Five days of fiesta lie ahead of us. Beauty queens will be chosen and bingo will be played, there is dancing and singing – and, of course, the highlight: the big race on Costa Rica‘s highest mountain: La Carrera Chirripó.

Thursday, 15th of February 2018
Day 1. Either win at bingo – or become a beauty queen.

At 4 pm the whole village meets in the Salón – it’s Bingo Time! Of course I buy a ticket and of course I don‘t win. But I know now all the numbers from 1 – 80 in Spanish. Fluently!

En el salón: “Veintesiete. Dos – siete.” … “Cincuenta y cuatro. Cinco – cuatro.”

Afterwards, the beauty queen is elected. Or rather, the Señora Chirripó. Okay, strictly speaking, she is not elected – so that no one in the end is disappointed the title of Queen is assigned by luck. The participants pick an envelope that tells them whether or not they will be Mrs. Chirripó…

(If they knew that in the US five-year-olds (and even younger) have to face the verdict ‘you’re too ugly‘, or, ‘wow, you’re gorgeous‘, just to make their mommies proud …)

I stay in San Gerardo with a host family and my bonita hermana is participating. I keep my fingers crossed for her – but luck is not with her and she “only” draws # 4.

Mi hermana Mirna

The evening ends along with my niece and a few Miguelitos (a drink that consists mainly of coconut and tastes like a dessert – yummy!) in San Gerardo‘s Bar ‘Costa Brava‘.

Friday, 16th of February 2018
Day 2. The President comes, the athletes eat a lot of pasta and in the evening you hear karaoke

During the day we work hard. My host mother, Madre Margarita, helps with the cooking – because later the President will have dinner together with the athletes in the salón. After all, they have to be fit for the big race up Chirripó tomorrow. At least the athletes. And the president, well, he does not have to be fit, but he can still dine with them.

Of course, I also help: I sell ice cream. Ice cream and granizado. You don’t know what that is? Well, take a huge giant ice cube, shred it into ice chips, and fill a cup. Then the ice is doused with a bright red, supersweet syrup and sprinkled with some sugary milk powder. For the grand finale, the whole thing is covered with condensed milk. Of course I taste what I sell and, well, I don’t like it that much. But in Costa Rica people love everything that is sweet. Too sweet – beyond sweet. And so ice chips are shredded all day.

In the evening, the competitors feast on spaghetti – but without the president. He could not come for whatever reason (the reason was given in Spanish and I couldn‘t understand it).

But the fiesta is in full swing even without him. There are cervezas and karaoke.

But I say goodnight early, because tomorrow at seven the race starts and I would like to walk up the mountain a bit to take some photos of the runners – so I have to get up early.

When I arrive home around 9:30 pm I do not know how to get into my room: the whole living room is full of sleeping heads. I am reluctant to use my flashlight and wake them up – since these are athletes who want to be fit tomorrow – but I also don’t want to step on them!

Yes, in the village all the hotel rooms are fully booked, and in each garden there are tents, and in living rooms there are mattresses ready for the numerous athletes. I find that even more fascinating: not only that they will race 34 kilometers up and down tomorrow in the Carrera Chirripó (from 1350 m to 3400 m and back), but that many of them sleep the nights before and after on hard ground in a tent (and the nights here are cold)!

In any case, I sleep badly and hope that the athletes rest better.

Saturday, 16th of February 2018.
Day 3. Carrera Chirripó. Some run 34 kilometers up and down the mountain, others prefer to sweat at the dance. And some do both.

I march off at 6 o’clock. In my backpack I have my camera and a picnic breakfast (from my Madre – homemade tortillas with bean paste, and a cake). After about two kilometers, a fifty-minute march up, I find a fine place to photograph and breakfast.
At 7 o’clock the starting signal is fired in the village center. And only ten minutes later (!) the first runners arrive!

“Go, go, go!”, or: “¡Eso!”, the Costa Ricans would holler.

Unbelievable – they actually RUN! Going fast is exhausting, but running? Wow!

After everyone had passed by, I walk home and take a shower – and think about the time when I hiked Chirripó.

Then I quickly go to the village center. The first runner crosses the finish line after only 3 hours, 8 minutes and 2 seconds. 3:08:02. In words: threehourseightminutesandtwoseconds! Everyone applauds enthusiastically (even if that’s not the record) and I’m moved 🙂

Unfortunately winner, Juan Ramón Fallas Navarro (3:08:02), and second winner, Juan Luis Fallas Navarro (3:09:13), are too fast to get a nice picture.

But 3rd and 4th I can show you:
3:17:41 Abraham Serrano Ulloa wins 3rd place.

4th place in 3:19:02. Jhony Fallas Navarro

If you want to know more about the times and the race itself go here.

Then the ice cream shop calls and I sell more ice cream.

Afterwards I meet with my Padre and we enjoy a coffee and greasy sweet Costa Rican treats – but I can do that, because in the evening there is the dance. And there I will dance until I lose all those calories!

Right up until closing time, I wiggle my muscles over the dance floor – but closing time in the salón is just after midnight. Not only do I dance, the rest of the village dances too, of course. And even a few of the runners cheerfully sweep across the floor!

Anyway, it was fun! And at home I shuffle carefully again over the sleeping heads to my room…

Sunday, 17th of February 2018.
Day 4. Today’s highlights: Mountain bikes and Football.

Huh-yawn. I have to admit to being a bit tired. Pfff. It’s only 7 am. I could try to sleep a bit more, or I could get up and hike a little to be fully awake. I listen for a few minutes to the raging children and my wild Spanish-speaking and full of laughter family – and decide on Plan B.

After the walk, a shower and a nourishing breakfast of beans with rice, I feel much better. So I head down to the village to greet the mountain bikers. Hmm. I am not too excited this time. I do not want to detract from their performance – especially since I didn‘t want to participate and probably couldn’t even complete the route. But 40 kilometers of biking – I know some amateur cyclists who would do that in the evening after work…

So I choose to sell a little bit more of the cold, sweet treats and then meet with Gerhard for tea. Gerhard is here on vacation. His dad was German, his mom from Mexico and he himself grew up in Canada. And his father‘s annual highlight was the Carrera Chirripó, in which he participated eighteen times – at his last race he was 81 years old! And he not only ran this race, he did it in less than seven hours (if you need more time, you are disqualified)! And now Gerhard continues the legacy…

In the evening all of San Gerardo witness a highlight: a football game. THIS is not the highlight yet, but it’s the first time in San Gerardo’s history that they play in the EVENING. All year round it’s pitch dark at 6 pm and so football matches were only possible during the day. But brand new floodlights make the impossible possible: kick-off at 6pm!

Monday, 18th of February 2018
Day 5. More football. More dancing.

The morning is quiet. After four days of Fiesta – on such occasions beer is drunk nearly as enthusiastically as in Austria – the people need to rest at a certain point…

I do a hike –

and some writing.

In the afternoons and evenings there are two more football matches – but I pass.
In the evening there is music. Although there are only about thirty survivors who are still fit enough to shake a leg it‘s enough for a fun evening.

And then the 30th Carrera Chirripó is over.
But when I fall into bed at midnight, I am very happy that tomorrow peace will return to my little village…

A few days later…

It’s quiet now, in the village. Except the terrible motorbike that wakes me daily at five in the morning. It’s parked next to my bed, I mean, it’s parked outside of course, but the walls are thinner rather than thicker here. And since it is freezing cold at 5 am at this time of the year, the engine does not want to be started. And so it does rucklzuckbrrm. Rucklzuckbrrm. Rucklzuckbrrmbrrmbrrmbrrm. Rucklrucklrucklbrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm.
Most of the time I am awake by then. But if it happens that I’m not, then the sound of stepping on gas wuuuuuuuuumwuuuuuumwuuuuuum helps to raise me out of my sleep. Sigh.

If it was not pitch-black and bitterly cold at this time, I would get up. But well, sometimes I can fall asleep again – just to get woken up again by wakedrucklrucklbrrmbrrmbrrmup punctually at 5:30 by motorcycle number two. Still dark and cold I’m not too happy to leave my warm bed. But at the last moment, when the children come in for breakfast before school/kindergarden (they start here at 7 am), howling with joy, I give up and start the day.

But the rest of the lifestyle here compensates for the morning ear torture. People here are just modest, super friendly and cheerful – and they don’t have this stress most people experience in their lives:
Take it easy – if you wake up, then you’re just awake. If you do not have the money to eat pizza, then you eat rice and beans. And if you have to wait, you wait. The waiting does not pass by any faster if you are angry about it, right? Thank you Costa Rica, thank you San Gerardo and the biggest thank you to my host family for teaching me so much!

Pura Vida,

PS: If you wanna read more about my time not only in San Gerardo, but Costa Rica, visit me 🙂