El Baile del Toro y de la Mula
From December 24 to January 2 each year, the village of Térraba devotes itself to the Dance of the Bull and the Mule. This traditional festival fell out of favor about 25 years ago, but for the last ten years, indigenous leaders have found that reviving the dance brings young people in touch with their ancestral identity and gives meaning to their lives. They no longer feel that they have to choose between their churches and their mission to revive their culture.
Each of the young men who perform the dance carves his own mask each year. The dancers told us that in this process they take on the qualities of the animals and spirits their masks represent.
One of the "grandmothers" of the Térraba tribe oversees the preparation for the dance. The animals (parrot, goat, jaguar, eagle, boa constrictor, etc) go down to the river in search of the Bull. There they imbibe the sacred chicha, a drink made from fermented corn.
At dusk the dancers sound the conch shell, and they all enter the village and whirl around the Bull, taunting him. The Bull goes after them. Flutes, drums and shouts accompany the dancers as they go from house to house from 6 until about 10 p.m. each night. The popularity of the celebration has grown so that there are around 50 dancers on any given evening.
Visitors are welcome to accompany the dancers as they make their rounds of the village.
Learn where chocolate comes from!
Even if you are not able to visit Térraba during the dances, you can talk to members of the community about what the dances mean to them, and see some of the masks they carve.
At any time of year, you can learn from them about how chocolate is grown and processed, from the tree to the cup.
El Descanso Lodge
The cabins at El Descanso are made in the traditional style, with thatched roofs. A reforested area beside the cabins creates a refreshing atmosphere. When we got there, the women of Térraba were making rice tamales, wrapping them in leaves, and putting them to boil over an open fire behind the spacious, open air dining room.
Side trip to visit the weavers of Boruca
Our guide, Asdrubal Rivas, took us to the village of Boruca, about 18 kilometers (half an hour) away, where we could see how the native brown cotton is spun and dyed with natural pigments. The Borucas are also known for their masks of "diablitos", scary spirits which are part of their annual dance, held at the end of December. The Térraba masks feature animals more than spirits.
When we got back to el Descanso, the tamales were ready. What a treat! After that, a gentle swing in one of the hammocks was just the right thing to do.
Getting there:El Descanso is about 4 kilometers west of the Interamerican highway.
The turnoff to the village of Térraba is about 5 minutes by car south of the town of Buenos Aires. Once in Térraba. go through the village and turn left at the soccer field. Follow signs to El Descanso.
At El Descanso you can learn about how chocolate is processed, then visit the weavers at Boruca, then go to BriBri Pa Kaneblo, about 35 minutes away, to learn more about traditional indigenous life and culture.