Call it the battle of the fiestas. Both the Fiestas de San José in Zapote and the upstart corridas de toros in Belén are opening Christmas Day for a run through Jan. 3.
The venerable Zapote fiestas once again this year has competition at the Centro de Events Pedregal in San Antonio de Belén. And for this, the second year, the Pedregal event will add carnival attractions.
The Zapote event is organized by the Municipalidad de San José, which auctions off the rights to the rondel or bull ring for top dollar. So it was only natural that an entrepreneur would consider a money-making alternative.
The bull fighting in both locations is really bull baiting where confused animals are whacked on the haunches by a multitude of young men and some women.
The afternoon and evening events are big television draws in Costa Rica, and an international feed is sold overseas.
The Pedregal event this year is being broadcast on the equally upstart Extra TV 42 television, run by Grupo Extra.
The bull baiting is uniquely Tico. Unlike the Spanish and Mexican versions the bull
survives and sometime a participant dies.
Unlike the Spanish and Mexican version, those in the ring are not professionals, although some pretend to be. There may be 100 or more persons in the ring at the same time. There is no requirement except that the informal bull fighters be free of alcohol and have contracted for a $1 million accident policy.
Costa Ricans love this type of exhibition. Not only are the Zapote stands usually filled, but similar informal bull fights take place all year long all over the country at fairs and festivals.
Promoters provide various attractions to liven up the events. There are bands playing from stages inside the ring or there might be teeter-totters set up that brings a young man or woman just out of reach of the bull’s horns.
One contest offers a substantial money prize for participants who manage to remain inside a white-bordered circle. The problem is that the bull has full access to the circle, too, and its hard to dispute territory with a 900-pound critter.
Many expats spent a lot of time watching the television shows featuring the informal bull fighters and end up rooting for the bulls, which sometimes leap the barriers and enter the spectator stands. Or sometimes they simply propel one of their human tormentors six rows into the bleachers.