Thirteen Tarahumara, a minibus and me
How I ended up in a minibus with thirteen Tarahumara Indians driving around San Jose, Costa Rica for five days
On a rare rainy day this summer I was wrapping up an equally rare full morning of work at the Public Library when my phone rang with in unfamiliar area code. I stepped outside into the rain and found myself engaged in a highly animated and instantly intimate conversation with a stranger from California. Bill Katovsky had come across my how I ditched my shoes video on Youtube and was interested in sharing it on the Natural Running Center website. I sat in my car for over an hour talking to Bill about all kinds of mutual interests, including our dislike of chairs, shoes and whiny writers. By the end of the conversation he had given me the name of his good friend, Roman Urbina, the race director of the famously difficult three-day mountain bike race La Ruta de Conquistadores, and more recently, the 100k La Ruta Run which goes from Jaco on the west coast to El Rodeo near San Jose (the same route as the first day of the bike race). I emailed Roman and was soon invited to join a group of Tarahumara and elite runners in Costa Rica for the week preceding La Ruta Run.
Tico Style: loosely organized, well managed
Communication about the details of the adventure were fuzzy in typical laid-back Tico style and while getting ready for the trip I realized I had no idea where I would be staying or traveling for the week, no idea what the running route looked like, or who else was running it . . . I found myself wondering “Am I crazy? I’m traveling alone to run in the jungle with a bunch of men I’ve never met, my Spanish is horrible, I have the heat tolerance of a harbor seal, and nobody has heard of this race.” But . . . I am also a sucker for adventure, I love Costa Rica, and I figured if the Tarahumara were brave enough leave their village to run this race, I would be brave enough to meet them there.
Roman and his girlfriend Erika met me at the airport, easy to spot in their super-sporty La Ruta jackets, and I was whisked off to the hotel by taxi while they waited for the rest of the runners to arrive.
Our hotel, Kaps Place, is in one of my favorite old San Jose neighborhoods. Its bohemian funk might scare the average uptight American tourist but it was absolutely perfect for our group. There was a pool table, open air rock gardens, plenty of incense, a communal kitchen and bottomless plates of gallo pinto every morning.
By Tuesday morning everyone had arrived. Thirteen Tarahumaras, two Chihuahuan chaperones, a Mexican reporter, Melissa and Jonathan from Canada, Dave James, and Mike Place from iRunFar from the States and myself. Two of the Tarahumara had run the race the previous year, but several were leaving Chihuahua for the first time. At first the men had said they wouldn’t travel if women came too, but in the end, two Tarahumara women were allowed to join the group. Their names were Maria Isadora and Sylvia Castillo and I had the great pleasure of getting to know them over the course of the week.
And thus began our week of minibus adventures together. We visited museums,churches and coffee plantations. We met up with Costa Rican Bribri and Cabécar indigenous runners from the Talamanca Mountains and together with the Tarahumara they performed traditional songs and dances for various public relations and cultural events.
Our groups preferred food was corn tortillas, beans, stewed meat and hot chilies. Though Subway generously sponsors La Ruta Run, after the second meal of bland Subway sandwiches there was a revolt and an emergency order of beans, roast chicken, tortillas and chilies had to be made.
The Tarahumara brought their instruments and Silverio, a shaman who is both a great singer and comedian so we were never lacking in music or entertainment. I tried playing one of their violins but they keep their bowstrings very loose and I had a difficult time pressing it down hard enough to make clear notes. They also hold the instrument well below their collarbones, which is more comfortable but these instruments are heavy and without the leverage of my chin it was hard work!
One thing that was missing from the week was running. I asked Silvino if he usually runs the week before a big race and he said “Claro, que si!” but he didn’t want to get lost and he didn’t know when he’d have enough time. I was sick all week with a nasty cough/sinus infection/fever/conjunctivitis thing that I caught from my dear husband before I left the States so it was an ideal week for me to not run. However, Thursday morning I decided I should test out my new trail shoes. I ran a few laps around a loop that included a neighborhood track and a set of stairs. My heart rate soared, my legs were shaky, my left sinus throbbed and the air was humid enough that I was soaked with sweat after 5 minutes. Arriving back at the hotel I had to discipline myself to obey my own Ultra-Training Rule #1: I could not let myself think about how much further and harder Saturday’s run would be!
We made it to Jaco Friday afternoon. Just in time to watch the sunset on the beach. I taught a brief and very funny yoga class, for which I was teased mercilessly by several of the guys for the next two days. (“Look, Eagle!” while attempting to cross arms and wobbling around on one leg). Apparently you can be a world class athlete and have terrible balance. This should make all my yoga students feel much better about tree pose.