When I booked my volunteer trip to Costa Rica I picked the week that coincided with my children’s school Spring breaks. I would be coming home the day before Easter and that would be give us enough time to have a nice meal Easter Sunday and hid some eggs for the kids. I had no idea that the week before Easter, Holy Week, was one of the most important weeks in the Costa Rica, amass with celebrations, parades, religious processions, fireworks, theater and plays, all in the name of Jesus. Thus you can imagine my surprise and delight that first day I spent in San Jose, Palm Sunday, to see the true meaning of Holy Week on Speed! (Sorry if I offend the more religious types).
The entire week was full of celebrations. As I mentioned in an earlier post (“Fireworks at Noon”) fireworks and processions were huge, day and night. Santi and Jose told us that there would be events occurring every eventing in Cartago and San Rafael and they were indeed correct. A couple of nights we heard the approaching beat of a marching band and were delighted to see a candlelight processional right through town. We also went to a gorgeous candlelight quartet in the Cultural Center and viewed the masses of pilgrims coming to the infamous Basilica daily. It was quite an experience!
Towards the end of the week, San Rafael (the more religious part of town) set up and staged an entire reenactment of The Last Supper. It was held at 8 pm after the sun had set and all light up by candles and torches. Practically the entire town was there with children in tow, watching in awe. The play lasted over two hours and of course I couldn’t understand a word (it was all verses from the Bible in Spanish—a double whammy for me) except the Spanish “Jesus” over and over again. The grand slam of the week was supposed to be the reenactment of the Crucifixion. But I was going to be on my plane ride home to the States so I would unfortunately miss it. Here is a photo of the setting up of the stage:
What the most ironic thing of all about Holy Week was the ban on alcohol. I thought Minnesota’s laws were strict such as no alcohol sold on Sundays and no alcohol sold in grocery stores (not even wine!) but I was completely thrown off guard when I discovered how strict the Costa Rican’s view alcohol (even wine and beer) during Holy Week. All alcohol sold in restaurants, bars, and stores is completely banned from the Thursday before Easter until noon on Easter Sunday! I had never heard of such a strict enforcement anywhere (except of course the Middle Eastern countries which I haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet). The most ironic thing of all is that we were not allowed as volunteers to drink even a glass of wine throughout our week in Cartago, given it is a very religious town and it would not look good having the volunteers partying in front of the locals). However, once we hit Friday night we were free to do as we wished since the program was over. We searched and searched for a place, even a simple restaurant, where we could order a beer or just a single glass of wine and were refused everywhere. Not one single place in or out of town could serve even one glass. It was strictly enforced everywhere. It would have to wait until the plane ride home to the States!
Despite the alcohol ban, we of course still found other ways to celebrate. Friday afternoon, after our volunteer work was completed, Cassiano, Lindsey and I hired a driver to take us to the nearby Tapanti Rainforest. It was only supposedly only an hour or so away but wound up taking a lot longer due to the road conditions near the park (i.e. mostly gravel). But we didn’t mind, we were on an adventure and excited to see the flora and fauna that Costa Rica is world-renowned for.
Our drive took us to a beautiful lookout area above Cartago city. Here is a picture of the city laying within the lush, verdant valley:
As we headed towards the park, we passed through a small, lovely village called Orosi. It is about a forty minute drive from Cartago and home to Lucy, the CCS Office Manager. We stopped in Orosi to visit the beautiful, main church which was of course preparing for the upcoming Holy Week Festivities. Here are some pictures of lovely Orosi:
The town square (note the homes going up the hillside):
The main church:
The stage for the upcoming reenactments and plays for Holy Week:
After our visit to Orosi, we got back in the bumpy cab ride with our driver who didn’t speak a lick of English and continued along towards Tapanti National Park. We passed coffee trees going along the way and saw farmers harvesting the beans. Here is a picture of the coffee trees growing right along the road:
We kept thinking we were getting near the park but it was taking forever. We asked the driver how much further in our broken Spanish and he continued to say not much longer. To our dismay, it was getting close to three o’clock which was much later than we had expected. The paved road mysteriously ended and signs of civilization disappeared. The sun was lower in the sky and we were getting worried until we finally saw a sign for the park. We continued on a gravel, bumpy road for almost an hour, my stomach churning due to the motion, and then we finally saw it: Tapanti National Park. Relieved, we got out of the car to pay our entrance fee to the park and saw that the office was closed! The signs at the park said open until 4 pm. It was 4:05. After three and a half hours riding in a hired taxi cab, we were going to get in, somehow. Luckily, Lindsey knew some Spanish and with the help of our driver was able to convince the guard to reopen the park just for us. One hour, we promised, and the gates were opened.
Tapanti was indeed everything a rainforest should be, except the hidden monkeys (which we heard in the distance but did not see). It was lush, wet, and full of life. We walked around for our allotted time, snapped some pictures and enjoyed the silliness of our adventurous day. It was of course raining so we didn’t get much in the way of pictures but here are a few to give you an idea of the misty, secluded rainforest:
A giant mushroom:
The misty view of a hidden waterfall:
A rambling brook:
And finally, the gravel road leading out of the park at dusk:
We were back in the taxi by 5 PM and were not looking forward to our long drive back. Our adventure ended up costing us about $150 but was well worth the trip. We dreamed of having an ice cold beer that night but to our chagrin, the entire country was in an alcohol lockdown. It would have to wait until the plane!