Holiday is a great time to learn more of the culture

Thursday is a holiday, and it is a great time for Costa Ricans to remember their past and contemplate their present. But for expats, the day might be a bit boring with a lot of offices and work places closed.

Not everyone can go to Nicoya where the big festival is taking place.  So here are some suggestions for expats, be their newly arrived or long-time residents.

1. Get into the food culture. Make achorreada complete with sour cream (natilla) and cheese. These are sort of like  corn-based pancakes, and they are made in much the same way. Chorrear is Spanish for “to pour,” and that is exactly what one does. The batter is prepared and then poured on a hot griddle.

There is no need to make the batter from scratch. Special mixes for chorreadas are available in most supermarkets. So there is no need to chop up ears of corn. There are plenty of recipes available on the Internet.

You take the plate-size chorreada and break it into sections. The cheese is rolled up inside and the sour cream is used like a dip.

Bet you can’t eat just one! But don’t tell Weight Watchers.

2. Learn the national anthem, the Himno Nacional, if you do not already know it. That way you will not feel foolish at all those public events when everyone else is singing. Unlike the U.S. national anthem, mere mortals can really sing Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera,and Costa Ricans do it all the time. The song also substitutes to “Hail to the Chief,” when President Laura Chinchilla makes  a public appearance

There is a video on YouTube. with the music and song complete with great photos of Costa Rica, including some of the diablitos from the Boruca culture  So now there is no excuse.

3. Ride a horse. Guanacaste, which is being celebrated Thursday is the home of the Costa Rican cowboys, the sabaneros. But one need not go there to find a mount. They are all over, even in Parque la Sabana (although the nags there appear to be only able to support children).

On the Pacific coast, in the mountains, near the volcanos, and of course, in Guanacaste, there are horse rentals, There also are cabalgata,sort of arranged guided tour of interesting places,  Depending on the distance the rates may range up to $160.

Don’t forget the hat, Tex.

4. Take a tour of a Catholic church. One cannot understand Costa Rican people without understanding a bit about their faith. Some churches, like the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, are outstanding works of art. Las Mercedes church is east of the Parque de la Merced between avenidas 2 and 4 in San José. The facility benefited from a four-year $1 million restoration project that was reportedHERE!

Another outstanding downtown church is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de La Soledad on Calle 9 that is becoming part of the Barrio Chino. A restoration project for this church is about to start. There also are spectacular churches in many other communities, not to mention the Colonial era ones.

Any expat resident of Costa Rica has to visit at least once the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago. The architecture is not the draw. The people are. This is the time of year when more than a million pilgrims will walk from all over Central America to Cartago and go down the center aisle of the church on their knees. And they will make sure to get a bottle of water from the spring that has a special significance in the story of the worship that began in 1635.

No one will inquire about the religion of a visitor, and being there is like being transported to Medieval Europe.

5. Wear a mask! Even short-time visitors have seen the traditional mascaradas in Costa Rica atleast from the outside. But what does it look like  from the inside out? An expat can find out with the exchange of a 5,000-colon note at some local festival. No special clothing is required because the garments attached to the papier-mâché masks reach close to the ground.

Once in your selected macarada, you, too, can move to the sounds of the cimarrona, the brassy street band. A good introduction isHERE!

6. Visit a cemetery. There is a lot of drama even in a small, local cemetery like the one in San Antonio de Escazú. Residents have been dying here for hundreds of years, and there even is a cemetery for foreigners that can be found near the Cementerio General on Avenida 10. Some of the occupants are those brought here to plan and build the country’s Caribbean railway.

The Cementerio General, itself, has some spectacular statuary and elaborate family crypts. And each marker holds the story of someone who was born, grew up, perhaps married, followed a career and then died here perhaps 100 years ago.

With luck, some Costa Rican families might be visiting their plots and be willing to share some tales.

7. Learn to dance Tico style. Dances are universal. One can learn belly dancing, the Tango and any other type of dance here. But to celebrate Guanacaste, the dance must be the traditional Tico style. Guys will need a couple of red or blue handkerchiefs and one of those white campesino hats. Gals need a flowing red, white and blue dress. Then the rest is just studying a typical dance or getting a little help. Or just letting the traditional music be your guide.

8. Watch a soccer game with Costa Ricans.There is no fan like a Tico fan. And the love of soccer goes so deep that there always is a game on television, even if it has to be beamed from Europe. The best place is some working class bar when Costa Rican teams are playing. But Thursday, fans will have to settle for what’s on.

Soccer is one of those games where there are a lot more near misses than goals. So a real fan has the heart in the mouth for the entire game. Add some Imperial or Pilsen, and there is a great afternoon.

9. Shop at a pulpería. These are the little food stores where some neighborhood family is making a living. Items might even be a little cheaper because the small shopkeeper probably has less overhead than a modern supermarket. There are supposed to be about 18,000 of such establishments in Costa Rica, and in the New World they sprang right up after the Spanish arrival.

A little Spanish helps, but pointing is good, too. Most are not self-service, so the clerk has to get the item, be it shoe polish, guaro or candies. This is another step back into time. And pulperias are a vanishing bred.

10. Give someone a meal.  Costa Ricans are generous. Ever see a taxi driver give a coin to a street beggar? This happens all the time. Just watch passers-by on the pedestrian mall in San José where there is a beggar in every block. Costa Ricans may grouse, but in the end they may dig down for a coin or perhaps even arojo. So join the crowd and pick up an extra burger for the guy rummaging in the trash at the corner.

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