In Costa Rica, there is a tradition of walking to the Basilica in Cartago on or around August 2. It’s believed that a miracle occurred at that spot on Aug. 2, some 400 years ago. Over 2 million people do the walk each year, which is pretty significant in a country with fewer than 5 million residents! People walk to give thanks, or they walk to petition for something. Or, they walk for the experience. Some people walk barefoot at least part of the way. People generally walk from their homes if they are physically able to do so.
My family was planning to do the walk Friday night. My host sister worked that day, so the plan was for her to come home and grab a nap before heading out. I decided to do the same. I had already covered about 12 miles earlier in the day between my run and an errand, so getting some rest would be a good thing! My family prefers to walk at night because it’s cooler and less crowded.
We left just before 9:00 PM. I walked with my host sister. Her mom and a neighbor walked at a slower pace. The first part of the walk was pretty quiet, because we were just walking through the regular neighborhood at night. Gradually, we started to see more and more small groups of “romeros” (pilgrims), but we were all pretty spread out.
We walked for about an hour before we joined up with the main route that was full of people. They had closed off the “old highway” between San Jose and Cartago, and this was where people were walking. This part was also the route by the start of the half marathon that I ran a couple of weeks ago, but in reverse. So all of those nice downhills from the start of the race were now gradual uphills. Still, it’s not such a big deal when you’re walking. We walked at a brisk but not killer page, enough for me to have a light sweat in the humidity. As we got closer, the crowds made it tough to keep pace.
We met up with two friends of my host sister at a grocery store. I got a Nescafe and some bread to munch along the way.
In general, it felt like a big party. The people who were out were generally young, healthy, and excited, although I think that has a lot to do with the time of day more than anything. There were a bunch of street vendors, or course, selling water, meat-on-a-stick, rosaries, and various other snacks. There were a couple of people selling shoes or bags, in case yours had worn out along the way. Bars along the route seemed to be doing pretty brisk business as well. There were also stages set up along the way with performers who alternated between singing, encouraging people, and asking for donations.
Here is a video from one of the stages/donation areas. Remember, this is the middle of the night!
As we went, it started getting steeper, and people got quieter. The area around Ochomogo was particularly desolate and steep. Every now and then, a happy group would come through singing or praying or something,
We stopped a few times to use the bathrooms. The lines got longer the closer you got.
As we got closer, my heel was starting to bug me. I had dealt with some plantar fasciitis in the winter, and could feel it sort of creeping back. I stretched my calves every time we stopped. My hip had also really been bothering me on my run earlier in the day. I could feel it on the walk, but it didn’t really hurt. I do think it gave me a funky stride.
My walking companions were doing pretty well. They, and apparently everybody else, used a lot of some stuff that smelled like Vapor Rub on their sore muscles. It seemed to come in a gel and a spray, and the air was thick with it. But as we got closer, one of our group got pretty bad stomach cramps. She was walking and clutching her stomach. We slowed way down, and made several stops.
Video of the crowd going by. Note the striped polo shirts (previous post) and the vapor rub stuff.
This was about the time that my “I’ve covered a ton of miles today” hunger started to kick in. Plus, now that we were coming into Cartago, there were more and more places selling food. But with my host sister on a diet and one member of our party feeling sick, this wasn’t the time to start eating like a marathoner in training. I bought a small package of cookies while we were at a potty stop, and hoped we would maybe get food at the end.
Once we arrived at the basilica, my companions looked at the crowd and decided not to try to go in. It was almost 3 AM, so we had been walking for about 6 hours, including the stops, of course. I am guessing that it would have been another hour to actually get inside. According to mapmyrun, I think we covered about 13.5 miles, and with a total elevation gain of 1,370 feet.
You can’t really see it from the picture, but there were two entrances, one to enter on foot, the other on your knees. The truly devout go on their knees from the doorway to the altar.
Without going in, the trip was just sort of over at that point. Maybe because I didn’t take part in the prayer with my companions, it didn’t really feel like we came to the end, it just sort of felt like we stopped.
Then it was time to look for a bus back home. My dreams of food were fading, since the one girl was really not feeling well.
We milled about for a while, then lucked into a bus that was filling up and about to head to San Jose. It was about $4, which is more than double what the regular price would have been. I dozed a bit on the bus, since it was stop and go the whole way back.
We got off at a place I didn’t recognize, and hopped into a “pirate” taxi. Luckily I was with a resident! I kept my mouth shut and pretended to know what I was doing. The taxi was about $6 for a 5-minute ride. Again, way more than usual, but it was really nice to get back home!
We got in a little bit after 4:30. I pretty much headed straight for bed. It’s been a long time since I’ve been up that late, if you don’t count the redeye flight to get here!