas

Then it’s adios to the parrot and we going back to Las Calas Rojas for dinner with Gord and Charlotte…..seems like all we do here is eat, drink and swim, sounds a lot like Lola.

Parrot at Lolos

Home delivery

We are so lucky living in this condo. We get home delivery from a few different food trucks a couple of times a week where we can buy anything from baked goods to Italian specialties.

A couple of times a week the German Bakery truck drops by with an assortment of baked goods. The first year we were here and went to Monte Verde with Roy to do the ziplining we passed a number of signs advertising the Germany Bakery…..who knew. I understand that it was established by a German gentlemen who decided to settle in Costa Rica and wanted some of his favorite foods.

German Bakery

Two chicos drive up a couple of times a week sometimes on Monday and Friday but you learn not to rely on these times. No time or date is set in stone here and is subject to change. “Ahora” which means now could mean in the next minute or  next week. The truck offers all sorts of goodies from bread, baguettes, multi-grain,croissants (plain or stuffed with hazelnuts), hamburger buns to carrot cakes, muffins.

Chicos from the German bakery truck

All you have to do is pick which items you want and they will wrap it up and  it’s back to the condo you go. I was going to include a picture of some of the goodies that we got but we ate them before I could grab the camera.

Then there is the Italian truck which is owned by Paulo and Rosanna. The truck apparently comes from San Jose and makes his way through small towns up to Coco Beach.

Paulo, Rosie &; Rosanna

The truck is absolutely jammed with all sorts of goodies. Fresh sausages, salami, olives, canned goods like artichokes and tomatoes and an array of great wines.

Red wine and salami

Here is some red wine and salami that we bought this week. The prices are great….the red wine was 4,000 colones ($8 US) for 750 mls and the salami is well aged and costs 6,000 colones. We also bought some kalamata olives, fresh sausage  and trugulo cheese which is a soft cheese imported from the Piedmonte region of Italy.  Add this to the baguette from the bakery and you have a feast.

Paulo knows about everything he carries on the truck and what everyone likes so if he gets something new that he thinks you will like he’ll let you know.  Rosanna manages the money and prattles on in Italian while Paulo is filling the order.  Whenever the truck comes there is always a line up from our  units and other friends from other condos around the block.

Lining up for the goodies

Here is Paulo and his truck.

Paulo and his truck

There are other folks who also drop by, like the bunch that sells shrimps and fish from a cooler in the back of their old beat up car and the kids who peddle little patties similar to empanadas that are stuffed with rice and chopped meat such as chicken. So we could really just hang around the pool all week long and wait for these deliveries but every once in a while we need to take the 10 minute walk into town.