While semi-lost in the Guanacaste Mountains somewhere between Montenegro and Herradura, Costa Rica, the bus my friends and I were on made an unscheduled stop at a plaza the size of half a football field, where five or six small houses faced each other in a semi-circle. There was a fiesta and, since everyone got off the bus and it looked like we were staying for a while, we were automatically invited. (The bus had also stopped in the town at the foot of the mountain we were now on to watch a soccer match.) The enclave hung off the side of the mountain above the clouds.
Soon after we arrived some of the guests mounted horses. A ladder was brought to the middle of the plaza. On what I assumed had been a communal clothesline that stretched the width of the plaza, people climbed the ladder and hung small steel rings hung from ribbons. I can’t remember exactly the process, but I believe there were three rings hung for each rider with smaller and smaller circumferences, the largest being no more than a half an inch or so.
Each rider had a small, carved lance that they would hold palm up and charge at the ring. I remember being astounded at the skill and accuracy required to snatch a ring, like the Tico version of catching a housefly midair with chopsticks. I also remember, being a North American kid from a working class family, just out of high school, the whole otherworldy-ness of it all. Being there through pure chance and experiencing what to me was an absolute spectacle encapsulated everything I imagined travel could be. I had walked out of the everyday and in to one of the National Geographics I had poured over month after month for time immemorial.
It was the first time I had left my country and visited another.