As Palmares begins, an ode to La Tagada

Today marks the start of the Fiestas de Palmares, which each year fill this Alajuela town with some of the country’s finest horses, artists everyone else has heard of, fried food by mile, and rides. But to the discerning fair-goer, Palmares, like Zapote and the other fiestas patronales that enliven the Costa Rican calendar throughout the year, is all about the Tagada.

La Tagada is the single greatest demonstration of the beauty of a non-litigious society. Riders, plenty of them wasted out of their minds, clamber onto a giant disc and sit in various states of nervousness along the bench that runs around the edge. No belts, no safety latches, no restraints – just you and a couple dozen other souls who will become old friends by the end of the ride, because what happens next is that the whole thing starts to spin faster and faster and then to jolt unexpectedly from one side to another. You hold on for dear life, you slide into your neighbor; you might fall down and then laugh helplessly because the centrifugal force is pinning you to the ground; you might attempt to stand in the middle of the circle the whole time, with hilarious results; you lose your breath; you might even lose your pants. Here’s a video featuring one particularly successful center-rider, but it really doesn’t capture how insane it feels to be atop the Tagada.

My now-husband took me on the Tagada at Palmares in 2005. He had given me a little necklace and bracelet for my birthday earlier that day, and I lost both of them before the end of the ride. They just flew right off. We searched unsuccessfully for them in the grass afterwards, to the sounds of screams and laughter above us, but we never found them.

If you are in Palmares over the next several days and, you know, haven’t had a knee replaced in the past few days, you should hitch a ride on the Tagada. I’m not quite sure why, but there is a special place for it in my heart. Maybe it’s because, unlike most other rides, it’s so social: you and your fellow riders are looking right at each other, and no one will remain dignified the whole time. Stodgy offices should be forced to do it. People whose hair is always perfectly flat-ironed just so. Unpopular public officials. You can’t do it properly without laughing, getting a bruise or two, looking ridiculous, and meeting the eyes of total strangers – and thus, my friends, is life.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 


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