Friday, April 18, 2014

Sneaking into the Ruins of Cartago and Shivering in a Costa Rica Volcano - Irazu

Our trip to Cartago began with a little bit of business and ended with a lot of fun. Our Beef Jerky business needed case boxes with our logo and we were given the contact of Corrugados Del Guarco by Etiplast who provides our labels. When I told my wife we needed to go to Cartago, her face lit up like a Capuchin Monkey, as she knew the rich history we were about to embark upon. Our business with Donato at the Box company was short and sweet, as he quickly described how he would design a box specifically for our product with our logo and email us the rest of the information later that day. So our business was done and we set off on our adventure in Cartago. Our first stop was the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. The Byzantine style church has been boasted as the most beautiful church in all of Costa Rica and was everything and more than the descriptions my wife read about in books and on the internet. The most infamous history of this church is the statue of La Negrita. The story is of a young girl named Juana Pereira. On August 2nd, 1635, she was playing in the forest near her home by a river where she found a small black statue of the Virgin Mary and her baby. The girl took the statue home to her room. The next day, she was playing by the river again, only to find her little statue back in the spot by the river. When she went home to check on the statue in her room, it was not there. This continued for 3 days so she went to the priest in Cartago and told him the story. He accompanied her to the river and this time, he locked the statue in a coffer. The next day, they went to the river, and low and behold another statue was there. When they checked the coffer, it was empty. The church took this as a sign from God and built a church on the sacred ground. Many Ticos believe that La Negrita protects Costa Rica from natural disasters and holds healing powers. Between 1 million and 2.5 million locals travel the 25 km (15 mile) pilgrimage on their knees to commemorate the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, affectionately called La Negrita, on August 1st every year.
Our children were so excited to get out of the truck after our 2 hour drive and short business, and as normal, they exited the truck running. As we entered into the historical section of the church, it was quiet and surreal and you could hear the sounds of Mass through the walls. Our children, filled with energy from being stuck in the truck, would have normally been climbing the walls of the sacred church, but the serenity must have rubbed off on them as they viewed the exhibits with quiet awe, as if La Negrita had put a spell on them. 
After viewing the statue, we walked down into a courtyard where water flows from the rock on which the small statue was originally found. There were visitors drinking and gathering the holy water into plastic bottles, also available to purchase on site. We worked our way around to the front of the church plaza so my wife could take pictures and we indulged ourselves in the Costa Rican snowcone, Granizados. As the kids ran and played in the plaza, I took the opportunity to enter the church and say a prayer for our family and give thanks to the wonderful life we are experiencing in Costa Rica. There I witnessed parishioners taking to their knees, making their way to the altar from the front of the church. Growing up in the Catholic faith all my life, I had never experienced such devotion to the faith and it moved me in such a way that I will never forget. The beauty of the inside of the church and the pathway to the altar filled with the devoted was a sight to behold, no matter what your faith.  After finishing my prayers, I left the church feeling wonderful. Next stop, The Ruins.
Las Ruins are a few blocks from the Basilica. The beautiful and creepy vision of the Ruins behold a legend among the locals. There is a story of 2 brothers visiting the city of Cartago, where both fall in love with the same woman. When the woman marries the brother who is friendly and loved by all, the other brother who is a priest becomes enraged and jealous. On New Year's Mass, the bitter priest kills his brother with a knife. He was so distraught with grief, he built a new church for the city as his penance, but on the year it was completed, it was destroyed by an earthquake. Each time the church was rebuilt, another earthquake destroyed the structure, finally abandoning the church in 1910 after the final earthquake. The city believes the Ruins to be haunted or cursed and some say you can see the ghost of the angry brother during a foggy night inside the Ruins. The castle like appearance excited the kids, as they conquered the rock walls, like Knights in Medieval times. We were only able to peer into the interior of the Ruins, as all gates were locked and secure for maintenance. The interior courtyard was adorned with lush gardens, ponds, water features and stone crypts. Along with the beautiful landscape, we noticed Max and it is still unknown how he got in and out of the castle gates. 
There is a large square across the Ruins filled with children, their parents and grandparents, a few sleeping dogs and plenty of pigeons. The kids had fun throwing seeds and catching pigeons. 
After the Ruins, the clock showed 10:30, giving us plenty of time to make the 25 km trip to the Volcan Irazu. The kids quickly fell into a deep sleep and missed the incredible countryside views as we made the trek up the mountain to the highest volcanic elevation in Costa Rica at 3,432 meters (11,260 ft). From the base of the mountain to almost the peak, the landscape was covered with fincas and their crops benefiting from the rich, volcanic soil. Unlike the volcanic peak that we live below, where there is coffee and sugar cane, these mountain crops produced root vegetables like onions, carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips, etc. as it was quite clear from what the roadside vendors had to offer, and the way they were dressed, fully coated and faces covered. We looked down at the temperature gage on our trusty FORD truck, we noticed it was already in the low 50's at Noon and we had not reached the peak just yet. 
As we rose above the clouds we approached the park entrance and the attendant at the gate asked us, "Where are you from?" My wife proudly blabbed, "TEXAS!" The attendant said, "That will be $20 US each please." I quickly explained that we lived in Grecia and showed her our residency documents, which quickly brought the entrance fee down to $2 US per adult. We parked the truck and I woke Max up, which he was unhappy about. My wife stayed behind with the baby and still sleeping Sara as Max and I made the hike up the ridge, Max still complaining about half the way. It was freezing, wind blowing strong and as we passed a group of Ticos coming down the ridge, Max described how he was feeling by saying, "Mucho Frio, Pappa!" and all the Ticos laughed in agreement to the little cotton top boy speaking Spanish. As we reached the top of the ridge, the moonlike landscape was overwhelming to Max and he took off running, it was like setting a dog free. He kept running and running and running through the endless crater that must have been larger than 2 or 3 football fields filled with gray volcanic sand, powdery soft. The vegetation growing on the edge of the crater was eerily tropical with tunnels that Max and I explored. As we made our way around the perimeter of the crater, we noticed Mommy, Sara and Sofi had made their way out of the truck and up the ridge when I quickly realized we did not prepare for this trip at all as I watched my girls walk with a twitching shiver. 
My wife took more pictures and we swiftly quivered our freezing bodies back to the truck. Back at the truck, we ran into a family of friends from Atenas, properly wrapped in their jackets and scarves, who told us, "It is usually much colder than this." Lucky us, I guess? Despite Max being sick today with a runny nose, we had an incredible day. Who knew we would have needed jackets and scarves in Costa Rica while visiting a volcano? I guess at 11,000+ feet it is always cold. Pura Vida!

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