Holy Week in the Cradle of Catholicism
18.04.2014 - 19.04.2014 76 °F
The first stop on our tour of Costa Rica was the quaint capitol of San Jose nestled in a mountain basin occupying the central part of the country. Most people opt to skip San Jose because the capitol does not have a huge range of activities for tourists. We planned our trip so that we would arrive in the country on Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year for Catholic followers. Since just over 70% of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic, we thought this would be the perfect place to view holy processions that were planned throughout the country.
We dropped off our things at the hotel, washed off the "plane feeling" that seems to accompany all red eye flights and got breakfast. Most of the restaurants in Costa Rica are mom and pop owned places called "sodas." Our driver gave us a wonderful recommendation for a soda within walking distance of our hotel where I had my first experience with Gallo Pinto. This dish is just a mix of black rice and beans, but it is the staple of the Costa Rican diet, and I figured it was worth a shot.
Recovering from the Red Eye
Gallo Pinto, a quintessential plate of black beans and rice
After breakfast, we walked about 2 miles to the center of the city to begin watching the religious procession. I thought it would start in the national cathedral, so I tried to sneak in unsuccessfully. A kind gentleman knew I was lost and pointed Danielle and I in the correct direction. We walked towards a mass of people waiting for the procession to begin, and we followed the journey as Jesus of Nazareth was escorted to the cross for sacrifice. The procession would walk a bit and then act out a scene from the day of his execution. The first such scene was Pontius Pilate sentencing Jesus to die, with Roman soldiers giving him his cross to bear to the execution.
The National Cathedral
The procession of clergy
Christ bearing the cross
The Roman soldiers taking Jesus of Nazareth to the cross
The procession proceeded throughout the city with other stops including his mother Mary mourning her son, later followed by Mary Magdalene, a female apostle and possibly wife, professing her love for him. The grand procession ended when it met up with another procession bearing the trinity of God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A silhouette of Christ in the procession
The Father, the Son
And the Holy Spirit
Once we finished watching the procession, we decided to try and see if there were any other points of interest open in the city. We went to the National Theater and pre-Columbian Gold Museum, but both were closed for the national holiday. This wasn't a huge surprise, but we got a few good pictures of the outside of these edifices.
The National Theater with the Costa Rican flag in the foreground
The National Museum of Gold Artifacts closed due to the National Holiday
We decided to make our way back to the hotel, but we ran into some other interesting and/or random sites on the way back. There was a beautiful tree in bloom next to a statue of their first president, a chicken shop closely resembling "Pollos Hermanos" in TV's Breaking Bad, and an individual selling fresh coconut drinks from a shopping cart.
A statue of the first president of Costa Rica set next to a beautiful tree in bloom
Gus Fring LIVES!
A coconut vendor selling fresh coconut juice: he would chop off the top with a machete, throw a straw in it and then collect his payment
I just thought this was random
We also came across an awesome public health poster that I had to share. I am always fascinated to see these public service announcements in other countries - from Dengue fever vaccination in Argentina to condom use in Thailand. This particular advertisement loosely translated to "neglect is also child violence." It was accompanied by a picture of a pill, firework and marble standing in a animated line-up. I love to share these since I know many of my virtual travel companions are public health enthusiasts.
My Costa Rican public health colleagues spreading the good word, translation: "Neglect is also child violence."
Reminding you to not leave fireworks and/or marbles unattended
The massive drainage ditches of the capitol city
Costa Rica also receives a heavy amount of rainfall with over 77 inches per year. There were massive drainage gutters throughout the capitol which could have had signs that said the Spanish equivalent of "Mind the Gap." The next day we skipped the culture and went looking for the rain that these gutters carried eastward to make the famous rivers of Costa Rica. It was time for white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare.
Our tour for Day 2 picked us up from our hotel at 6 AM to make the long journey out of the central valley and into the Eastern side of the country where we would raft the Rio Pacuare. The river is a hot spot for rafters because it is rated by National Geographic as one of the top five commercial rafting rivers in the world. It is also famous for the backdrop of the 1995 movie, Congo. Congo was a terrible movie, but it's a random fact for you, nonetheless!
Our guide for the day, Ray, joked that Costa Rica has two seasons: rainy season and rainier season. We were rafting the river when it was relatively low, but during peak times, the river can produce Class V rapids that often flip rafts. Despite the lower waterline, we were told that the journey would be a lot more technical since we had to dodge a lot more rocks which aren't typically seen when the water levels are high.
On the bus at 6 AM to the Eastern side of the country
Our guide for the day, Ray
A river we passed en route, Rio Sucio literally translated to "Dirty River." The red coloring comes from the mineral rich volcanic ash that is common to the Central valley
We left our non-essential gear in the van and donned life jackets, helmets and our GoPros and climbed in the boat with Ray and three others to make our aquatic trek downstream.
Danielle getting ready at the Rafting Put-In
Meandering down the river
Laughing maniacally as we hit the rapids
A beautiful waterfall in the distance
Hitting the rapids again
Our team made it to lunch without having anyone fall out of the boat or get hit in the face with an oar. For those of you who raft often, you know that those two criteria usual spell a successful outing. We gorged ourselves on pineapple and watermelon and then ate as many sandwiches as our stomachs could tolerate before we disembarked yet again down the river.
Replacing the burned calories at our lunch stop for the day
Another view from our rest area
Danielle taking a well-deserved dip
Heading back into the rapids with a collision and an unexpected drop
After we cleared the most technical rapids, Ray and the guides from other boats started to play a game of frisbee between boats in the calm water with numerous guides opting for diving catches into the water. We got involved and laughed as many people made dives just short of the frisbee. Other individuals decided to do other things that would probably not be advisable had the guide been in the boat. The video below is a perfect example of shenanigans that people film and put on YouTube. Watch closely at the man in the background standing on the boat...
A testimonial of what NOT to do when standing on the front of a boat
As we reached the end of the river, we noticed a good number of locals had come out for a meet and greet. As our boat passed under a railroad bridge, preteens and teens jumped off the bridge that we were passing under and did cannonballs next to our boat. Given that the bridge was at least 30 feet high, one couldn't help but be scared once the first couple jumped off. When we realized they weren't actually aiming FOR the boat, we all had a good laugh and made sure that each of them surfaced after their jumps given the height!
If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge...
We docked the boats shortly after our brush with the locals and checked it off as another item successfully completed from the bucket list. We're off to the volcanic region of the North for zip-lining and cave exploring. More to come soon!
Danielle smiling for the camera