We had been saying we wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate our new apartment, but every day the rain comes in about 2 pm and sometimes doesn't let up until late evening. This makes it difficult to go into town, since we don't have a car. So, we've been waiting for the right opportunity. Today (9/14), the weather had been cloudy but the rain hadn't shown up. This might be our chance to go into town.
[Flashback] Earlier in the day (late morning), we heard a big BOOM sound (like an explosion). Then we heard sirens: fire truck, ambulance and police cars. "Geesh," we thought, "what's going on?" From our third story view on the hill we can see over the trees and look down toward the road. We could see there was, in fact, an ambulance, fire truck and police car with lights and sirens on, moving very slowly down the hill. We didn't know what was going on, but it must be serious. We then saw a bunch of bicyclists and people walking behind the police cars holding a huge Costa Rican flag. We figured there was some sort of special event going on - maybe a bicycle tour or race, but didn't think much more about it.
The rain held off through the afternoon, so we decided to walk into town for a nice dinner. I (Tina) found a couple of good reviews on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Atenas. We headed out about 5:30 pm to go to a well-reviewed Mexican (not Costa Rican) restaurant. The latest review was in March of this year, so we thought it would be pretty safe to trust. Nope. We found the place but the sign had been taken down and the name changed. It also wasn't open. Bummer.
We decided to walk around and see what else we could find. The streets were very quiet and I (Mark) remarked to Tina that maybe Sunday evenings are not a good time to come into town. There was hardly anyone out on the street.
We spotted a restaurant that Alphonso had recommended and it was open. We went in. It was a cute little restaurant, nicer than many of the other local restaurants we had been in and I was a little concerned it might be too pricey. There were no other customers in the restaurant. That could be a good or a bad thing...
We were seated by the hostess (Manager?) and she spoke to us in English. We asked if we were early (referring to the obvious lack of customers). She said no, people would just be coming in later, after the celebration. Clueless, we asked "What celebration?" She said proudly that tomorrow is Independence Day and there is going to be a celebration in town this evening. It was a true Gringo moment. We obviously hadn't learned the national holidays yet.
She went on to explain that children would be carrying "lanterns" and "torches" as part of the celebration. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from Central Park, which is the town square and the hub of any public events. We were seated by a window and, sure enough, we started seeing parents walking by with children who were carrying various homemade lanterns and flashlight torches of various shapes and sizes.
Dinner was very good. With two non-alcoholic drinks, two full dinners, and a shared dessert, the bill came to about $22. By he time we left, a few other patrons had come into the restaurant. It was obvious, however, that most of the town was headed toward Central Park.
It was dark by the time we left the restaurant and as we walked toward the center of town, we could hear a lot of noise. The sirens of police cars and an ambulance were going off non-stop. Apparently, this is part of the celebratory atmosphere. There were hundreds of people in the park and on the bordering streets. As we stood on a corner and watched, the police car and ambulance, with lights and sirens on, led a slow parade of children (with their torches) and parents around the town square. Here's what it looked like (sorry about the low light level, it's the best we could do with our camera):
The parade only went from one side of the park to the other. It was short, bur certainly didn't lack for enthusiasm! It stopped in front of the government building, where a few people gave speeches - local politicians, no doubt.
Here are a few other pictures of the celebration (the two pictures of kids with lanterns are from the Internet, for illustration, since I wasn't able to get any good close-up pictures in town):
By the way, the loud BOOM! we hear earlier in the day was heard several more times. I believe it's some kind of cannon that is shot to signal the start, or end, of the celebration - or maybe just for the heck of it. It's LOUD and definitely gets your attention.
A little post-celebration research informed us that this celebration is held every year, after dark, on the evening before Independence Day (which is on Sept 15th).
History note: In case you are wondering, as we were, about the significance of the lanterns the kids were carrying, here's what I found:
"The best-known version of where lantern parades originated centers on a Guatemalan woman named María Dolores Bedoya. As the story goes, in the middle of the Central American independent movement, Bedoya ventured out into the night on Sept. 14, 1821 in what is now Antigua, Guatemala. With a lantern in hand, she called the residents of the town to meet in the plaza to rally for independence.
At the time, the legislators of the provinces of Guatemala were meeting in Antigua, which was the most important city in Guatemala.
The townsfolk gathered in the plaza with lanterns all night and into the early morning, waiting for a decision from legislators. Finally, on Sept. 15, the act of independence was signed, declaring Central America’s liberation from Spain. That’s when the chapines (Guatemalans) began shouting, “¡Viva la patria! ¡Viva la libertad!” (“Long live the homeland! Long live liberty!”)" [source: The Tico Times]
There's your history lesson for the day.
Posted by Mark & Tina