exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Today was the real kickoff for Semana Santa. Last night, when I was coming home, I saw people lined up at the bus stops, bags packed and ready to go. Today, the streets are empty.

I'm sharing the house again with some of Marta's family. This is their gathering point for festivities. I was greeted with a nice meal last night. Sometime's it's good to have company.

One of Marta's relatives - let's call him Mo - invited me to go for a walk after breakfast this morning. Sure, I figured it'd be a chance to get a little fresh air and exercise. I could work off some of that gallo pinto. So we started up the road and veered off to a part of town I'd never been in. I was warned that it wouldn't be safe to walk here after dark. Mo was taking me to Alajuelita, a small community south of San Rafael. Once we got past the crack whores and filth-filled river, it was actually rather quaint. Mo dashed into the church while I stood around watching people.

When he came back out, we both started looking up the mountain. It's the same mountain I look at most mornings, when I'm sitting on the back porch. There's a huge white cross on top of it. It reminds me of home; we have a similar mountain with a similar cross. One of Marta's brothers had promised to take me hiking to the top, but that never happened. Mo asked me if I'd like to go up there. I tried to say that "Yes, someday I would like to hike up that mountain." But my Spanglish isn't that good. Mo only got the "yes" part. He wanted to make the trek, right there and then. He asked around, trying to get an idea of how long the trip would take. We got replies ranging from 45 minutes to 2-3 hours. (Ticos always try to give a helpful answer, even though it may not always be correct). There were a bunch of kids with camping gear hanging around the bus stop. They were going up. We'd follow them.

The bus finally arrived, we all crammed in, and up we went. Mo and I agree that this is a crazy idea, but we keep going anyway. To me, something just seemed right about climbing up to a cross for Holy Week. The bus is winding up the mountain. Alajuelita is getting further away. The view is spectacular. I curse, wishing I'd brought my camera. But how could I have guessed that a morning stroll would turn into a mountain-hiking excursion?

When we reach the bus stop, everyone rushes out and the kids start up the road. They're smoking, drinking, laughing, and basically acting like teenagers on vacation. Kids are the same everywhere.

The road is steep, and there is little traffic. Mo and I stop every once in awhile to look over the edge, trying to find Marta's house. There's too much to see. All the houses look the same, and there are so many of them! We can see almost all of greater San Jose. Then we look up, towards the cross. It still seems pretty far away. But we keep walking. And walking. And walking.

Eventually the road ends and the trail begins. It is steeper, narrow, rocky, and muddy. The air starts to feel much cooler. I start to worry. Mo keeps going. He's an older guy. If he's up for this, then so am I. He keeps asking people we meet on the trail how far it is to the top. It's a different answer almost every time. "Just an hour more," he tells me. Minutes tick away as we climb and climb. Some parts are so steep that we're climbing rocks. There are a lot of people on the trail, though. I guess it's a common hike for Semana Santa. "One hour," he tells me again.

Each time I start to feel a little grumpy (this wasn't what I'd planned for today), I would take a look at the amazing view ("buena vista" - it's not just the name of a Disney company). It helped that the other hikers were incredibly friendly. There was a real feeling of comraderie. They would sing or chant, and everyone would clap when the group made it over a particularly difficult part of the trail. We were all in this together.

There are three crosses at various points on the mountain. The first small cross was rather uneventful. The second was surrounded by cement steps, so we sat down for awhile. Others joined us. A group of guys offered me a Rock Ice. I was incredibly thirsty at this point, so I gratefully accepted it. The kindness of Costa Ricans continues to impress me. It was one of the best beers I've ever had in my life. While we sat and drank, Mo explained to them that I don't speak Spanish and that I'm here teaching English. A few of them spoke some English, so we chatted for a bit. We talked about girls and cars - the two universal guy topics, no matter the language. "You like the chicas here?" one asked. And just at that moment, three beautiful women walked by. "Si, muy bonito!" I replied, and we all gawked for a bit and laughed. I had almost been ready to give up and tell Mo "no mas" but the cerveza and conversation re-energized me. Vamos! Arriba! We took off.

Towards the top, someone had thankfully rigged a kind of water fountain. We took turns cleaning up and drinking the cool water. Then we hit the final stretch. The massive cross loomed ahead. There were a lot of people heading back down the trail already. But when we got to the top, we were greeted by a mass of young Ticos. It was like a little festival, they were kicking footballs, having picnics, setting up camp, and sitting around enjoying the view. It was spectacular. Awesome, in the original sense. You could see all of San Jose, including the outer suburbs. Again I cursed my lack of camera.

After wandering around and relaxing for a bit, we made our way back down, taking a slightly different route. This part of the journey was, thankfully, uneventful. We skipped the bus and just walked all the way back to the house. In all, we were gone for about 5 hours. When we got back, it was about 2pm, and we had an excellent lunch of fish stew, various salads, and cold frescos waiting for us. I was tired, a little sore, and very dirty. But I was content.

It was another great day in Costa Rica.