By Richard Julian and Jose Gonzalez
During the last week of July, myself and some fellow Abriendo Mentes volunteers started hearing about a festival that was taking place in the nearby town of Cartagena. We learned it is a catholic festival connected to the sighting of an apparition of the Virgin de Los Angeles in 1935 in Cartago. People from all over Costa Rica visit this site in Cartago on the second of August to pay their respects. This virgin is believed to perform miracles, and people believe that this act of pilgrimage is their penance for receiving the miracles.
Cartago is nowhere near Guanacaste, where we live. As a result, a number of other pilgrimages have started to take place across Costa Rica. Here in Guanacaste the pilgrimage leads to the church in Cartagena where there is a service followed by a fiesta.
At 3 a.m. on August second, with sleep in our eyes and bed in our heads, we met at Abelino’s house (a local Potrero resident and our guide for the trip) to begin the 20 kilometer walk to Cartagena. We had the road to ourselves, and a feeling of illicit behavior and a sense of freedom carried us along despite the lack of sleep. We had an incredible view of the night sky and were rewarded with numerous sightings of shooting stars and a great view of Orion. Perhaps the virgin was watching over us.
We were sleepy, worn out and quickly losing the art of conversation, but the feeling of sacrifice and achievement made the journey one of spiritual significance. Despite not being a particularly religious group, I was still aware of the connection we had together and what we were achieving together, more than I have felt on other non-religious walks.
At 7am we strolled into the Cartagena Plaza and took our spot to await the procession. We had decided to walk across the hills which was a more challenging route but quicker. The main procession had instead followed the highway and so it was a couple of hours of waiting, chatting, napping and eating cheese sandwiches before the main procession arrived with representatives of all the towns in Guanacaste carrying statues as offerings to the virgin for the ceremony.
The whole town and people from miles around were in attendance in their best clothes to see the parade of cowboys on horseback, to eat at the various barbecues, and most importantly, to catch up with friends.
We soaked up the atmosphere for a couple of hours before hopping on the local bus to take us back to Potrero and much needed sleep. We were grubby, exhausted and hot but we also felt a sense of achievement at having experienced and witnessed something special.
See more footage we took at the procession here.