It is the Monday after Easter and the first day following Semana Santa. All of us here on the coast are breathing a sigh of relief and listening gratefully to the sound of the door to the Caldera Highway as it slams shut, at least for a week or so. For those of you who have chosen not to live here in beautiful Costa Rica, let me explain Semana Santa to you.
Semana Santa is the Easter week and is the biggest in-country celebration of the year for the Ticos. The country pretty much grinds to a halt and a lot of businesses give their employees the week (or at least a major part of it) off to celebrate and recreate with family and friends. Traditionally, a good part of this celebrating and recreating takes the form of loading all of one's family and much of one's extended family into the vehicle and bringing them out to the beach. After all, Costa Rica is a narrow country and the beach is only a three to four hour drive, either East or West.
As the family will be at the beach for an indeterminate amount of time, but will not be staying anywhere in particular, a great many of the household belongings are brought along. It is not uncommon to see cars packed with bodies, careering down the Costanera (our coastal highway) with not one, but two or three mattresses piled on top and beach furniture lashed to the bumper and trunk. Cookware is brought along, as the family living at the beach will need to eat, and many of the household conveniences are brought along as well. Plastic plates and drinking cups are easily purchased and just as easily discarded on the beach, so those are never a problem. And as the ocean can so easily be used as a receptacle for liquid and solid waste, not much else is needed in the way of paper products.
The general theme of Semana Santa is good fun and I'm all for good fun. When I first arrived in Costa Rica five years ago, I had presumed it was a staunchly Catholic country and as such would celebrate the week of the Resurrection with great solemnity. Somewhat to my surprise I discovered that the Jesus part didn't seem to play a big part in the Semana Santa festivities and that instead they were more centered around the consumption of major quantities of cerveza, a lot of food cooked at the beach and a horrifyingly large amount of fried food eaten from bags.
Additionally, the visiting Ticos never seemed to think all that highly of their "country cousins" (which is how this part of Costa Rica is viewed by the Big City denizens) and their disdain was shown by bad manners in restaurants and stores and particularly and most frighteningly, on the roads. I have driven in Mexico City, I have driven in Paris and I have driven in San Francisco's Chinatown. The driving here during Semana Santa rivals any of them for the fear factor induced by those with whom one shares the road. It is recommended that one proceed cautiously and keep eyes and ears opened for unexpected approaches by those who are, perhaps, less vigilant than ourselves.
But today is Monday. The aisles of the stores are empty, and while they are not fully stocked (particularly lacking in the chip department), the shopping is as close to pleasurable as it gets. The roads are clear and while one still looks to the left and right, one needn't worry so much about vehicles entering from unexpected angles. The shopkeepers look relieved and we are all in agreement that is so much nicer when Semana Santa is over.